There are only four green sand beaches in the world and one of them happens to be on Big Island, Hawaii. It is named Papakolea Beach [On Hwy. 11 between the 69 and 70 mile markers, find the signed South Point road. Carefully drive this road for about eight miles, and stay left at the end where there is a sign indicating the Green Sand Beach], and it is the major draw to the southern portion of the island. Many consider this a ‘must see’ when visiting Big Island, and I completely agree as it is breathtaking sight to behold. The location is remote and many car rental companies will consider it a violation of contract if you drive down that way. However, I believe that this is an outdated clause in the rental agreement. Although the road to the beach is narrow in some areas, in recent years it has been repaved and is completely satisfactory for any vehicle to travel on, until the parking lot. The road will not take you all the way to the beach, from the parking lot you have two options. You can choose to pay a local for a bumpy ride in a truck. This is a lucrative business, very professional, and I would assume – a fun ride! Or, you can hike it out like we did. Either way make sure to pack you bathing suit, a hat, sunscreen, and a sense of adventure! Here is a breakdown for making the hike out to the green sand beach. After parking your car in the lot (which is free), head down the trodden trail towards the ocean. When you get down there, go left! That’s basically it. If in doubt, ask a local for directions, they are happy to help. There are many different trails, all leading in the same direction from that point. My idea was to simply hug the coast as well as I could, and that worked out great. The hike is 5 miles round trip, out and back, and it was very beautiful.
The landscape is arid, sandy in some areas and grassy in others, the most beautiful thing is when a breeze from the ocean wicks your sweat away. When you don’t know exactly where you’re going, the trail can seem like it takes forever. Once you see a black cliff in the distance, you’re almost there! Get closer a little and you’ll spot the infamous green sand beach.
Keep following the path towards the cars, there will be a ladder and a path that switchbacks down the cliffs safely to the final destination.
You made it. It’s incredible. Stake out a little slice of heaven, the beach is small so better to get there early. Now to investigate that sand! It is an olive color, mixed with specks of black and white sand, but indeed an overall true olive green hue.
Make a sand castle, dig your feet in, roll around – this could very likely be a once in a lifetime occurrence. The gorgeous water is tempting, but only for the brave. It has big crashing waves and a strong current. While there were many people in the water, know your limits as a swimmer and only enter in the right conditions. A hike is never complete without some wildlife sightings! There were two honu, the Hawaiian green sea turtles, swimming in the water, and cute little sand crabs too.
Our visit to the green sand beach was an unforgettable experience, full of natural splendor. When we were beached out we dusted our green sandy feet off as best we could (bring a bandana and some baby powder!) and slapped our boots back on for the return hike, just the way we came. While we were walking back, later in the day, it was interesting to see the different cars navigating the absurd potholes on the crazy road. The locals in their old trucks have it down no problem, they could do it in their sleep. Some tourists giving it a try in their shiny jeeps seemed a bit intimidated. The road is formidable, but quite friendly on foot. When we finally made it back to the lot we were real good and sweaty The little concession stand run by a local family looked like heaven to us! We both got big iced coffees and chatted it up with the wonderful lady who whipped them up perfectly for us. While we were in the area we decided to head to Ka Lae or more commonly known as South Point [Remember how the road splits at the 10 mile marker with the left fork heading to the Green Sands Beach. take the right fork. At the end of the road you can park and walk the rest of the way to the edge of the cliffs]. This the most southern point in America. There aren’t any major signs when you get there, some local fishermen, a couple of tourists. Really you go just to say you’ve been there, but the gorgeous view doesn’t hurt either.
Nothing between you and Antarctica. Some people like to jump from this point.
The water is crystal clear. After you’re finished hanging out get ready to make the long drive home. Maybe you can break it up with a visit to the Punalu’u Bake Shop for a tasty pastry. Be safe driving on that wonderfully paved road!