Best Beaches of the Big Island, Hawaii

Kekaha Kai cove

If you’re a beach lover like me, taking a trip to the beach is one of the most relaxing vacations. Sink into a beach chair, curl your toes into soft sand, and watch the surf roll in.

Whenever I go to a place with beaches, I always want to find the “best” beach. But I don’t want to stay in one place all the time either. I like to explore different areas of an island or coast.

Recently I traveled to the Big Island of Hawaii for the first time. Here are the best beaches on the island.

Hapuna beach
A local girl catching some rays on Hapuna Beach.

Hapuna Beach State Park

This is the best beach on Hawaii. It is located on the northwest coast of the island in an area called the Kohala coast. The beach is hundreds of yards long, with soft white sand. Entrance to the water is sandy, smooth, and fairly shallow. It is an excellent beach for families with children. The surf break is relatively mild and is good for easy body surfing. There is no shade at this beach so bring an umbrella if you have one.

Kekaha Kai beach
An empty beach at Kekaha Kai early in the morning.

Kekaha Kai State Park

This state park is just north of the Kona International Airport on Queen Ka’ahumananu Highway. There are actually two separate beaches. The access to the first beach (the one farther north) is via a paved road whose entrance is across the highway from the Veteran’s Cemetery. It has soft white sand and park facilities, but no shade. Snorkeling is good along the rocks on the left side of the beach (facing the ocean). A local told me that dolphins are frequently seen in the shallow waters just off the beach.

Kekaha Kai cove
A secluded cove at Kekaha Kai State Park.

The second beach (the one farther south than the first), is accessed from the highway over a rough, unpaved road across a lava field. The road twists and turns for a mile or so from the highway to the beach parking area. Drive slowly or be prepared to lose a muffler if you aren’t driving a high clearance vehicle. From the parking area, it is a short hike of about two hundred yards to a pristine curved beach fringed by trees. This beach is typically less crowded than the others, probably because of the rough drive to get to it. It is a fine place to spend the day because there is shade.  Bring a beach chair, a cooler full of food and drink, and forget about the rest of the world.

White Sand Beach
The magic sands of White Sand Beach.

White Sands Beach Park

White Sands is located a few miles south of Kailua town on Ali’I Drive. It is a small beach, but it has soft white sand and is known for its surf break. Locals and tourists alike come to White Sands to ride boogie boards in the surf. A couple of days I was there, the surf was high and rough. I only managed a few rides on my boogie board before I was done getting tossed around and ground into the sand. To the right of the beach are reefs with lots of fish for good snorkeling and resident turtles. The beach is also known as Magic Sands Beach because winter storms sometimes make the sand disappear.

big fish
I went fishing and all I caught was this one…

 

Kahuluu Beach Park

This beach is a few hundred yards south of White Sands Beach on Ali’I Drive. This is a popular snorkeling spot. The beach has ugly gray sand and is generally unimpressive, but the snorkeling is superb. There are a lot of reefs spread around the bay in shallow water. The inexperienced snorkelers tend to stay close to the left side, but I found that the best snorkeling is farther out into the bay near the reef line. This is the only beach that I visited that had any food or drinks for sale. At Kahuluu there was a food truck parked near the facilities, selling ice cream, snacks, and sodas.

black sand beach
Hot on the feet!

Punaluu County Beach Park

Punlauu Beach has Hawaii’s famous black sand. The sand is crushed black lava. This beach is on the southeast side of Hawaii. If you are taking a driving tour of the island, it is about 67 miles (and 1 hour and 45 minutes) from Kailua-Kona.

It is definitely worth the drive to see this beach. It is spectacular. However, the black sand gets very hot! Wear water shoes or flip flops instead of going barefoot to walk across this beach. Also, the surf is rough and there are lots of rocks in the water at the shoreline. So it is not a good beach for swimming or lounging, but it is an amazing sight.

After previously visiting Oahu, Maui, and Kawaii, I think I like the Kona coast of the Big Island of Hawaii the best.

golf course view on Hawaii
Tropical paradise on the Big Island, Hawaii.

Dubrovnik: Jewel of the Adriatic

Dubrovnik Harbor

Unlike many places in the Mediterranean and the Adriatic, you can actually find a sandy beach in Dubrovnik. I don’t know if it was trucked in from somewhere else, or it if was naturally occurring. I don’t really care. I just want to sink my toes into sand when I’m at the beach.

