See a Rare Gem: Papakolea Green Sand Beach
For the adventurous beachgoer and avid hiker, a trek to Papakolea Green Sand Beach is a major bucket list item to check off during your Big Island adventure. Papakolea Beach has the rare distinction of being one of only four green sand beaches in the entire world, the others are located in Norway, the Galapagos Islands, and Guam.
Approximately 3 miles from Kau district’s South Point (Ka Lae) area, Papakolea (meaning “plover flats”) is also known as Green Sand Beach. Located in Mahana Bay, it’s green sands are encircled by Puu Mahana, a cinder cone formed over 49,000 years ago associated with the southwest rift eruption of Mauna Loa.
Why is the Sand at Papakolea Green?
Papakolea’s distinctive coloring is from olivine, a soft green sand produced from the breaking down of the surrounding cinder cone. Olivine is a common mineral that crystallizes from magma that is rich in magnesium and low in silica during the cooling process. Containing iron and magnesium, Olivine is also known as Peridot when translucent and of precious gem quality. Heralded as “Hawaiian Diamond” Olivine is markedly found in Oahu’s famous Diamond Head landmark as well.
Hike to the Green Sand Beach
The beach is surrounded by pasturelands and is only accessible by foot. Papakolea Green Sand Beach requires a 5.5-mile round-trip hike with an elevation gain of only 275 feet, so it’s not a difficult trek, but the terrain is uneven, so hiking shoes are recommended. You will also want to bring along plenty of water and snacks as there are no amenities in the area. Park at the trailhead and head northeast to hike the 2.8 mile coastal trail to the beach. The beach area is very steep so use the existing trail to make your way down. Traversing the hot, windy topography requires a bit of work, however, the incredible views and unique destination more than makes up for the effort.
With the dirt road to the beach being very rutted and nearly impassable in sections due to both vehicular traffic and erosion, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands has restricted motorized vehicles in the area. You absolutely should not take your vehicle on this road, it is against all car rental contracts, and will likely end in a costly extraction and possibly a fine, as it is also illegal. There are often locals in the area with off road vehicles who will offer to take you to or from the beach for a small cash fee, while very common, this service is now against the rules too.
Activities at Papakolea Green Sand Beach
The green sand beach is great for photography, sightseeing and relaxing on the shore. Hiking and bird watching are favorite activities in the area too. The surf is quite strong along the southern, ocean-facing shore of the Big Island so swimming can be dangerous. Be extremely careful and mind changing conditions should you venture into the water here. Please remember to take only what you brought with you, pack your garbage out and don’t take any of the green sand with you.
Directions to the Papakolea Beach Trailhead
From Hwy. 11 turn makai (toward the sea) on South Point Road (between mile marker 69 and 70). The road is about eight miles long with a split when you near the ocean. To the right is Ka Lae (South Point) which is well worth a look, but for the green sand beach, stay left until you reach the parking area and trailhead (there is a sign pointing the way to the Green Sand Beach). Park at the Trailhead and enjoy the 2.8 mile hike along the coast.
If this beach adventure doesn’t fit your idea of a perfect beach day, visit our complete Big Island Beaches guide to learn more about other great beaches on Hawaii Island.
Location & Map
South Point Road
Naalehu, HI 96772