Trekking and Trucking at Papakōlea Green Sand Beach

March 10, 2020/Jonathan Rundle/4 Comments

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.

Update: Thanks to a commenter and some additional research since this post was first published, some new information comes to light. The grassland between the parking area and the Green Sand Beach should not be driven on – either by you or by the locals. Any locals doing so are doing so illegally. If you care about honoring the fragile grassland, only hike to and from the beach.

The hike

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.

Trail to Papakōlea Green Sand Beach

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.

Trail to Papakōlea Green Sand Beach

Just watch out for those crazy locals in their pickup trucks. They do look like they’re having a lot of fun, though.

Trail to Papakōlea Green Sand Beach

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.

First view of Papakōlea Green Sand Beach

Ever closer, we see other hikers disappearing over the rim to our unseen destination. I’m excited to see this sand!

First view of Papakōlea Green Sand Beach

Finally! Papakōlea Green Sand Beach

The bay and green sand are now in sight! This crescent-shaped formation surrounded by cliffs is called a tuff ring.

Papakōlea Green Sand BeachPapakōlea Green Sand Beach

How do we get down there?

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 visitors 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.

Hawaii green sand beach

Once down here, it’s a fantastic little bay with a feeling of seclusion because of the tall walls.

Hawaii green sand beach

The sand is coarse but soft; and as promised, it is indeed tinged with a green color.

Hawaii green sand beach

Why is this sand green?

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.

Green Sand Close-up

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.

The ride back

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!

Riding in a truck to Green Sand Beach

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 of our trip.

Riding in a truck to Green Sand BeachRiding in a truck to Green Sand BeachTrail to Papakōlea Green Sand Beach

After all this exertion, we have earned a treat at the Punalu’u Bake Shop. See you there!

Visiting Papakōlea Green Sand Beach

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.

The hike will take about 2 hours as it is about 6 miles round-trip. Weekdays will be less crowded, so I suggest a weekday visit.

Comments (4)

  • DaKine . June 14, 2023 . Reply

    Doing lots of things in Hawaii are illegal, but if the local Hawaiian Homelands and people says it’s not an issue, it’s not an issue; just don’t mess with the historical artifacts through there. The families that truck people to and from are reliant on that income when the state has already claimed their pasture. 90% of those “grasslands” are invasive species anyways and native species are outcompeted 95% of the time even with restoration efforts being made. Encourage people to stay on trail and if you aren’t familiar with the trails don’t drive them hike or pay a local so money gets back into the economy, specially after COVID.

  • Brt . February 4, 2022 . Reply

    Understand that driving on the Green Sand Beach, either by your rented 4×4 or catching a ride from the locals, is illegal. You clearly describe the endless dusty crisscross paths which is the result of all that illegal driving. The grasslands have been seriously damaged, it’s viewable on satellite images. The only legal and non-destructive way to get to the beach is hiking. If tourists would inform themselves, they would know, but unfortunately blog posts like this, spreading incorrect information perpetuates the problem of erosion in that area.

    • (Author) Jonathan Rundle . February 7, 2022 . Reply

      Thanks, Brt – I have added more information to the start of the post and removed my recommendation at the end of the post to use the local (illegal) shuttle service. I did a lot of reading and research prior to my visit but did not encounter information that this activity was illegal. Hopefully, my post amendments can help make a difference.

  • Jo Walsh . March 11, 2020 . Reply

    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!!!

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