Banje Beach
Banje Beach, just outside the town walls of Dubrovnik.

Europeans must have tougher bodies, and especially tougher feet, than I do. Most beaches on the Mediterranean and Adriatic are made up of pebbles instead of sand. Sometimes the rocks are rough like gravel. The pebbles can be the size of peas or even as large as golf balls. The beach in Nice, for example, has stones the size of lemons, but at least they are smooth.  The beach goers stretch out their towels and lay down on the rocks and pretend it’s comfortable. Seems more like a form of torture to me.

Dubrovnik Harbor
The harbor in Dubrovnik.

The coast in Croatia is beautiful. I only got to Dubrovnik and didn’t have to time to venture farther up the Dalmatian coast, or to go out to one of the many Croatian islands in the Adriatic Sea. The weather was perfect for lounging at the beach and swimming in the clear, cool water of the sea.

Dubrovnik walls.
The high walls of Dubrovnik.

Fortunately for my feet, I found that the closest beach to the Old Town, called Banje Beach, was sandy. It was an easy 10 minute walk outside the Port Gate of the Old Town. The view of the Old Town from the beach is fantastic.

I found a sandy spot on which to relax, however, the edge of the water was a small wall of pebbles…

Dubrovnki beach
Which way to the beach?
Dubrovnik street
A street in Dubrovnik at night.

Dubrovnik has existed for more than 1,000 years. The defining feature of the Old Town are the city walls that encircle the town. Some parts of the wall are twenty feet thick. There are only two gates in the wall. Some buildings in the town date from the 1300s. The town was bombed by the Serbs during a siege in the Yugoslav war in 1991, damaging more than half of the buildings and killing over 100 residents. I don’t remember hearing about that in the US news at the time.  In the late 1990s, the city repaired the damage caused by the Serb artillery shelling.

Dubrovnik side street
A narrow side street in Dubrovnik.

Dubrovnik is very popular right now due to the hit TV show “Game of Thrones.” The Old Town is used to represent the fictional city of King’s Landing in the show. Walking tours of the old town that visit filming sites are big attractions for the tourists.

I liked walking around the Old Town, but it was so clean and perfect looking that I thought I had wandered into Disneyland or a movie set. Thousands of tourists (many of them from cruise ships) pour into the town every day. The main street becomes very crowded. It’s better to stroll along the backstreets in the evening.

Dubrovnik wall.
Dubrovnik town wall at dusk.

Dubrovnik, one of the best preserved medieval walled cities in the world, should be on your travel bucket list.

Three ways to visit Tulum

Caribbean Sea

I kept driving down the narrow road through the Sian Ka’an Ecological Preserve of the Yucatan Peninsula looking for a break in the jungle. I knew the Caribbean Sea was on my left. I could see glimpses of the water every now and then through the trees. After an eternity I came upon a sandy spot where the road widened slightly. There was a car parked half on the road, half in the brush. There was just enough room behind the car for me to park.

I got my beach towel and climbed a small dune. Ahead of me the turquoise water sparkled brilliantly in the afternoon sunshine. The small waves crashed into the shore onto smooth sand. To either side, the strand stretched as far as the eye could see. Not a person in sight, I was like Robinson Crusoe discovering a beach paradise.

Tulum beach
A beach paradise south of Tulum, Mexico.

Until the sound of hip hop assaulted my ears from a boom box twenty yards away. A guy was lounging in the shade of an impromptu lean-to made out of sticks and fabric. He had a cooler of beer, snacks, a Speedo, and a little black Dachshund that followed him out to the water and yipped when the guy went under the surf.

Still, I was almost alone on an incredibly beautiful beach on the Riviera Maya. It was warm and the sun was shining. It was a good day to be alive.

Caribbean Sea
The turquoise sea…. Natural… nobody cleans up the seaweed.

My first stop that day in Tulum was at the famous archeological ruins. The pre-Colombian Maya built a major port city on the site in the 13th through 15th centuries. The city, with 1,000 to 5,000 inhabitants, was situated on top of 40 foot high cliffs above the beach. Tulum appears to have been an important site for the worship of a “Diving” or “Descending” god. The people were probably wiped out by smallpox brought by the Spanish conquistadors.

As I walked around the site in an hour, I kept thinking of the movie called Apocolypto. Luckily, while I was there nobody got sacrificed or had their heart ripped out.

