Green Sand Beach
Round Trip Mileage: 5.3 miles
Elevation Gain: 100 feet
Gear: Expect a hot, humid, windy hike to the Green Sand Beach. There are no facilities of any kind in this area at either the trailhead or the beach. You might want a swimsuit and other beach gear for swimming.
Map: Topographical Map of Papakōlea Beach
Overview: A geologic oddity among few in the world, a green sand beach is located in a bay cut by the ocean into a side of Puʻu Mahana, a cinder cone that erupted about 50,000 years ago. The green sand is created by a common silicate deposit of Big Island lava called olivine, which stays deposited on this beach because it is heavier than the other, lighter components of the lava. It is possible to drive a four-wheel drive vehicle to the top of the beach, but the hike along the shore is better because you pass many ancient heiau dedicated to fishing. Swimming at the green sand beach is possible, but the surf is quite strong along the notorious southern shore.
Getting to the trailhead: 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. Parts of the road are one-way. This road used to be notoriously bad and verboten for some rental car companies, but it has been recently improved and is suitable to the parking area for any car. Locals sometimes offer four-wheel drive rides out to the green sand beach for a few bucks, but I think it’s very worth the short hike out there to experience the windy southern coast and also visit some ancient sites along the way.
The Hike: From the parking area, find a four-wheel drive road paralleling the ocean and hike east, staying near the shore on a maze of use roads. The best bet is to stay nearer to the coast the whole way. Count on strong winds. Look for several ancient sites along the way, mostly heiaus for fishing. The ancient Hawaiians would make an offering of their first catch on these temples to appease the gods. Most of the sites are very eroded and are only foundations. Don't touch anything and Leave No Trace. Follow the shore for 2.5 miles until you reach Mahana Bay and the obvious green sand beach. Look sharp for an ancient small cave dwelling on the western side of the beach and higher on the cliffs. Find a safe way down to the shore along the steep coast and enjoy the beach. The surf here is quite strong, so take care if you choose to go swimming. If you get swept out of this small bay, the results would be dire. Never remove any sand from the beach (yes, it’s actually a problem).