Garden Isle Sea Glass Beach
By Amy Darian Ramsey
The Pacific Ocean foams and tickles at the rough harsh lava, gifting out smooth fragments of glinting colored treasure with each wave on Glass Beach in Kauai.
Kauai is the Hawaiian island that is known for being remote and less populated than the other Hawaiian islands. Lush with vegetation, it is frequently called The Garden Isle. The island is small enough that the perimeter can be driven in a relaxed three to four hours.
When visiting Kauai, make sure to schedule a sea glass lover’s dream stop to Glass Beach on the southwest coast. Situated in Hanapepe Bay in Eleele, just outside of Port Allen, there are no signs pointing the way to Glass Beach, but it is not hard to find. Simply head towards Port Allen and drive to the ocean. Make a left turn on Aka Ula street and continue until you reach the bumpy gravel road that veers off to the ocean. Follow this, and park at the top of the beach. Locals, and some hasty online reviews, will inform you that the beach was picked over years ago, but if you arrive at low tide, you will see evidence that this is not entirely true. Shining examples of glass are still to be found and enjoyed with each wave.
A visit to Glass Beach is a tantalizing visual and tactile experience for any sea glass collector, whether you are a beginner or a salt-seasoned professional.
Looking out over the West Coast of Kauai, the beach is black basalt sand refracting the sunlight as the waves dance and shimmer with the tide amidst millions of pebbles of colored glass. Simply gorgeous, the entire beach is made up of small particles of sea glass. With each wave that flows languidly and laps over the sand, a new piece of treasure is deposited. Old Hawaiian pieces of steampunk-like metal wash up constantly and are wedged in between the rocks and the glass, after having been spit out by the sea. The water is strong and powerful here. It’s not a place for swimming safely, but definitely a sea glass lover’s dream.
Glass Beach emerged from what was, well over a hundred years ago, a Kauai garbage discarding spot. Over time, the waves have polished and eroded the glass into smooth fractals of color and light. While the sea glass here is prohibited from removal, you are free to beachcomb for other sea gadgets, gizmos, whats-its, and thingamabobs.
Sea glass and ocean photographs are epic here, as the sunlight on the black sand creates an excellent backdrop canvas.
If you make your visit to this world-famous sea glass beach just as the sun has positioned itself high in the morning sky, the day, and the glass, will be fresh. The town of Eleele, a small quiet industrial working class town, will just have begun unfurling its occupants, and the tide will hopefully be heading out.
Following simple GPS directions, you will turn left down an extremely bumpy one-car path leading uphill to a tiny parking lot overlooking the ocean. You will, most likely, be greeted by wild Kauai chickens and will be able to glimpse an old Japanese cemetery off to your left, which is a historical remnant from the McBryde Sugar Plantation days. If you are torn between wanting to explore the very old headstones and the sun rising higher over the glimmering glass beach, head for the beach, knowing you are lucky in your timing if the tide is receding. As any sea glass collector knows, the heart quickens immediately when such perfect conditions manifest. Several hand-lettered signs will greet you, saying “Aloha, Please do not remove glass from the beach.” The locals have endured enough of people taking pieces of their history and Aina. Please respect this sign and its sentiments.
Although the path and the hill going up to Glass Beach are rugged, the area is alive with an untamable energy. The ocean is frothy and swirling, birds pause to rest, and wild grasses sway and rustle in the wind. The volcanic rock has crevices and cracks, and the water makes eddies and pools where it loops back out to sea, depositing flotsam, jetsam, and treasures of jewel-toned glass. The majestic waves crashing against the beach creates an environment of serendipitous magic. What will you find here? What will the tide unearth? What will each wave gift to you from the great mother Pacific?
Glass Beach is a place of curiosity and beauty, perhaps from its placement between two opposing structures, one ancient and one fairly modern. Tucked below and between an old Japanese cemetery and an industrial area, Glass Beach is the product of years of combined elements melding together. The result is a place that offers up continual gifts from what nature, and the powerful ocean, have performed alchemy on.
Locals, tourists, collectors, and appreciative nature lovers can all agree on one thing, Glass Beach is a place of curious wonder and a place to practice gratitude and respect for the ocean, and to further our love of sea glassing.
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine November/December 2020 issue.