Mayan ruins
Some of the Mayan ruins at Tulum.

Next, I went into the nearby pueblo (town) for lunch at a traditional local restaurant. As I sat on a plastic chair on the sidewalk, munching excellent taco chips and salsa, a smooth jazz trio played a tight groove behind me. It was a good change from the mariachi bands prevalent in the tourist areas. I was the only outsider in the place.

Fortified with a burrito and a local beer called Sol, I went in search of a Mexican beach to call my own. I drove down a road called Highway 109, which quickly degenerated into a narrow path into the hotel zone south of Tulum. The Tulum hotel zone is quite different than Cancun’s abomination of a hotel zone. Places to stay on this part of the coast are small boutique hotels, beachfront cabanas, and eco-camping spots. The place had a hippie vibe to it. It was the kind of place to hide away from the world for a while. Just turn off the cell phone, have a margarita and relax.

Tulum ice cream truck.
The Tulum ice cream man.

Unfortunately I wasn’t staying at any of those retro chic resorts. The properties were enclosed by fences, there was no parking, and no obvious public access to the beach. So I kept driving south farther into the preserve, hoping for a break in the fencing.

I drove until I finally discovered the only car parked along the Preserve road, and saw the path to the beach. It was worth the drive.

Tulum beach
A hidden beach below the Tulum ruins.

Millions vacation every year at the mega-resorts in the Cancun hotel zone. If you like a swim-up bar, noisy pool volleyball, multi-level marketing bonus groups from Sheboygan, and kids kicking sand in your direction, please stay there.

For peace and relaxation, and maybe a little isolation, head south of Tulum until you can find your spot in the sun.

Partying With Supermodels On The French Riviera

private beach on the Riviera

The French Riviera has always had an allure for me. I like French culture, outstanding geography, sunshine, beaches (even if some have pebbles), and the sea. It all comes together on the Cote d’Azur.

Riviera scene
Aaahh! The French Riviera.

I also like movies and someday I would like to attend the Cannes Film Festival. On this trip I was in Antibes during the film fest.  Antibes is a small beach town a few kilometers down the coast road from Cannes. I wanted to pretend to be a paparazzi and try out my new telephoto zoom lens on some celebrities, but I had read that only officially recognized journalists and photographers were allowed into the tent areas where the stars come out to be seen.

The Cannes party scene is also legendary. The big name actors and actresses come to promote their latest movies (whether or not the films are in the festival). The movie studios throw elaborate parties full of the glitterati consuming champagne and caviar. Or so I’ve read in People magazine. I have never been invited.

So I avoided the crush of Cannes and stayed on the beach at Juan-les-Pins in Antibes. The Mediterranean Sea sparkled, the sun was warm, the beach sand was comfortable, a few sunbathers were topless…

juan-les-pins
The sandy beach at Juan-Les-Pins (minus the sunbathers :))

There are two parts to the beach on the French Riviera – private and public. A private beach is typically in front of a beach café/restaurant/club. The private beach has muscular young men in polo shirts bringing expensive drinks to patrons while they recline on comfortable padded lounge chairs. For the privilege of such comfort and service the beachgoers pay 25 euros per day to sit on the chairs and use an umbrella. Signs around the private beach notify the riff-raff to stay out.

Since I am too cheap to pay 25 euros to sit on someone’s chair at the beach, I find a spot on the public beach, which in many cases is right next to the private beach. At the beach in Juan-les-Pins where I was, I laid out my towel on the sand just a few feet from the private beach rope.

private beach on the Riviera
A typical private beach next to a public beach on the French Riviera.

A few days later I had an early flight to catch from the Nice airport. I was loaded with my backpack, rolling suitcase, and dastardly GPS unit. I was walking through the hotel lobby at 5am and noticed two guys in tuxedos sitting in the lobby.  They appeared to be professional photographers, with their big cameras on the table in front of them.  They were busily typing away on laptops, possibly uploading photos for their editors.

As I kept walking in my early morning haze while looking back at the photographers I almost walked right into two woman who were standing directly in my path. They were stunning models in evening dresses. They looked like the eye candy you see on the Oscars broadcasts, the women who politely usher the long-winded Hollywood stars off stage.  Brightly colored long dresses, 5 inch stiletto heels, big hair, painted faces, long legs.

