Reed’s Bay Beach Park is a hidden gem along Hilo’s looping scenic oceanfront byway known as Banyan Drive – named after the rows of gigantic Banyan trees lining the road – and features a short, crescent-shaped white sand beach studded with coral rubble that gently slopes down into the vividly clear waters of the shallow Reed’s Bay.
It’s a small inlet on the east side of the Waiakea Peninsula – a picturesque, low-lying oceanfront neighborhood featuring several prominent Hilo restaurants, hotels and attractions, which separates the city’s bayfront area to the west from its long string of iconic swimming spots located farther east along the coast, like Keaukaha Beach Park, Carlsmith Beach Park, Onekahakaha Beach Park and Richardson Ocean Park.
Reed’s Bay is a shallow, peaceful swimming area on most days, exceedingly popular with families bringing their young children, who can be seen frolicking about happily when the onshore breeze makes ripples in the bay and sends to shore miniature, lapping waves in quick succession. Its calm waters are made possible by the two-mile-long Hilo Breakwater, a giant arcing wall of stacked lava boulders that juts out into the bay. This seawall tempers the force of the powerful rolling waves coming in off the open ocean, which crash spectacularly against the boulders on windy days – a show of raw natural force that has become somewhat of a sightseeing attraction in its own right.
The beach extends out to a peninsula lined with still more Banyan trees – these with exposed roots as the slow erosion caused by the bay’s ebbing waters clears away the soft soil surrounding them bit by bit. At the base of the trees is a short section of handsomely mortared lava rock wall, seemingly being overrun by the masses of twisted, writhing roots that reach into every crevice.
Several picnic areas can be found near this peninsula adjacent to a large grassy field, which makes up the far boundary of the park; a place where on sunny Hilo afternoons sunbathers, cyclists, dog walkers, snorkelers and swimmers are found laid out on beach towels and picnic blankets. The park’s scattering of barbecue pits are often fired up, especially on weekend afternoons of clear skies, sending the enticing aroma of wood smoke and cooking meats wafting across the beachfront. From these picnic spots along the peninsula, visitors can get a clear view of the groupings of sailboats moored up in the bay, and of the newly arriving and departing vessels who come close enough to the spit of land on their way in and out for their captains to give a friendly wave to onlookers.
The water in the bay is warm and soothing, owing to its shallow bottom lined with reflective white coral fragments. Kayakers and stand-up paddle boarders take advantage of this swatch of protected ocean, cruising around the inland waters and exploring the many rocky coves and mini-beaches. These types of watercraft and many more can be rented for sometimes shockingly reasonable daily rates at the string of rental shops found in Hilo, and first-timers are wise to pick a calm and shallow spot like Reed’s Bay to get their introduction to the sport.
The beach park is a great place for snorkeling, too, with astonishingly clear water, resident schools of colorful tropical fish and intricate, fragile-looking structures of coral in mind-bogglingly complex configurations found just below the surface. Surfers and boogie boarders usually steer clear of the park because the waves breaking on the beach rarely grow to be more than a gentle lapping, and there is no viable offshore reef break either at the mouth of the bay. These boarders – and other ocean-goers looking for more of a thrill and to ride some formidable waves – usually head for spots like Honoli’i Beach Park, a few miles north of town up the Hamakua Coast (featured in its own article).
“Ice Pond”, “Nene”, And Who Was William Reed?
At the coral-lined mouth of the bay, just offshore of Reed’s Bay Beach Park, is a natural pond of cold, fresh spring water that bubbles up from the ocean floor and mixes with saltwater in a curious inversion. This swimming hole is known as “Ice Pond” among locals, and is a great place to cool off during one of Hilo’s oppressively hot and muggy summer days. Swimmers who make the journey to Ice Pond will find that it imparts a strange sensation: the warm ocean water on top and cold spring water below, making one half of the body chilly while the other half feels exceedingly hot.
The ocean floor of Reed’s Bay is made up of white sand and chunks of coral rubble. This coral material was the byproduct of the dredging of Hilo Harbor in the early 20th Century in order to make way for a deepwater port. The rubble was deposited in and along the bay, and has been slowly mixing with the native black volcanic sand ever since to form patches of grey.
In addition to the myriad different kinds of sea life to be spotted out in the bay, the beach park even features some terrestrial wildlife. Reed’s Bay is famous for being home to several flocks of resident “Nene”, otherwise known as the Hawaiian Goose. This is a medium-sized black and brown goose with clear striping patterns that’s endemic to the Hawaiian Islands, and was designated to be the state bird in 1957. It’s also highly endangered, and was hunted to near-extinction during Hawaii’s colonial era before coordinated and well-funded conservation work brought them back from the brink. Today, the nene’s global population numbers only a few thousand, found exclusively on Hawaii’s five main islands (Oahu, Molokai, Maui, Kauai and Big Island).
The birds can be spotted milling around the park grounds on days when few people are out swimming and paddling in the bay. Some neighborhood wildlife lover even leaves out plastic trays of rice for the birds, who slowly make their way down the coast from tray to tray gobbling up the grains. Although the nene can seem friendly and cuddle-able, it’s important to give them their space and not harass them, considering how fragile their populations are.
Reed’s Bay Beach Park is named after William H. Reed. He was a prominent businessman born in Belfast, Ireland, who moved to the Big Island in the early 1840’s and lived here up until his death in 1880. He set up a contracting business on the island specializing in the construction of wharfs, landings, bridges and roads. Met with great success, he eventually branched out into ranching, trading and retailing. He had no children when he died, and much of his wealth eventually came to his stepson William Herbert Shipman, who grew up to be another immensely powerful white Hawaiian businessman for which many places on the island are named, including Shipman Estate, Shipman Beach (featured in its own article) and Shipman Business Park.
How To Get There
Reed’s Bay Beach Park can be easily accessed via Banyan Drive just north of the intersection of Highway 11, otherwise known as Hawaii Belt Road, and Kamehameha Avenue in downtown Hilo. Continue straight at the stoplights, and in less than half a mile the hand-carved wooden sign and parking lot for the park will come into view on the right.
The park features a picnic area, stands of outdoor public showers, and a restroom facility offering modern amenities. It is open seven days a week from 7:00am until sunset. Since most of the swimming areas in the bay are very well-protected, no lifeguard is on duty here – a fact that should be kept in mind by families with small children and those just learning to swim. The large lawn adjacent to the Banyan tree peninsula fills up pretty consistently on sunny weekends, and is usually dotted by white pop-up tents and folding camp chairs being used by families having cookouts.
Just a short walk down the tree-lined Banyan Drive from the park, visitors can find some of the most luxurious accommodation options that Hilo has to offer. Also inhabiting Waiakea Peninsula are the three-star hotels Hilo Hawaiian and Grand Naniloa Hotel Hilo, as well as the two-star Hilo Reed’s Bay Hotel. Park-goers looking for a great lunch or dinner spot after a day of swimming and paddling are in luck, too, considering that Reed’s Bay is just a short walk from one of the city’s premiere foodie neighborhoods. Verna’s Drive-In, Ponds Hilo, Coconut Grill, and Le Yellow Sub Vietnamese Restaurant are all located adjacent to the bay, and cook up everything from mouth-watering ethnic food to Hawaiian comfort dishes to continental cuisine.