The Black Beach

It’s been a bit since I made a post and that’s because I was on vacation and thought I would share some pictures in this post on one of the places I visited that I truly enjoyed.  Some of the pictures here appear more for documentary purposes to provide a better sense of the area.  That being said though, I never intended to document my experience here and so in some ways the documentation is incomplete!

Also, the colors on the blog are regrettably distorted by the WP resizing engine so unfortunately these images can’t be really viewed inline as I intended them.  To help I have placed a slideshow gallery at the bottom of the page where you can see the colors a bit better, still not perfect.

Alliteratively you can click on an image to view its full websize and color and then return to the blog by clicking on the back button on your browser.

The Black Beach!


I should start off by saying there is more than one, so the “the” in my title there is a little misleading. Black beaches form from lava flows that reach the ocean, harden and erode into sand. I have probably over simplified this process, however, I wanted it to be easy to comprehend at a high-level.

The erosion process can happen rather quickly when thinking in terms of the bigger view of erosion. After all when one thinks of lava they think of something hard, harsh and enduring. In the case of the beach I visited, the sand is younger than I am and only about 20 years old.


Kalapana is a town the Island of Hawaiʻi in the Hawaiian Islands and gained notoriety when the 1986 Kīlauea lava flow from nearby Kūpaʻianahāvent destroyed and partly buried most of the town.   The lava flow that destroyed Kalapana erupted from the southeast rift zone of Kīlauea. The nearby towns were buried beneath more than 50 feet of lava. The lava flow also created a new coastline and this beach I am discussing with you today.


Finding the place is actually a bit of a trick if one is unfamiliar with the big island. In a nutshell though, one can drive to Pohoa and then take 137 to Kalapana and there is a old church there that is just a mile or two from the turn that will take you to this location.


When you arrive at the little parking lot, you actually wonder what you will see as its recessed below the lava field and so you don’t really see anything other than a food area, store and some vendors camped out on a large bank which blocks your view of the ocean. There is a trail though and once you climb the bank your eyes are opened to an almost unimaginable spectacle, especially if you’re a stranger to lava flows and the like.

 NDF_2173-EditLife slowly remerges from the rock!

From here you follow a red lava trail which is obviously red lava sprinkled onto the jet black lava to form a visible path one can follow to the oceans edge and the marvelous black sand. Its hard to imagine what black sand is until you actually experience it. It’s a little more course than what most of us understand from our backyard sand boxes or local lake beaches. It sparkles like glass is mixed in as well and the sparkle is accented by the jet black color offsetting the white brilliance of the sparkle itself.



Its rather daunting to consider that a neighborhood once stood here 50 feet below the cruel unyielding lava that consumed it all!   Perhaps it is just a reflection of mans foolishness to posses incredible ocean views that truly reflects here. The Hawaiians consider the lava the fire from the earth that springs new life, and upon reflection one realizes how aa


There is a tremendous heat to this whole area as its black color readily absorbs heat and makes it feel several degrees warmer than it actually is which can be very moderate in Hawaii. I highly recommend taking some water along if you plan staying on the beach for more than one hour in the full sun.

The view can take ones breath away as the contrast of the blue Hawaiian waters against a jet black stark shoreline with baby palms sparsely beginning to repopulate the area is a spectacle to witness like few others. Despite taking photos for memories, none would actually be needed, as the scene will forever remain burned into my mind.


I should note that as tempting as it will be to go swim in this area, one must approach this with great caution as the tide has killed a few people in this area, it has tremendous strength and for and can suck a person under in the blink of an eye. Even wading ones feet in the shoreline with the tide coming in, one can feel its potential power.


Of course our shoes were removed, as the urge to feel this new fresh sand between ones toes is undeniable!   The heat of it catches your attention immediately; again all that blackness absorbs heat in amazing fashion! Its newness and coarseness grabs your senses next! It is both hard like glass and soft like dirt all at once. Unlike regular sand it brushes away easily from your feet!


Its absolutely awing geologically speaking (which I am far from any expert) to conceive that this sand is younger than myself. All one has to do though is pause, look around the beach and easily imagine its origins as the lava flows are eroded into rocks, then black pebbles and finally into sand! The power of the tide as it draws back into the ocean beneath ones feet threatening to take you along is the engine at work here!



Regretfully my plan for this trip was to see a lot and experience it only a little, and so we found some rocks from which we dusted our feet of black crystals and resumed our exploration of the nearby landscape. I should note that we only ran into a handful of people on this beach which truly only heightened the whole experience all the more!




The solitude and having this place virtually to ones self was an experience onto itself!

The strip of sand at the trails beachhead was small really, the rest was hard rock and higher banks as the high tide kept the larger beach submerged in a white wavy froth! So we walked along the east bank with the ocean some 10 feet blow. The waves crashed in on the rocks and we could see black crabs clinging and scurrying around on the lava formed playground.




One is frequently reminded of the struggle for life to reestablish itself! 

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BlackBeachWaves_2201 BlackShore_NDF_2239


I hope you enjoyed this series of pictures and small story about one of the most interesting places I have visited in my life!  These pictures are really drafts at this point, you can see I have played with the color a little bit in these and when i go to reprocess them for print they will be adjusted to better match across the series.

By the way, when you return from the beach, there is a great little natural smoothie shop, just the place to refuel yourself before you hit the road again!


Next I’ll share some other pictures from my trip when I work my way through them!


This entry was posted in Talking Photography.