Maui’s Kaihalulu Beach (Red Sand Beach):  Photo Tips and a Warning…
"Satan's Beach" I’ve done some crazy things to get a good photo: hung out the open doors of helicopters, snorkeled with sharks, hiked across a 105°F desert…but the most dangerous (ie.stupid) thing I may have ever done was to make the short walk to Kailaulu Beach in Hana.

Maui’s Kaihalulu Beach (Red Sand Beach): Photo Tips and a Warning…

I’ve done some crazy things to get a good photo:  hung out the open doors of helicopters, snorkeled with sharks, hiked across a 105°F desert…but the most dangerous (ie. stupid) thing I may have ever done was to make the short walk to Kailaulu Beach in Hana.

“Satan’s Beach” The ominous nature of this spot really manifests itself in this black and white image. On a map, the name of this spot is Kaihalulu Beach. Read on to see why I think “Satan’s Beach” is more accurate.

Locally known as the “Nude Beach” or ‘Red Sand Beach’, Kaihalulu is a crescent-shaped beach with, yes, red sand.  It is an incredible setting…the beach is actually cut out of the side of the Ka’uiki Head volcanic cinder, the water is an iridescent blue, and a wicked line of lava ‘Dragon’s Teeth’ thrust up through the surf across the neck of the cove.  It was one of the “must-photograph” spots I had selected L-O-N-G before my trip to Hawaii last year.

I had read everything I could find about Kaihalulu, checked out Google Maps, and even arrived in Hana the afternoon before so I could walk the path (a short half-mile hike) in the daylight.  Okay, so what made this so darn  ‘sketchy’ you might ask?   Well, first of all, it turned out that I couldn’t scout the trail after all…the area was blocked off because of a baseball tournament.  Not ideal, but no big deal, right?…so I show up the next morning with my headlamp and find the trail.  Wait a minute, my mistake…I said ‘trail’…do you consider something less than 6″ wide a trail?   And to make it really entertaining, this trail hugs the side of a dirt cliff with nothing to break your fall except insanely sharp lava boulders in the surf about 50-75’ below.  I really should have turned around….I mean…I really should have listened to that little voice inside me…but I was focused on the shot…and I continued.

As I descended the trail to the beach, it was clear that I had at least two more challenges.  First of all, the cloud cover was intense and the sun, which should have already been visible, was MIA.  Second, the photographs that had inspired me to trek to this beach featured the sun rising behind the ‘Dragon’s Teeth’…which make for a dramatic silhouette. However, after a moment or two, it was clear that the sun was going to rise so far to the east that the side of the cone/cliff would block it from view.  I had made a rookie mistake, I hadn’t checked where the sun would actually rise at the time of the year I was going to visit. (FYI…I was there in November, so I would guess you would need to hit this spot in the summer months in order to have the sun shift enough to the right to place it behind the ‘teeth.’

“Purple Haze” Sunrise breaks over the Dragon’s Teeth at Kaihalulu Beach on Maui.

Just the same, I was stoked and it was a breathtaking scene.  Then, the cloud cover had pity on me and started to split up so I was able to get to work and capture a few different perspectives.  HDR was very helpful because everything in the cove was shaded by the cone wall between me and the sun.

After too short of a time, the morning color faded away and I started to head back to the car to meet my (very patient) wife who had understandably decided to stay put and enjoy a nice book while I was off on my silly little trek.

Believe it or not, I actually had more trouble making my way back in the sunlight than I had getting to the beach in the dark.  Maybe I wasn’t concentrating as much, maybe I was overconfident…I don’t know…but I damn near slipped where the trail was at its narrowest point on the side of the cliff.  Boy…that jump-started the old adrenaline again!  I was shaking my head at my stupidity when who did I see waiting just around the bend of the trail?  It was my wife…who was worried about me (god bless that woman)!  She had the good common sense not to go on a slippery, narrow trail hugging the side of a cliff… as she told me later:  at least she would be able to tell the recovery team where to look for my body.

