When most people envision a tropical vacation, they picture afternoons lounging on the beach, sprinkled in golden sunlight. Palm trees with deep green leaves sway in a light breeze over tiny granules of white sand. But Maui’s Wai’anapanapa State Park has a beach with a unique element—black sand.
A black coastline
Over time, the ocean’s waves have eaten away at the cliffs of volcanic lava that surround Pa’iloa Beach, creating smooth black pebbles and grains of dark sand. Your toddler will be surprised at this rare sight, but the contrast between the dark sediment and the cerulean ocean makes for a gorgeous scene. Challenge your little one—ask them to look out to sea and spot the sea arch, a natural arch created by the water’s erosion.
Although the peculiar black sand is what initially draws visitors to the park, there are other adventures to be had. Head into the lava caves that are scattered along the shoreline to explore—bring a swimsuit for your toddler to splash around in the shallow water that enters the sea caves or peer out the other side to catch some different views of the area.
Hike along sections of the King’s Highway footpath, an ancient Hawaiian trail that allowed kings and their messengers to survey villages. This rugged, three-mile coastal trail leads from Pa’iloa Beach to the town of Hana. Although three miles is pretty far for a toddler to travel, there is a lot to see along the way—other than the outstanding panoramic ocean views—to keep their attention. The trek may be made easier by frequent stops for snacks or water. Another option is to use a carrier to tote your child on your back. You may also want to hike just a portion of the trail before heading back; it all depends on your toddler’s experience and stamina.
Heading east, you will pass a blowhole. It’s activity changes due to the tides so it alternates between producing a fine mist and a powerful stream of water, either of which will thrill youngsters. Another point of interest on the path is the ruins of Ohala Heiau, an ancient Hawaiian temple thought to be a shrine to a fishing god. Take this opportunity to talk with your toddlers about the history of Hawaiian gods and why natives provide these temples with offerings. Continuing further along the trail, you will find unmarked burial mounds as well as a grove of Hala trees that produce a sweet fibrous yellow fruit. Follow the trail to Kainalimu Bay or turn back and return to Wai’anapanapa Park.
Back at Pa’iloa Beach, climb the wide, sand-covered stairs to the picnic tables. It is best to bring lunch with you; although there are a couple of vending machines selling vitamin water and soda, there is no food available within the park. While you eat, watch as people on the beach below try to skip rocks in the water. Your toddler may also be fascinated by the daring cliff divers that leap from one of the islets in the water. Another fun activity is searching for the slender-bodied, red-eyed mongooses that are scattered around the property under the trees.
Staying the night
If you desire an overnight trip, there are cabins on the property as well, although they fill up quickly so be sure to book your stay in advance. The rooms are great for family stays, complete with bunk beds and a furnished kitchen so your toddler can feel at home with some home-cooked meals. The jungle surrounding the cabins is home to black and beige spotted geckos; these little critters can often be found on the walls and ceilings of the cabin and toddlers will be truly delighted to watch them run to and fro. Head outside to pick some coconuts and papaya, a great way to introduce your toddler to something new and immerse yourself in the island atmosphere.