Kaihalulu: A Visit to the Red Sand Beach on Maui
Have you ever heard of the Red Sand Beach on Maui? How about how to get there? Kaihalulu or the Red Sand Beach in Hana is one of those places that many have heard of, but not many have visited.
Before we headed to Hana, we knew we wanted to visit the Red Sand Beach. But, that’s where our knowledge ended. We didn’t know anything else about it; especially how to find it. Kaihalulu is well hidden. You can drive all over Hana and you will never find it. You can ask the locals, but they won’t point you in the right direction.
Trying to Find the Red Sand Beach on Maui
I’d been doing research on how to find the Red Sand Beach and wasn’t coming up with much. There was something about going through a field and an old graveyard, but that was it. I asked one of our Maui friends, born and raised, how to find it and she just laughed at me. She asked me why I would even want to go there. It was dangerous and even locals didn’t go.
You see, as beautiful as the Red Sand Beach is, it is precarious. You can feel it in the air when you are there. You can see it when you look up the red cliffs rising high above the cove. Just inside the curve of an ancient cinder cone, all it would take is a little earthquake for it all to come toppling down on you. Yet, even with these warnings, you still want to see it for yourself. After all, Kaihalulu is one of the few red sand beaches in the world.
Hunt for the Red Sand Beach
We’d already been in Hana for a few days and hadn’t found a single sign of Kaihalulu before we set off that morning to find it. We drove to an area near Travaasa Hotel Hana that I’d read it was supposed to be near, parked our rental car, and started looking around for a field. We found a field, but didn’t know if it was the right one or where to go from there. We didn’t see any graveyards nearby. Then we saw another couple dart across the field and into the jungle brush.
I urged Drew that we needed to follow them. He thought I was crazy, but I insisted it was the way to the Red Sand Beach and we were going to lose them.
We ran across the field and through the jungle, we found ourselves on a path. There was no sign where to go from there and no sign of the couple we had seen just a few moments before. I pushed Drew forward under low hanging tree branches, dodging vines, and through tall grasses.
We came to a fork in the path where we could take the path one of two ways. To the left, the path led to an ancient cemetery that was slowly sliding down a hill. To the right, the path appeared to lead right off a cliff.
Even though I’d heard to take the path past the cemetery, we could see that part of the trail had been lost to a landslide. The cemetery itself was slowly making it’s way down the hillside. We tried navigating forward, but were only able to get down so far. As we ventured down, the path suddenly stopped and all that was in front of us was slippery cinder cone rocks and a cliff going straight down. After debating for a minute if we could just make a run for it down the hill, we decided it was too big of a risk to take. Taunting us, we could see the dramatic and beautiful hidden cove unlike any other of the Red Sand Beach just below us, but we still couldn’t get to it.
Pulling ourselves back up the cliff, bracing ourselves with the help of the ironwood trees that grow above Kaihalulu, we climbed back to the top of the cliff. We started moving towards the other end of the cliff when we saw there was another path about fifty feet above the ocean, etched along the cliff, carpeted with needles from the ironwood trees. The path was very narrow in places, with jagged lava, and not a safe hike down for anyone unaccustomed to navigating paths along cliffs with unsound footing. The path is even more dangerous if you are in flip flops or slippers. We were glad to have both worn suitable shoes for the adventure to find the Red Sand Beach.
As we made our way around the sea cliff, the waves crashing upon the rocks we carefully climbed along slippery with Ironwood needles and crumbling cinder, we saw it. There before us, lay the infamous Kaihalulu, the Red Sand Beach on Maui. The Red Sand Beach is a dramatic and alluring hidden cove unlike any other on Maui. Huge rocks sprawl across the mouth of this tiny bay, breaking the high surf as the waves crash along them. The ocean outside the cove is almost always a deep, surreal sapphire blue highlighted by turquoise shallows, and rages relentlessly against the dramatic and rugged coastline. The sand is indeed a deep red-black, which contrasts against the blue water, black sea wall, and green ironwood trees. We couldn’t believe we’d finally made our way to the infamous red sand beach, Kaihalulu.
The remains of a caved-in cinder cone, Kauiki Head , creates the beautiful cove in which this crescent-shaped beach is found. The impossible parabolic sweep of the loose crumbly cinder cone cliff towers almost vertically over the beach appearing as though it could come crashing down at any time. Yet, somehow Kauiki Head, whose rust-red lava cinder cliffs supply the beach with its red sand, remains intact to impressive heights.
Red Sand Beach is partially shielded from the rough ocean waters by an offshore reef of jagged black lava rock, further contributing to this almost otherworldly scene. How Kaihalulu got its name, meaning roaring sea, can be seen as enormous surf washes through the rocks only about twenty yards from shore that could easily pull a swimmer into the turbulent ocean depths with no warning at all.
We made our way around to the other side of the beach. Waves surged over the protected area, rushing up the beach and encircling our feet as we walked along the red sand. We crossed paths with the couple we saw earlier and another who had camped at the beach overnight. The rest of the beach sat empty.
The sun rose further into the sky while we enjoyed the solitude of Kaihalulu. We sat on the beach together and watched the waves crash over the coral reef too big to swim at that hour. As the tide began to rise and we saw our path along the sea cliff slowly disappearing, we grabbed up our belongings and headed back up the steep incline leaving the Red Sand Beach behind us.
Getting to the Red Sand Beach
Now this is one path you will have to find on your own. Due to the constant change of the land in this area and passing through private property, how to get to Kaihalulu is always changing. But, don’t worry – getting there is half the adventure.
A Warning Before Visiting the Red Sand Beach on Maui
Be warned, earthquakes do happen in Hawaii. People do die from the falling rocks, high crashing surf, and flash floods that can come from earthquakes there. If an earthquake was to happen while at the Red Sand Beach, the cinder cone would come tumbling down. Getting to the Red Sand Beach is hazardous with an unstable hike to find it. The surf at Kaihalulu can be unpredictable. Proceed to this beach with caution.
Would you consider visiting Kaihalulu, the Red Sand Beach on Maui?
All photography by Kimmy Hayes © 2014, unless otherwise noted.