Day 5: Waiʻānapanapa State Park
MAUI HAS THREE COLORS OF BEACHES: white, red, and black. We spent several nights staying in a cabin on the awesome black sand beach of Waiʻānapanapa State Park, which has an entrance accessible right before you reach Hana.
After our first harrowing trip down the Hana Highway, we were overjoyed to see the sign pointing to the state park. However, drive carefully. It’s very easy to miss it coming to and from and Hana. However, it is definitely worth losing yourself here for a day. The actual black sand beach is fairly small, but overlooking it is a web of trails that take you up along a volcanic rock coastline filled with great views.
The road down to the park was fairly windy. There were plenty of fruit stands with guavas, pineapple, and bananas. No one was at the stands. The signs posted asked for visitors to leave the money and take whatever they wanted!
There was a main visitor’s parking lot, where day travelers could get out, stretch their legs, and walk around the park. Waiʻānapanapa has everything from a blowhole to a neat jungle walk with ancient caves to the famous black sand beach. It is particularly striking against the blue sapphire waves. Also, the light changes the colors of the black sand coast at different times of day, which provokes a distinctively wondrous panorama each time.
We were staying several nights in one of the twelve cabins, which could be found up the road to our right. At the time of our trip, these cabins were $90.00/day for non-Hawaii residents, and $60.00/day for Hawaii residents. As such, this was definitely some of the cheapest lodging to find on Maui! Unfortunately, it looks like the cabins are all currently under repair. Check out the latest update the cabins here. Tent camping is still available by permit.
When we first arrived, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the cabins. The website had sounded super strict about making sure you had the proper permit, as well as checking in and out on the dot.
The reality was much different. We arrived at our cabin and found our welcoming party: a gigantic wasp nest hanging near the front door.
No one seemed to be around. I drove back to the main parking lot to check in. A local family keeps up the State Park. I couldn’t find anyone to assist or check in with, until I ran into one of the crew doing some yard work. I told him I was here to check in, and he nodded pleasantly. Apparently that was all I needed to do.
“Also,” I said imperiously, “there is a wasp nest on our cabin.”
“Oh!” He stopped to think, and looked genuinely perplexed at the situation. After a moment, he leaned on his lawn mower. “So…is it bothering you?”
His answer was so amazing that we left it at that.
Since all the cabins are currently being renovated, you shouldn’t take my review of them too harshly. The floors felt pretty seedy; my companion and I wore slippers on the entire time or socks to protect out feet. There was a bunkbed room, a bathroom, a main room with a large bed and a kitchen, and a porch overlooking the barbeque pit outside. The cabin looked clean, per say, but it was pretty old, paint was flecking, and the lights liked to flicker. It was one of those places that you could sweep it as much as you want, and you still wouldn’t feel comfortable walking around barefoot without screams of Tetanus! echoing in your head.
Also, we had luckily brought our sleeping bags. The beds were just mattresses, and those, too, I had a bad feeling about. After checking them, thankfully there weren’t any bed bugs. We definitely didn’t use the pillows. A lot of dead bugs lay around the bathroom. We brought our own silverware and plates, too. I didn’t trust the ones that were there. However, we did use their pots after giving them a furious scrub-down.
The worst thing hands down was the heat. It would get scorching in the cabins during the day (to be fair, it would be the same in a tent). Also, we didn’t want to open any windows for fear of wasps, cockroaches, centipedes, and what-have-yous joining us.
However, who is going to spend all day in a cabin, anyways? There was way too much to explore. As an accommodation on the cheaper side with its own private path down to the ocean, it was well worth it. At night, you’ll watch all manner of bugs crawl over the windows while the white-bellies of geckoes chase after them.4
Also, I am pleased to say we survived without a single wasp sting.
Probably part of what the wasps were attracted to were the noni fruits. I hadn’t been familiar with them before, but noni are amazing! These honeycomb-looking fruits have more of a citrus smell. Rub the noni on cuts and bruises, and they help heal them like aloe. They’re also supposed to help drive pain like headaches away. It was really cool to be staying in a grove of them.
We stocked up on food from Walmart back in Kahalui, but we also picked up more supplies from one of the two supermarkets in neighboring Hana. The outside barbeque was awesome to use! We ate a lot of teriyaki burgers and pineapple.
During the night, we were glad to be staying in the cabin instead of a tent. It dumped buckets of rain on us. Looking outside, the palm trees danced and swayed with the winds. It was absolutely cool to see—from the safety of the cabin.
After we arrived, we took our own private path down to the black sand beach. The path leads to a coastal side trail along the ocean, which is part of the King’s trail. We followed it back past the main parking lot to a view of the most spectacular volcanic rock formations jutting out of the sea.
Yes, people do cliff jump from these rocks. However, there was zero people trying it while we were there, and for good reason. The current was incredibly fast, and there were a lot of whiteheads in the bay. As such, you’d have to have completely calm conditions and be a very experienced swimmer. There was plenty to do nearby, such as checking out lava tubes and caves.
The black sand beach itself is more made up of shiny obsidian pebbles rather than fine sand. Here the water was calm enough for us to dive in. However, the majority of visitors stayed on beach or waded. It was neat reaching down and picking up a handful of black sand. We enjoyed a snack here before exploring the trail that led up to the cliffs going north toward Paia.
This trail can actually be turned into a full-day excursion itself; it winds over miles of black volcanic shards along the coast and goes for 1.5 miles to the north or 5 miles to the east. The northerly route is known as Kipapa O Kihapi’ilani Trail. We came upon a burial site out there before returning.
The last part of the park we visited was the Waiʻānapanapa Caves. These were near the visitor’s center. Stay on the jungle trail instead of going down to the black sand beach, and they’re just a short distance away in the cliffs above it. There were several big cave mouths to explore, but one of them is the place where, as the legend goes, Hawaiian princess Popoalaea hid to escape from her wicked husband. Her maid sat across from her and fanned her with a kahili to keep her cool. Unfortunately, the husband saw the reflection of the kahili in the pool water and killed the princess. Now the shrimp is said to blossom red in the cave’s waters as a reminder of the murdered princess’s blood.
The moral of the story is…
Well, take from it what you will, but it is an interesting legend, and even more interesting to check out the caves. However, we didn’t linger long because of the mosquitoes and the heat—no wonder the princess needed a fan!
Our time in Waiʻānapanapa passed all too swiftly; I am glad we had a full afternoon to explore there. However, we had to get up early the next day if we were going to make it to the summit of Haleakalā, home of the nēnē goose and the mysterious ʻĀhinahina, or silver sword…
Upcoming Day 6: Haleakalā National Park
Read more in the Hawaiian Travel Series:
(0) Intro: Welcome to Maui
(1) Day 1: Northwest Maui: Lahaina
(3)Day 3: Central Maui: Paia and Makawao
Disclaimer: The above is presented as fiction, not fact.