green sand beach

Green sand beach (Papakōlea)

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Green sand beach is one of the “once in a lifetime” places in the Big Island. Its actual name is “Papakōlea beach”, and it is one of two green sand beaches in the united states.

Green sand beach is not easy to reach. First, you have to drive to the southern most tip of the United States, and then you need to hike 2.5 miles (one way) from the parking lot to the beach (see directions below).

The payoff, however, is significant! The remoteness of this beach makes it likely that you will have most of the beach for yourself, and the scenery is stunning.

green sand beach
Green sand beach is a small and hard-to-get-to beach close to the most southern tip of the Big Island (and the United States!). If you are wondering about the name, you can find out why the sand of green sand beach is green here.

Directions / Hiking to Papakōlea Beach:

Getting there: Take the road to ‘South Point’ between mile markers 69 and 70 on Hwy 11 (between Kona and Volcano Village), and drive to the little harbor at the end. On the left hand side there is a parking lot where you can leave your car.

The hike: The hike to Papakōlea Beach (Green Sand Beach) is hot but not challenging. Although it is possible to take a 4WD car all the way to green beach, using the car damages the road and environment and taking your rental car down to the beach is illegal. Walk to the ocean and take the road to the left (facing the water, towards the east). Follow this road with the ocean on your right hand for about 2 1/2 miles and you will get to the cliffs above the Green Sand Beach. Climb down along the lava cliff on the west side of the bay, and wear plenty of sunscreen!

This side of the Big Island can be very windy and hot. Make sure to bring water and sunscreen. Along the way you can see plenty of interesting features such as ancient temples (heiau). Read more about the hike itself on the great website of bigislandhikes.com.

Leave no trace: We would like to stress the often used quote “Take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints!”. Please don’t take the green sand home as souvenir, and keep a trash bag in your backpack.

green sand beach, directions, hawaii, walking
Walking directions from the parking at the end of South Point Road to Papakolea beach. Image credit: google maps

Green sand beach trivia

There is plenty of interesting trivia to learn about this green sand beach. For example, did you know that there are 3(!) names that are used for this amazing beach? Green sand beach is officially known as “Papakōlea beach” (after the kōlea bird often seen behind the beach) and “Mahana beach” (after the cinder cone responsible for the green color of the beach).

The last name is it’s newest nickname: “Green Sand Beach”, whose origin is pretty obvious. But do you know why the sand is green at green sand beach? The short story is because of the green olivine crystals that are washed out of the old cinder cone next to the beach. Read the complete story here.

green sand, olivine
Close-up of the green sand at Papakolea beach. You can see the many olivine crystals mixed with the lava (black) and shell (white) fragments

South Point and Green Sand Beach time-lapse

If you want to get a feel for what South Point (the starting point of your hike to green sand beach and the most southern point of the United States) and green sand beach look like, have a look at the following great time-lapse video. If you want to see Green Sand Beach directly you have to forward the video to 03:00 minutes.