According To Our Research, Shipman Beach Is Big Island's Most Underrated
Okay, you caught me...by "research", I definitely mean time spent lounging on this epic beach, but hey, you're basically talking to an expert... That's gotta count for something, right? And, in my well-researched opinion, Shipman Beach is certainly one of Big Island's most underrepresented adventures. A bit off the beaten path, the beach is nestled along the southeastern shoreline and is sometimes called Haena Beach (not to be confused with the beach of the same name on Kauai) . Why's it so special? The hike to the beach has everything you could want in a Hawaiian hike from jungle vines and ocean views to wildlife and hidden secrets.
Shipman Beach, Photo by Thomas Tunsch, CC BY SA 3.0, via Flickr
Something that spectacular must be difficult to get to, right? It's actually not too bad! In fact, it's just a 2.5 mile hike down an easy, scenic trail. The best part of the trek? At the end of the hike, you're rewarded with a beautiful secluded beach that never has a crowd. Between the sea turtles, giant banyan trees, and blue waters, you’ll feel like you’ve walked into a fairy tale in Shipman Beach.
Finding the hike to Shipman Beach shouldn’t be much of a struggle. You could just follow the voice in the back of your mind telling you to forget your responsibilities and go find an adventure. That alone should plant you right around the trailhead. But, if you’re internal BPS (Beach Positioning System) is on the fritz, we’ve got you covered with step-by-step directions below.
Getting To Shipman Beach Trailhead: If you're looking for the hike on Google Maps (we know you are), search for Beach Road parking on Beach Road in Hawaiian Paradise Park, Keaau. Searching Maps for the trailhead or beach won’t get you to either. This official Hawaii.gov map will also get you to the right location. Search “Puna Trail” in the box on the top left.
Otherwise, here's your route: Out of Keaau, head south on HI-130 (Keaau-Pahoa Road). As you drive along Hawaiian Paradise Park, look for Kaloli Drive and take a left on it. Follow it all the way to the end, then take a left onto Beach Road. At the end of Beach Road, you'll see a gravel parking lot and marked trailhead. Pretty easy so far, huh?
The Hike and Beach
There’s a lot to explore, discover, and learn on this fully stocked adventure in Shipman Beach. Here's everything you need to know.
The hike shouldn’t give anyone too much trouble. If it's been rainy, you’ll want to bring shoes you don’t mind getting muddy. But overall, the hike is relatively short with an elevation change of fewer than 25 feet. Plant lover? Well guess, what... the first half of the hike will take you through some dense jungle, with plenty of opportunity to spot some exotic fauna. Plus, the trail is wide and well maintained!
Along this first half, there are some huge banyan trees you won’t be able to miss. You’ll probably also see a few Ohias at this point on the hike and many more a bit further down. You can learn about the beliefs, traditions, and legends that surround the Ohia plant here. They're currently suffering from an island-wide disease so check out this guide for advice on helping save them while you explore your hike to Shipman Beach!
Ohia trees have environmental and cultural significance in Hawaii and are best enjoyed from a distance. Photo Courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) - Mark Kushimi
On this portion of the hike, you may also want to be on the lookout for wild hogs. These feral, invasive sons-of-guns will usually run away from people, but be careful, they can become aggressive.
Get ready for a view! About halfway through the trail, it’ll start to run along a basalt cliff shore. If it's your first time, we’d recommend taking the trail that continues at varying distances from shore, rather than the shoreline. However, if you're looking for some variety, you can hike along the shore all the way to Shipman Beach -- you can’t miss it. That being said, I don’t recommend taking it back...Full disclosure: It can be difficult to reconnect with the trail and some hikers (me 🙋♂️) could get lost.
Depending on conditions, you may need to get muddy for the final hundred feet or so of the hike.The good news is, at this point, the beach should already be in view! And... what a sight to see -- Shipman Beach is beautiful. Black and white sand form a swirly mix across the shore which is divided in half by a stream that feeds into the ocean. Basalt cliffs border the beach on either side, and the historic Shipman Estate sits behind it. The cliff and pools closest to the hike are a beautiful place to explore, however, the other side of the beach can be quite dangerous.
Rogue waves combined with sharp lava rock have injured multiple people over the years. Ten to fifteen yards out into the ocean you might be able to find a few sinkholes which are a fun distraction. Careful, you may find them without looking! But don’t worry, they are only a foot or two deep at the most.
Don’t forget your goggles because there are a lots of fish and other forms of sea life to see in Shipman Beach!
It's not uncommon to see sea turtles swimming around the waters at Shipman Beach. Photo by Jeremy Bishop
Shipman Beach Wildlife
As you pass from the trail onto the beach, you’ll probably notice signage for the nēnē (Hawaiian goose) refuge. Shipman Beach and surrounding Shipman Estate make up the oldest nēnē breeding reservation in the world. Read the informational panels and signs for notices, restrictions, and tips on how to keep these birds safe. You should also check out all the lava rock surrounding the beach -- the safe parts, anyways! There's almost always an abundance of sea turtles, which can sometimes be found on the beach or swimming around close to shore as well. If you're really, really lucky...
You may even get to see a Hawaiian monk seal. These big, lovable guys and gals are always welcome company on the islands. Remember to keep your distance from each of these of animals since they're endangered and protected. Monk seals, in particular, are teetering on existence and should be given an extra wide berth. Please try not to make disturbing noises or gestures within earshot of the seals, as well. These creatures aren’t found anywhere else in the world outside of the Hawaiian Islands and need to feel comfortable in all of their very limited habitat. Officials will make you pay a hefty fine of up to $50,000 if you are caught disturbing the monk seals. Rangers, police, and local residents all take seal protection very seriously, but as long as you are highly respectful, you shouldn’t have an issue.
What Are You Waiting For? Grab Your Hiking Shoes!
If you take this hike you’ll almost certainly find it really does have it all. The jungle provides an adventurous feel to the hike, and, boy, what a reward that beach is! If you're into botany, there's plenty to see and that’s also true for animal life. But please remember: these plants and animals should be respected to a tremendous extent. Lastly, remember to always hike safely!
Shaka Guide has five audio driving tours that take you to each corner of the Big Island! Check out the Shaka Guide Big Island app to download the tours and start exploring.