While many visitors to Makena on South Maui head straight to famous Big Beach, those in the know make a stop a little further up the coast.
Oneuli Beach may not have the soft white sands of Big Beach, but it does have something a little more unusual.
At Oneuli, the waves crashing against lava rocks have created a beach of black sand.
Plan your visit to this interesting natural phenomena with this guide to Oneuli Beach, Maui.
Wait, Black Sand?
Yes, Oneuli Beach is one of the famous black sand beaches of Maui.
Situated next to the Pu’u Ola’i cinder cone, Oneuli Beach was formed by the powerful Maui waves crashing against the lava rock of the cinder cone.
This gradually wore the hard lava down, creating the black sand of Oneuli Beach. “Oneuli” actually means “dark sands” in Hawaiian!
Oneuli isn’t Maui’s most famous black sand beach—that’s Wai’anapanapa State park on East Maui.
However, it’s the most accessible black sand beach for those staying on West Maui or South Maui.
It also doesn’t require a reservation to visit! Although Wai’anapanapa is exceptional, it’s part of the long Road to Hana, and visitors have to reserve a visit in advance.
Hidden from view in Makena, South Maui, Oneuli Beach is a bit of a secret spot. Few visitors make the trip because they just don’t know that it’s there!
Getting To Oneuli Beach
Oneuli Beach is found in Makena State Park, on South Maui. Traveling from Kihei, you come to Oneuli before reaching Little Beach or Big Beach.
It can’t be spotted from the road, which means many visitors drive straight past as they head to the better known Makena beaches.
Follow Makena Alanui Road roughly 3.8 miles south of the Grand Wailea Resort, and you’ll come across a dirt trail that’s the access road for Oneuli Beach.
It isn’t signposted, but there is a yellow access gate that marks the entry point. Turn right on to the dirt trail, and follow it towards the sea.
The trail ends in a parking lot at Oneuli Beach.
As part of Makena State Park, you do have to pay a fee to visit Oneuli Beach. This is typically $5 per person, and $10 per vehicle.
Most consider the parking fee at Big Beach to cover the fee at Oneuli, but you’re always welcome to pay again if you’re feeling generous!
What To Do At Oneuli Beach
Oneuli Beach is a good spot for snorkeling and kayaking, but not so great for swimming and sunbathing.
The black sand might look cool, but it’s not exactly comfortable for lying on. And in the water, it quickly gives way to a hard lava floor.
However, as the parking lot is so close to the edge of the sea, many choose Oneuli as a launching point for kayaks exploring the Wailea and Makena coastline.
For further exploration, there’s a trail across Pu’u Ola’i cinder cone that you can join at Oneuli. Be aware that it’s tough going, with large sections of the trail poorly marked.
The views are incredible, but the walk is tiring.
But, let’s be honest: most people head to Oneuli just to see an unusual natural phenomenon and take some pictures.
A sunset visit can be pretty spectacular, although you won’t see the dark sand in all its glory. The best time to visit if you want to see the dark sand come alive is an overcast day.
Dark skies bring out the lava, and make for epic pictures. It might not be much of a bathing beach, but you can pack a picnic and enjoy the serenity of an undiscovered gem, coupled with impressive ocean views.
Can You Snorkel At Oneuli Beach?
The abrupt switch from sand to rock makes Oneuli a difficult place to swim, but it also aids the exceptional snorkeling.
Reefs and coral can be found close to the shoreline, and with them comes an abundance of marine life.
There’s good snorkeling at both the north and south end of the beach, and during calmer mornings you can even explore the edge of the cinder cone. However, watch out for the swells.
Visit in the morning to enjoy calm seas at Oneuli, and stay out of the water if it’s looking rough. Makena is known for catching some powerful currents, and there are no lifeguards at Oneuli.
Facilities At Oneuli Beach
Sometimes there is a port-a-potty at Oneuli Beach, but that’s pretty much it in terms of facilities. And there’s no guarantee about the port-a-potty, either.
However, Oneuli beach is just a short drive from Big Beach, which has both restrooms and food stands.
Anything Else To Know?
Oneuli doesn’t have the rich dark sand of Wai’anapanapa State Park black sand beach. Instead, there’s a salt and pepper effect caused by the mixture of lava rock and ground shells.
Some of the sand even has a touch of red to it! If you want to see the sand at its darkest, visit when the skies are overcast. But even on sunny days, the gray effect is pretty and interesting.
The kiawe trees at Oneuli look ruggedly attractive, and are great for framing photos, but watch out for the thorns. These are long and sharp, and capable of punching through flip-flops.
Lava sand isn’t hugely comfortable anyway, so beach shoes are recommended when visiting Oneuli.
Maui’s Lesser Known Black Sand Beach
Oneuli doesn’t have quite the striking depth of color as the black sand beach at Wai’anapanapa, but it’s still impressive!
And visitors to West and South Maui can make the trip without needing to travel the long Road to Hana.
Pack your snorkel gear and keep an eye out for manta rays, or simply soak up the natural rugged scenery that makes Makena so noteworthy. And, of course, make time for a few photos.