Big Island Green Sand Beach
Papakolea - Best Beaches on Big Island
Papakolea is one of only four green sand beaches in the world. This very secluded sandy beach is located near Ka Lae (South Point) in the Kau district of Hawaii. Papakolea was once a cinder cone volcano. After it erupted, the lava that the volcano spewed was rich in olivine, an abundant mineral in Hawaii's natural volcanic rock. After the eruption, erosion from the ocean and weather slowly eroded the basalt rock until just the olivine was left behind, giving this beach its unique green color.
Overview of Papakōlea beach (Green Sand Beach)
Papakōlea Beach (Green Sands Beach) is located outside Naalehu, a tiny town between Volcanoes National Park and South Point (the southernmost point of the United States). The beach is approximately 2 hours south of Kailua-Kona along Highway 11. It is easily recognizable by its green sand color. The green sands at Papakōlea Beach get their color from olivine crystals that have eroded out of cinder cones formed during the 1868 flow of Mauna Loa. Olivine is a mineral found in many Hawaiian basalts and forms during the slow cooling of lava flows. The olivine crystals weather out from undercutting by waves along the shoreline.
A favorite among locals and tourists alike, Papakōlea Beach is a must-visit destination. When the waves crash into shore, they erode the crystals and disperse tiny grains of green sand over the beach. To enjoy your visit, we advise getting to the beach before noon on a weekday. Because of its growing popularity, it can get crowded on the weekends. Visiting early will make the hike more pleasurable because of the cooler temperatures, and staying away on the weekend will help you avoid some of the crowds. As much as we love the green sand, it must stay here. Please don’t take any sand with you when you leave.
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Getting There- Papakōlea beach (Green Sand Beach)
The hike to Papakolea Beach (also known as Green Sand Beach) is a moderate/strenuous 4.5-mile roundtrip hike. While the terrain is mostly flat, the exposure to the sun and wind is what makes it difficult. The later it is in the day, the hotter it will likely be, so start early! It will take approximately 3-5 hours to complete the round trip, depending on your pace and how long you spend at the beach. The trail starts at South Point Road, found between the 69 and 70-mile markers.
Drive to South Point, on the Big Island's Kona Coast, between mile markers 69 and 70 along Highway 11. When you come to near the bottom of the road, South Point will veer off to the right, and the Green Sand Beach parking lot is to the left. During our last visit, there was a sign marking the way.
Once you arrive at the Green Sand Beach parking lot, you'll want to head towards the boat ramp on the shore (roughly 0.5 miles from the parking lot) and then take an immediate left onto the trail once you reach the boat ramp. Accessing Green Sand Beach isn’t exactly a cakewalk. The hike to Papakolea, beginning at the parking lot, is approximately 2.25-2.5 miles one-way. It takes about an hour each way. The trail starts flat as you pass over old lava fields and through rutted roads filled with sand and a lot of dust; prepare yourself for a dirty hike. Be careful descending to the beach, as the slope of the cinder cone surrounding the beach can be steep in places.
Papakōlea Beach (Green Sand Beach) Amenities: The green sand beach has no restrooms or other amenities in the area. Bring your trash bag, pack out your trash and take it with you to leave. During our last visit, in September 2022, there were port-a-potties near the parking lot. There was also a local vendor selling drinks and other snacks, but we suspect the state of Hawaii will end this practice soon enough, along with the non-permitted "shuttle" rides (see below).
There are no lifeguards at Green sand beach. Swimming is not recommended because of the rough ocean conditions and strong currents.
Essential Tips for a Great Papakōlea beach (Green Sand Beach) Visit
There's no water or food available at the trailhead or along the trail. You will be hiking over older dusty lava fields. Wear sturdy shoes, like hiking shoes.
Update: We wanted to note that DHHL’s (Department of Hawaiian Homelands) official policy is no vehicular traffic to Papakolea. They do not issue vehicle permits for $25 or any amount, and they do not give a key. The trek to Papakolea and Mahana Bay can only be achieved by foot and should only be considered a “backcountry” trip for severe hikers. You do not need a permit to hike there, but you should call DHHL to let them know you will be going there. They like to know who is on their property, and the hike is free.
You can contact DHHL at: 160 Baker Ave. Hilo 96720 Phone: 808-974-4250
'Shuttle' Services and Parking Fees are not legal
We should also note that anyone trying to charge you for parking is running an illegal scam. Rather than get confrontational, leave if anyone attempts to do so. We also advise against paying for a ride out to the beach.
During our last visit, in September 2022, at least three separate residents were offering truck rides for $20-$25/person, and they were exaggerating the length of the hike to encourage people to take the "shuttle." Don't contribute to the problem these illegal rides are causing, which is destroying the road/trail and continues to desecrate the ancient burial sites located here. Instead, please only hike to the Green Sand Beach and avoid attempting to drive it yourself (which is against your rental agreement, even in a Jeep), and don't partake in the "shuttle" rides.
Green Sand Beach Big Island of Hawaii Map
An Enjoyable Time at Papakōlea Beach (Green Sand Beach)
Fun Activities at Papakōlea Beach (Green Sand Beach)
Get ready to have so much fun at this beach.
Take a walk on the beach: One of the main activities is to take a walk on the Green Sand Beach itself. Once on Green Sand Beach, you can also explore some exciting cliff rock formations.
Digging for shells and sea glass: if you're looking for a relaxing activity to do on the Big Island, I would recommend going here. You can spend hours just digging and finding extraordinary treasures in the sand.
Taking pictures and videos of the sunset and the fantastic scenery: If you want to take photographs, we recommend you come early in the morning because later in the day, the sun is too high and it's not so excellent for photography.
Surfing: There are some sound waves for you to surf, but only experienced surfers should try them. Because there is no lifeguard on this beach, make sure you stay safe when surfing!
Sunbathing: Papakolea Beach has soft green sand and stunning water, making this an ideal spot to relax under the sun.
Nearby Attractions and Sights of Papakōlea beach (Green Sand Beach)
Here are some nearby attractions and sights that will enhance your visit to Papakōlea beach:
Punalu'u Black Sand Beach: Located on the southern end of the island, this beach is a breathtaking sight. It's also home to Hawaiian green sea turtles. Nearby is Punalu'u Bake Shop, which sells its famous sweet bread and banana macadamia nut crunch.
Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park: Spectacular views await you at the park, featuring lava flows, tropical rainforests, and an active volcano.
Ka Lae or South Point: The southernmost point in the United States, Ka Lae, is an excellent place for bird-watching and whale-watching (during winter). Ka Lae Point is one of Hawaii's most sacred sites and home to many archeological sites and petroglyphs.
Family Activities at Papakōlea Beach (Green Sand Beach)
Papakōlea Beach provides a unique experience for visitors. It's an ideal spot to relax on the sand and spend time away from the crowds.
More Big Island Colorful Sand Beaches
Picking the best Hawaiian beach is no easy task, as you can choose from white, black, or green sand beaches. Whether you're admiring the sparkling green crystals, exploring the warm black sand beaches with the sea turtles, or simply lounging on a white slice of sandy heaven, these Big Island beaches are sure to please.
Other Hawaiian Colorful Sand Beaches
Hawaii is home to more naturally-colored sand beaches than any other place on the planet! Here the forces of nature have created mesmerizing color combinations- running the gamut from black, red, green, golden, and, of course, pristine white. Explore some of the most colorful and picturesque beaches in the state here.
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