If you drive past the resort areas in South Maui there’s a long, glorious stretch of sand named, simply, Big Beach. That’s what hippie squatters started calling it back in the 70’s, and although there are various Hawaiian names for it as well, local signs still use it. It’s a name as fitting as it is boring: Big Beach is an orange crescent more than 2/3 of a mile long and wide enough to really spread out.
Unlike most other Maui beaches, Big Beach is in a State Park (called Makena State Park). That means that, aside from from lifeguard stations, it’s completely undeveloped: no houses, resorts, condos, etc. Although you probably won’t be alone there, the sheer size of the beach means it never feels crowded. This is what all of South Maui was like before tourism really took off: removed from the irrigated & manicured resorts, it’s dry and rugged with a wild and austere beauty.
The “big” in its name could also refer to the surf here. Because of its orientation to the southwest, the island of Kaho’olawe doesn’t entirely block waves coming in from the open ocean. There’s also no fringing reef to break things up, so the waves at Big Beach are large and powerful – especially compared with the area’s other beaches. That makes it less than ideal – and potentially dangerous – for swimming and snorkeling. It’s not great for surfing either, though, because the waves crash directly onto the sand…what’s called a “beach break.”
If you’re not a confident swimmer, it’s probably best to stay out of the water entirely (nearly all the other nearby beaches that will be better for you). Playing in the waves can be a lot of fun, though, as long as you’re careful. Diving under and through the crashing waves has provided hours of fun over my several visits to Big Beach. The only real objective is not to get sucked, in surfer lingo, “over the falls.” Doing so means getting pounded into the sand and then wrung out in a slurry of foamy, sand-filled water. Battered and gasping for air, you get washed up on the beach and scramble to not to get dragged back out by the receding water. I have a friend, who I won’t name here, who can attest to just how unpleasant – but memorable – this experience can be.
I’m not trying to scare you, though. The waves aren’t always big, and even if they are, Big Beach is a great place for a stroll or to admire a gorgeous Hawaiian sunset.