If you decide to photograph this spot, I hope this blog inspires you to be very, very careful.  I would NOT try to make the walk to the beach in the dark unless you had made the trip previously in the daylight.  Don’t make this hike alone.  I would also suggest that you try to reach the beach by walking along the shoreline (if it isn’t high tide and the surf isn’t too rough)….as I mentioned, the path further up the slope can get washed out and can be treacherous.

UPDATE: I just read a post by a paramedic who works in Hana.  He mentioned that in just the past year they have had six rescues of tourists who have hurt themselves on this trail…including one broken back.  Use good common sense.

How To Find Kaihalulu Beach:

  • See this link to a Google Maps view of the area.
  •  Park near the end of Uakea Road near the field by the Hana Community Center.  The trail will be on your right (south) at the edge of the grass parking lot.  Sometimes the trail is overgrown…so it might not be easily visible if it hasn’t been recently cleared.
  •  If you end up at the ruins of an old graveyard (the Japanese cemetery) , you’ve gone the wrong way.  Go back and look for a trail that heads down hill.  Again, I’d suggest you stay down near the ocean’s edge as long as you can rather than use the paths that are higher up.

A few suggestions:

  1. Plan to spend a night in Hana.  Nearly all the hotels on Maui are on the other side of the island and the famous ‘Road to Hana’ is not something you want to drive in the dark.
  2. There is only a single ‘traditional’ hotel in Hana, the Travaasa Hana…but it is not cheap.  However, if you look on Trip Advisor under ‘specialty housing’ you can find accomodations for less than half the price of the Travaasa.  In most cases, these are small bungalos rented out by local residents, so they are not the spic and span hotel rooms you might be used to…but you can save a bundle.
  3. There are two other great sunrise locations in Hana and they are so close together, you can easily cover at least one of them after getting your shotatKaihalulu:
    • Hana Beach Park is only a few minutes away from Kaihalulu
20130901_Hawaii_0058-0068 crop skew_HDR
Hana Beach Park…you can drive right up to this spot…
  •  Kōkī Beach Park is only about ten minutes away and you can get great shots that incorporate Alau island which is right off shore
Alau Island makes a wonderful focal point at this spot.
  • After you get your morning shot, head down the road to Haleakala National Park.  There is fantastic photography available there.  The famous Ohe’o Gulch, the Pipiwai Trail that runs though the photogenic Bamboo Forest and the incredible falls at Waimoku .  The park can get crowded, but most of the tourists don’t show up until mid-day (because they have to drive from the other side of the island), so you will have the place to yourself most of the morning.
  • There you have it.  Hana is a ‘target-rich environment’ for any photographer.  Take my advice and spend at least a full day or two here, there is a wealth of photo ops nearby.

    PS:  Yup, Kaihalulu really is a nude beach.  Funny, I didn’t see anyone there at dawn, but if you show up a bit later the scenery might be more exciting than you bargained for!


    Maui’s Kaihalulu Beach (Red Sand Beach):  Photo Tips and a Warning…

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    This Post Has 2 Comments

    1. I’ve had a similar experience trying to get to the Queen’s Bath in Kauai. I went by myself early in the morning, and realised afterwards, much as you did, that it was one of the most damn fool stupid things to have done. Innocuous-looking but actually dangerous and slippery trail, potential to get pulled off the rocks by waves, slippery mud, the whole works. I did fall, right next to the waterfall and went slamming into a rock. Later on I would read that a woman had broken her leg on the trail a few months prior, and that the Queen’s Bath has a body count.

      So I second your comment about using common sense and back it up with a “take a hiking buddy” for shots like these.

      Nice shots, btw. Super evocative.

      1. Well, glad to hear that I’m not the only one who has been upset with himself for taking a stupid chance to get a shot! Seriously, I’m usually pretty cautious and I’m old enough to know better, but I guess foolishness isn’t restricted to the young. Thanks for the link to your site…great beach reviews! I hope to visit some of them when my wife and I visit again in a couple years!

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