“Excusez-moi,” I stammered, momentarily disconcerted by their surprise appearance.

I walked out the front doors of the hotel and saw two more exquisite supermodels in evening dresses sitting at a table by the front door.

“Excusez-moi, monsieur!  Avec-vous une cigarette?”

What? Are you talking to me? I still wasn’t fully awake.   Was I dreaming? No, this is happening and she is talking to you. She’s asking you a question.

“Uh, non… Je ne fume pas,” I answered.

I kept walking without saying anything more. The two beauties smirked and giggled.  One of them called after me:

“Êtes-vous American?”

Yes, I am.  I would like to sit down and have a chat with both of you, I want to know which Cannes party you went to last night and why you didn’t invite me along to escort both of you, but I’m married and I have a plane to catch.  To America.

The Dog Rescuer of Zakynthos

Chewbacca

I came around the sharp curve and slammed on the brakes. I almost rear-ended the car in front of me. The car had stopped suddenly because the car in front of it had stopped suddenly. I couldn’t tell what was going on. How could there be a traffic jam on the island of Zakynthos?

old church on Zakynthos
An old church on Zakynthos.

Zakynthos is in the Ionian Sea between Greece and Italy. It was once ruled by the Venetians, who called it Zante. It is still known by both names. Today it is a tourist center for sun-seeking Scandinavians and Germans, as well as for Greeks from the mainland. I was spending a few days on the southeast coast of the island, because that is where the best beaches are.

Zakynthos beach, Greece
An almost empty beach on Zakynthos.

It turned out this traffic jam was only three cars long. After a couple of minutes, the lead car moved on, followed slowly by the car in front of me. I inched forwarded to prepare to take the next hairpin turn and stopped again. There was a puppy in front of me.

He had sat down in the middle of the road. Again. Now I knew the reason for the stops. I pulled my car to the side of the road and jumped out.

old olive tree
An ancient olive tree.

He was a cute little guy, all big feet and floppy ears. He was some kind of mutt but with a nice coloring of buff yellow, white, and light brown. He was about three or four months old. He came over to me as he wagged his tail. I scooped him up into my arms. He started licking my face.

“Hey little guy, you can’t wander around in the road like that. Somebody is going to run you over.”

There was an old house at this turn of the road. With the pup in my arms I walked to the front door and rang the bell. There was no answer. I banged on the door. There was still no answer. After ringing and banging for a while I gave up. Maybe it’s not his house?

I walked down the road to the next house and started ringing that door bell. There was no answer at this place either. Did everyone go to town tonight? The pup kept licking my face.

Those were the only houses around so I turned to walk back to my car to wait until somebody showed up. I couldn’t in good conscience leave the pup alone.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a middle-aged woman pushing a wheelchair towards me. A very old woman was in the wheelchair. They were about fifty yards away. Maybe they could help me find the dog’s owner.

Zakynthos view
A fellow hiker enjoys the view of the Ionian Sea.

I waited by the side of the road. As they got near me the woman got a big smile on her face and starting talking excitedly in Greek. Of course I had no idea what she was saying.
Like a tourist, I started talking to her in English.

“Hi. I found this puppy in the road. He almost got run over by a car. Do you know whose it is?” I said.

“No English,” she said, then rattled on in Greek. She did point to herself, the dog and the first house. This was a good sign. It must be her dog, that must be her house, and the old woman must be her grandma. She must have walked down the road to grandma’s house to get her or perhaps was taking her for a walk.

Since she was pushing the wheelchair I carried the puppy as we walked back to her house. When we got to her driveway, I started to set the puppy down. The woman chattered away again. I didn’t understand the words but her hand motions indicated that she wanted me to keep the pup and take it away with me.

Chewbacca
This is my new dog Chewbacca, not the Greek puppy.

“Whooaa, lady, I like dogs, I love puppies, and this seems like a nice one, but I can’t take your dog with me,” I protested. She didn’t understand me. She kept going with her hand gestures and rapid fire Greek.

I tried to explain that I was just visiting and that I was leaving the island tomorrow. I couldn’t take a dog with me. Besides, I already had a new puppy reserved for me back home. I was picking it up in a few weeks.

Eventually she realized that I meant business. I set the puppy down and told it to stay. He sat down and looked up at me with sad eyes.

I said “Arrivederci” (since I don’t even know how to say goodbye in Greek), got in my car, and drove away.