If you’re visiting the Big Island and have time for only one beach, I recommend Anaeho‘omalu Bay, also called A-Bay for the Hawaiian-language challenged. It’s the one place where you can swim in a calm bay, learn to snorkel or paddleboard, rent water-sports equipment, beachcomb, see a bit of Hawaiian history with the royal fish ponds, choose between shade or sun, and even see the occasional Hawaiian Sea Turtle. And when you’re tired, hungry or thirsty, wander over to the Lava Lava Beach Club for beach-side pupus and a drink in the shade. Let me take you there.
At the edge of the free public parking area, you may see cats. I’ve seen as many as 15 feral kitties here, now neutered and cared for by volunteers.
It’s a short shaded walk to the beach on a paved path through palms, kiawe trees, and flowering trees and bushes, then past restrooms and showers. The entrance point at the beach is the divide between the more touristy section to the right (north) and the quieter section to the left (south).
This is where my friend Dianne and I always park our beach chairs, in the shade of the palm trees. Chaise lounges are also available, but we want to make sure we have seats. With soft, warm on-shore breezes, it’s the perfect spot to read, visit, savor a simple lunch from the nearby Queen’s Marketplace, and nap.
The beach sand is coarse, a combination of lava granules, coral, shell bits and olivine crystals. Coral sand is the poop of the parrotfish who munches on the plentiful coral in the bay. This sand tends to be stickier than other kinds. Even when dried, I have to brush it from my feet and legs. Dr. Gary Greenberg, author of A Grain of Sand – Nature’s Secret Wonder, will be at the International Beachcombing Conference next month. I’m going to take this opportunity to ask him why this sand so sticky.
The bay is calm. The waves here won’t pummel you the way Hapuna Beach‘s shorebreak does. We walk just a bit north to enter the water in a stretch without rocks, along the spit of beach between the ocean and the fish ponds. Right here is the perfect spot for my favorite water sport, bobbing.
If you want to rent snorkeling equipment or learn how to snorkel, walk up the beach to the Ocean Sports Hut. It’s in front of the path that leads across the fishpond to the Marriott Resort.
The Ocean Sports folks also rent stand-up paddle boards and give paddle board lessons. That is definitely on my bucket list. And they rent kayaks (not on my list) and hydro-bikes.
During morning hours, they have a covered glass-bottom boat going out on a regular schedule to see the coral, fish and turtles in the bay. The on-board guides identify what you’re seeing. I’ve done this and found it an enjoyable way to see the bay floor, especially if your snorkeling skills are weak.
While you’re over there, pause to examine the Kuʻualiʻi and Kahāpapa Fishponds, which are inland across a spit of land from the bay. Kuʻualiʻi is to the south and Kahāpapa is to the north.
The ancient Hawaiians practiced a form of aquaculture to capture and raise fish. The pond is a shallow pool with a low lava wall separating it from the ocean, where the keepers cultivated algae and small fry to feed the larger fish. Ocean water came in through the porous lava wall. A walled inlet with a small grill placed at the end allowed young fish such as mullets into the pond. But as they fattened up on the food there, they became too big to get back out. The keepers then caught these fish and served them only to Hawaiian royalty. Anaeho‘omalu means “restricted mullet” in the Hawaiian language.
From the vantage point of the bridge, I love to watch the fish darting in the water, the crabs scurrying along the lava walls, and especially the eels that hide in the rock wall crevices just underneath it. I’ve even seen some three-foot eels swimming around in the pond. Occasionally, the mullets leap out of the water and “fly” long distances, three feet or more.
The south end of the bay is my favorite. It’s tranquil and a great place to do a bit of medi- tative beach-combing. I almost always see one or two turtles here. The lava’s interface with the water has wonderful tidal pools to explore. You can even find some flat sections of lava carved with the Ancient Hawaiian’s game of konane.
Earlier this week, Deacon (Dr. Beachcomb) brought me to the bay to show me the meditative practice of finding bits of olivine crystal. I’ve been there dozens of times, but never paid much attention to the tiny sparkles and certainly didn’t notice that they were green. One could find the practice tedious…or meditative. I’m hooked on this new way to enjoy my favorite beach.
Dianne and I try to get here every week, though we are lucky to make it once a month. Pity – there’s so much to do and see. Or not. For me, the relaxing pursuits are the best.
Updated 6/27/16: WARNING: If you or your children are going to this bay to swim/bob, make sure you are not doing this during low tide. We always swim/bob in front of the reef, when the water is shoulder height. But last week, we happened to be there during low tide, and the reef was so close to shore that the water was only about two feet deep in front of it. So we bobbed behind it – big mistake. Luckily, I was using a noodle which allowed me to float, not walk, to get around.
The bottom behind the reef is silt-like, not sandy, and full of large rocks. Dianne stepped on a largish patch of rocks and yelped when three 2-inch sea urchin spines jabbed into her toes. They broke off when she tried to extract them and the venom they injected made her toes hurt for hours. Another mistake was to attempt to cross the reef (which also contains urchins) to return to the beach. Diane sliced her hand on sharp edges. Learning from her mistake, I floated horizontally behind the reef until I found a break that I could walk through. Later that day, she found dozens of spines embedded in her feet.
We love this beach, but we will be checking the tide tables before we swim here again.
For more essays on Anaeho‘omalu Bay, see:
The Elixir perfected, and
Big Island Waters – humpback singles bar.
Essays on other Big Island beaches include:
The new standard is Mauna Kea Beach
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Diane I loved the don’t feed the cat photo and your foot displaying sand types.
A-Bay is your one stop shop. A great place to kill time before a meal, or nap after a meal. Drop the kids off shopping and head to A-Bay. A Disney Family favorite is watching early evening holidy fireworks on the beach they seem to explode above you.
Dear Stacy, Fireworks sounds great! I’ll have to try it. I neglected to mention that sunsets are beautiful viewed over a glass of wine at Lava Lava Beach Club. But then there’s the problem of getting home. Ah, trouble in Paradise…
It was great seeing you last week. I need to email you with my schedule. Have you ever walked further to the south where the absolutely icy fresh water pond is?
Malia, no. That sounds fascinating. I’ll have to get my hiking boots on and check it out. Thanks for the tip.
It seems like it was about half an hour south and to your left a little ways. I could go with you after the first week of May. Water and sunscreen are a must, but I think you already know that. 😉
Good memories of time spent there with you. No more shark warnings?
Haven’t heard of any, but then again I was gone for three weeks. Sometimes it’s best not to ask. 😉