There’s no beach like Papakōlea Green Sand Beach. Well, technically there are three others – green sand beaches are a rarity in the world. If you’re looking for green sand, you’ll have to go to Norway, Guam, the Galapagos or here on the Big Island.
You’ve got a few options to get to the beach. Drive over yourself (but only if you’re in a Jeep), hike over, pay a tour company, or pay some enterprising locals to transport you. More on the last option later.
If you elect to walk to the beach, you’re looking at a 3-mile trek through some beautiful rolling hills along walkways and dirt roadways. This walk can be pretty trying if you’re in full sun. There isn’t any shade to be found. Today’s visit is warm but overcast, so it’s no sweat. Okay, it’s a little sweat.
Roads and paths are spread widely over the hills. Choosing which path to take is part of the fun since they all lead to the same place.
Just watch out for those crazy locals in their pickup trucks. They do look like they’re having a lot of fun, though.
About a mile away from the beach we start to see the cliffs that surround it. After not seeing much except hills and with my water bottle running low, we are pleased to see a light at the end of our tunnel.
Ever closer, we see other hikers disappearing over the rim to our unseen destination. I’m excited to see this sand!
The bay and green sand is now in sight! This crescent-shaped formation surrounded by cliffs is called a tuff ring.
I’m glad you asked. You’ve got to scale a metal stairwell that is more like a ladder than a set of stairs. After that, it’s scaling the cliff or following a slim little channel that 99% of the visitor use. I saw a few cautiously make their own way down the hillside, but they didn’t get there any faster. In fact, they looked like they wished they had followed the path.
Once down here, it’s a fantastic little bay with a feeling of seclusion because of the tall walls.
The sand is coarse but soft; and as promised, it is indeed tinged with a green color.
Olivine is a crystal that is common in volcanic material here on the island. In the case of Papakolea Beach, it has eroded from the surrounding cliffs and has settled into this bay, mixing in with the run-of-the-mill sand and tinting the beach green. Fun fact: olivine is known as peridot when it is of gem quality. It’s rare and precious in that form. Thanks, Wikipedia.
Sadly, eventually, the cliffs will get completely eroded by the constant crashing of ocean waves. When that happens, the olivine will go out to sea and this beach will look like any other sandy beach. Relax – it’ll take a while for that to happen.
You already know from that headline that we didn’t walk all the way back. We chose to hop in the back of a local’s pickup for $20. Considering we had many more sights to see, including a night-time visit to Volcano National Park, we need to make up some time!
I haven’t ridden in the back of a pickup truck since I was a kid. We had a really fun time with it – and this ride back in the truck ended up being one of the most memorable moments from our trip.
After all this exertion, we have earned a treat at the Punalu’u Bake Shop. See you there!
From the Hawaii Belt Road, follow the signs to South Point, the southernmost point in all of the US. I recommend you visit there quickly and then go out to this beach.
Once at the beach, if you’re strapped for time, drive yourself out if you can. Otherwise, hitch a ride with a local or hike it out. It’ll take about 2 hours to hike there and immediately back as it is about 6 miles round-trip. Weekdays will be less crowded, so I suggest a weekday visit.
Lovely .Just glad you two are still young to trek around the world .I love the pictures.$20.00 was a bargain for the ride back!!!