Stretching between the Makena Beach & Golf Resort (formerly the Maui Prince Hotel) and La Perouse Bay is an area of South Maui known as Makena. Directly in the rain shadow of Haleakala, Makena is sunny, dry, and hot all year round. As the site of some of the most recent lava flows on Maui, the land is rocky and dominated by mesquite, known locally as Keawe, grasses more commonly found on the African savannah, and prickly pear cacti. Gorgeous multi-million dollar homes line the shore, and the area sports some of the best beaches on Maui.
Makena State Park (Big Beach):
Home to arguably the best beach on Maui, Makena State Park is located about four miles south of the Shops at Wailea on Makena Alanui Road. Although this beach can be extremely crowded on weekends and holidays, weekday visitors will find they pretty much have the place to themselves. Penned in by the Pu’u Ola’i (Earthquake Hill) cinder cone to the north and long stretches of lava to the south, this beach has a wild, isolated feel you rarely find on Maui. Crystal clear water, turtles, and fantastic views of Molokini Crater and Kahoʻolawe make this a fun place to spend a day. Be careful if the surf is up. Although there are lifeguards, Big Beach is well known for strong undertows and pounding surf.
If you’re feeling adventurous, try hiking to the top of the 360-foot Puʻu Olaʻi cinder cone. Although it looks relatively easy, the hill was made in a violent explosion caused when a lava flow hit the ocean and steam built up underground. Because of this, the hill is made of a cinder called tephra and is basically like walking up loose gravel. Although the walk is a bit of a battle, the view from the top is fantastic, and there’s always a cool dip in the ocean waiting for you below. Look for trails along the first entrance driveway.
Black Sand Beach (Oneuli Beach):
Located just to the north of Puʻu Olaʻi, Earthquake Hill, lies Maui’s only black sand beach. Although the “sand” is mostly coarse black cinders called tephra by geologists, the shoreline near this beach is a great place for experienced snorkelers. Reef and lava rock make great habitats for reef fish, turtles, eels, and the occasional shark. Adventure seekers can scramble around the south end of the beach to get a closer look at Puʻu Olaʻi and the elaborate lava formations jutting out into the water. Look for a small sign on the right about three and a half miles south of the Shops at Wailea on Makena Alanui Road.
White Rock Beach (Palauea Beach):
Relatively hidden from the road, White Rock is a great place to spend a day snorkeling and sunbathing. The rocks to the south of the beach are home to many turtles, and the water is generally calm and clear. Keawe trees provide ample shade throughout the day. Follow Wailea Alanui Road south from the Shops at Wailea. At the first four-way intersection by the Maui Prince Hotel, make a right onto Kuakahi. Take the next left onto Makena Road. At the bottom of the hill, you’ll see a gap in the houses filled with tall keawe trees. Park on the side of the road and follow the path to the beach.
Eating in Makena
Your best bet for food in Makena is to stop at one of the local vendors on the side of the road. Part of the fun of Maui is sampling local fare, so don’t be afraid to pull off the road and grab a kalua pork or fish taco from the back of a truck.
If you’re still reluctant to try independent vendors, Jawz Tacos parks a mobile taco shop in the parking lot at the first entrance to Makena State Park.
Makena’s Turtle Town
One of the best places to see turtles in Maui is located in Makena. Lava running straight out into the ocean created cliffs and caves that provide excellent habitat for the Hawaiian green sea turtle (Honu). It is not uncommon to see more than ten turtles in one visit, resting on the bottom, swimming, and eating algae off the reef. If you decide to snorkel with turtles anywhere on Maui, please be respectful of these endangered animals. NEVER touch them – the oils in your skin can make them susceptible to a deadly virus. Plus, harassing turtles is a federal offense.
To get to Turtle Town, follow Makena Alanui Road (Wailea Alanui Road turns into Makena Alanui Road) for about 2.5 miles south from the Shops at Wailea. Turn right onto Honoiki Road. Turn right onto Makena Road. Park at Makena Landing Beach Park on your left. Enter the water by the boat ramp. Snorkel along the shoreline toward the north (your right if you are facing the water from the ramp). Turtle Town is located just off the point where the larger cliffs meet the ocean.
Top 5 Makena Tips
• Be careful of the shore break at Big Beach and all other locations. Big Beach (Makena Beach) is deceptively welcoming. Visitors break their necks here all the time.
• Bring snacks. Besides local vendors along the road, Makena does not have dining options. (Be respectful and clean up your trash. Always pick up a few more pieces than you brought.)
• Wear reef-safe sunscreen and wear a rash guard in the water. Most of what there is to enjoy in Makena is in the sun, and you’ll regret it if you don’t protect your skin.
• Bring snorkel gear. You can rent it, but if you really enjoy snorkeling, you should definitely get fitted for your own mask at a local dive shop. You’ll enjoy the experience much more with your own well-fit gear. (Big Beach is not recommended.)
• Bring a lot of water with you. Drinking water is not readily available.
A great way to spend a day in Makena
• Head to Turtle Town early in the morning to beat the wind and the crowd.
• Grab lunch at Jawz Tacos mobile taco stand in Makena State Park.
• Spend your afternoon lazing away the day on Big Beach in Makena State Park.