I was curious to see the sights south of our Kihei condo. The best way to check out Wailea is to walk the shoreline path that starts at the south end of Keawakapu Beach and then hugs the cliffs and beaches as it winds through the various fancy resorts of Wailea. I walked it several mornings from the Hale Hui Kai to the Four Seasons resort (a distance of about 1.5 miles) and always found it bustling with activity. The walkway is not very wide, so walking seems best - several joggers were frustrated with having to wind in and around people taking a more leisurely pace. Make sure you check out the grounds of the Grand Wailea Resort (their fountains and wedding chapel are gorgeous) - unless you're made of money, you likely can't afford to stay there!
We hopped in the car to explore Makena - in particular, I was interested in finding the Keawalai Church built in 1832 and checking out the black sand beach. We turned off the main highway on to Makena Rd. and easily found the historic church. Across the street from the church is a fairly large parking lot used by folks looking for beach access to Maluaka Beach about a 100 yards south. The church grounds were very tranquil with a stone wall providing a boundary between the cemetary and the beach and ocean beyond. The church itself is small and despite some evident facelifts from its original construction looks just like you'd expect for an historic beachside Hawaiian church. Discrete signs ask you to remove your footwear before entering the church and invite you to walk the cemetary grounds but to show respect by not walking over gravesites or sitting on headstones or memorials. We spent about a half hour wandering the grounds and looking inside the church (which was set up for a Maundy Thursday dinner).
Driving south we missed the side road to the black sand beach and wound up continuing down to the lava fields at Cape Kinau and LaPerouse Bay. Despite what your rental car company says, you can safely drive this road to the first set of lava fields. It's narrow and winding but it's in good shape and if you take it slow, you'll have no problems. After realizing that we'd gone too far, we doubled back and stopped at a turnout to get our bearings (there are no mile markers here so it's a little harder to find things). We walked a short path and found ourselves at the south end of Big Beach. Long and wide (hence the name), it was beautiful and surprisingly uncrowded.
Once we realized where we were, it was fairly easy to find the dirt road turn off to the Black Sand beach. A sign just a short distance off the main road confirmed that we were heading the right way. The road was pretty rutted so we had to be careful. When we reached the small parking area at the beach, we realized that this was pretty much a locals beach. The half dozen other cars there had all seen better days (not another Oldsmobile Alero in sight!) and it seemed like every person there had at least two mangy dogs with them. The black sand that I was interested in seeing was more of a salt and pepper color, not anywhere near as dark as the black sand beaches on the Big Island but definitely darker than the other beaches of South Maui. The black sand comes from the cinder cone at the south end of the beach while the lighter "salt" sand is pulverized shells and "processed" coral compliments of the local fish. The beach itself is nothing special and given the difficulty finding it and the four legged welcoming committee, unless you're dying to see some (almost) black sand, I'd say skip it.