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Best Hawaiian Island Beaches for Shells

Posted by E.G.D. on May 8, 2012

 Today’s Featured Writer: Joseph Miller from HomeAway

Compared to some places on earth, seashells in Hawaii may be harder to find, but when you do find them they are rare and gorgeous. The same powerful surf that makes Hawaii’s amazing waves and gorgeous coastlines can be hard on shells, so intact shells are not as abundant as you might think. However, they are there and they can be real treasures.

How and Where to find Hawaiian Seashells

There are a few secrets for combing Hawaiian Island beaches for shells. The first thing you should know is that you may not find many shells right on the sand. Hawaii isn’t like Florida or the Bahamas, where you find seashells strewn all along the waterline as you wander down the beach. Hawaii hides many of its shells in the water. Wade, snorkel or swim out a bit, looking near the reefs, rocky outcrops and ledges.

Ceremonial Pu

The triton’s trumpet and the horned helmet shell are synonymous with Hawaii, as they are the large conch-like seashells blown at Hawaiian ceremonies, such as weddings and hula festivals. Look for them in slightly deeper water – sometimes up to about ten feet deep. Keep in mind that this sea life is rare and valued in Hawaiian culture. Collect only abandoned or slightly broken shells, and do not take more than one.

Along Hawaii’s beaches, look for cowrey shells. The islands are home to 35 different species of cowrey, a group of sea snails. They come in all sizes and colors, and you’ll often see them made into jewelry and crafts as souvenirs. If you don’t want a slimy surprise in your suitcase, make sure to check that there’s no snail inside.

Cowrey Shell, Hawaii

You can also find colorful pink and brown harp shells, pointy augers, and the broken bits of snail shell with natural holes in them, which are known as pukas. Sometimes you can be lucky enough to find the shells of sea urchins washed up along the shore.

Seashell Destinations

For great shells, head to Hanalei Bay, the largest beach on Kauai and one of the best in the island chain. The two miles of gorgeous, golden sand have coral reefs at both ends that hold shells. Pu’u Poa Reef is on the left, and Waikoko is on the right. Rent a kayak and head out to search for shells in shallow waters, but be careful in the winter months as there are strong currents. At bit further east on Kauai’s north shore, Tunnels Beach also has good shelling beach due to its reef, and it has the added appeal of reportedly being the origin of the puka shell necklace craze.

Hanalei Bay from Wai’oli Beach Park (Greg O’Shea/Wikimedia Commons)

On the Big Island of Hawaii, Hapuna Beach is a wonderful place to find large chunks of coral. The water is also clear, and the rocky southern tip of the beach is the best place for shelling.

On Maui, Kamaole Beach Park has good snorkeling and shelling around its rocky outcroppings, but an even better beach for shells on Maui is Keawakapu Beach. This stretch of sand also sees fewer visitors than other Maui beaches, so it’s less picked over.

Hapuna Beach, The Big Island, Hawaii

Words of Warning

The mosaic-patterned cone shell is lovely, but do not even dream of picking one up if you see it on the beach. The cone snail will sting you, and it is poisonous. Stings from a small cone snail feel like a bee sting, but the larger shells have enough venom to cause serious pain and even death.

While it is legal to comb Hawaiian Island beaches for shells, remember that some may still contain live animals, some of which are endangered, valued or rare. Please check that your beautiful souvenir isn’t still some creature’s home, and be sure to put it back in the water if there’s still something alive in there.

One last caution: While it may be a lot less work to just buy your seashells at a store, you should know that most of what’s for sale is not from Hawaii. Check the tags, or find your gorgeous souvenirs the old fashioned and far more memorable way, by renting a Hawaiian beach house and playing in the waves.

Head to Hawaii

A private Hawaiian beach house along the shores of the Hawaiian Islands is the dream of a lifetime for many people. With tropical breezes, incredible volcanic scenery, verdant landscapes and the deep blue Pacific Ocean, Hawaii is a paradise. Naturally, you’ll head home with lots of photos, and maybe even a t-shirt or a couple bags of macadamia nuts, but the very best Hawaiian souvenirs are free and right at your fingertips. So head out, hit the beach, and find your very own island treasures in Hawaii.

About the Author

Joseph Miller is a writer for HomeAway as well as a content analyst for their Travel Ideas site.  He has lived in California, Oregon, Florida, Texas and Tokyo and visits Hawaii with his wife and child whenever he can.

30 Responses to “Best Hawaiian Island Beaches for Shells”

  1. Jody said

    Wow, this is wonderful information! Thanks so much for even more inspiration to head back to Hawaii!

  2. Thank you for the tips! Mahalo~

  3. joanne newlund said

    Jody, this blog is so well done…full of wonderful and ever so memory provoking information. Thanks for sharing your time, talents and perspective. Beautiful pics as well. I want to go shelling right this minute. To bad the closest salt water is 6 hours away. Maybe if we both started now we could meet on the beach for dinner!!???

  4. […] ends that hold shells. Pu'u Poa Reef is on the left, and Waikoko … … Read more: Best Hawaiian Island Beaches for Shells « Beach Treasures and … ← Action Sports: Paddleboarding, Kiteboarding, Surfing – Charleston, SC Kauai Vacation […]

    • Jody said

      Aloha! Thanks so much for stopping by and for sharing our post! I don’t surf (yet) but would love to learn. I do, however, enjoy watching surfers. We’ll be using your site for nailing down the best surf beaches on our next trip to the islands. Makalo~

  5. I’ve been to Kauai and Hanalei. I love it so much. What beautiful shells, oh, I really wish I was there now!

  6. not sure why we were so unfortunate, but we found no shells at Keawakapu Beach – very disappointing

  7. This is great information!! My husband and I are planning a trip to Hawaii and I love to comb the beaches for sea shells and just to see any sea creatures I can find! San Francisco beaches are so different from Florida beaches or beaches on the East Coast, so I’m looking forward to checking out the beaches in Hawaii 🙂 thanks!!

    • Jody said

      You’re so welcome! I’m glad we could help! Please feel free to write a guest post (or two!) when you come home from from your vacation. We’d love to share what you found. Have a wonderful time!

  8. Thanks for the post as I am heading to Hawaii next month n will in mind about snails 🙂

  9. use to live on Maui…..aah…your post brought it all back, thanks! and the shells are just one small offering of that land of aloha….

  10. I had no idea the contents of some shells could sting – gorgeous shots.

  11. […] Best Hawaiian Island Beaches for Shells « Beach Treasures and … […]

  12. beachy117 said

    My hubby is there in Hawaii for “work”….lol. I will pass this on to him. I wish we could join him there!!

  13. Mike E. said

    Hapuna Beach indeed has many large white coral.cove is beautiful and home to Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel and Resort. Golf Tennis and surfing close by. Also, a wonderful trail parallels the Beach
    toward the North from building 6 @ HBPH (the prince) to Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, where the 8 tennis courts are.

  14. Julia Mitchell said

    You are not allowed to remove triton or hermit crab shells at all from Hawaii.

  15. Rudy S said

    Just back from O’ahu. Stayed way out on the west side at Makaha. Very few shells but lots of large coral pieces on the beach. Went up to the north beaches and found a few nice cowries on Sandy Beach and drove over to Kapalaoa Beach Park and found a lot of small come shells and small coral. For the most part it was a lot more intensive looking for shells on O’aho than on other beaches but we ended up with a lot of nice small shells and beautiful coral.

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