Papakolea Green Sand Beach

Papakolea Green Sand Beach, Big Island

Papakolea Beach, located near the Big Island's southern tip, is known for its unique olive green sand. Olivine is a semi-precious stone. Here in this area these small green volcanic stones originate from the littoral cone that surrounds the small bay. The ocean erodes these stones and crushes them into fine sand. The sand is too fine to be considered gem stones, but beaches like this are rare. So it's almost like walking on jewels.

However, getting to this beach isn't easy. Papakolea is located at the base of Pu'u O Mahana, an old littoral cone in a wild, undeveloped terrain. Access involves a three-mile (4.8 km) hike through lava fields. If you're going on a sunny day, keep in mind that it is usually quite windy in this area, which blows up the dust.

It is a good idea to prepare yourself for what some call a long and arduous walk. So wear hiking boots, a T-Shirt, comfortable pants or shorts and a hat and bring plenty of water and sunscreen. It is a common sight to see tourists arrive in sandals and bathing suits who turn around half way because they can't make it.

Also, there aren't any signs, markers or maps to follow. There isn't even a specified trail. A good tip is to stay a little bit more to the left on the way there. Even though the trails near the ocean are nice, they are more rugged with sharp lava rocks and in the end will take longer.

Once you make it to the beach, you'll be rewarded with one of the best views on the Big Island. The green beach appears almost unreal against the backdrop of steep cliffs and boulders. At sunset, the play of colors against the sand is simply breathtaking. To get down to the beach, you'll have to hike down a low sea cliff. The best spot is the area where the cliff is less steep. The steep face of the cliff is dangerous because the ground is loose and can slide away.

The sparkling blue water appears calm, but beware that currents are often times difficult to spot, so it is best to stay close to the shore if you plan to swim here. If the surf is up, don't go into the ocean because if you get in trouble here, you're miles away from any help. There are no lifeguards on this beach.

A visit to Papakolea Beach is a full-day trip, so plan ahead. The hike to and from the beach alone takes about 2-3 hours, depending on how fast you can walk, and then you still need to calculate for some time on the beach and the drive time it takes to get to South Point. It is best to leave the beach well before sunset because as mentioned above, the area is undeveloped, there are no lights and the terrain is rough. It is not a good idea to walk here in the dark.

Papakolea Green Sand Beach Overview

  • Remote beach that's difficult to reach (involves a 6-mile hike roundtrip)
  • No shade and no water at beach, so it is important to wear appropriate clothing, sturdy shoes and to bring plenty of water and sunscreen
  • Green sand beach makes for a unique sight

Location:
North of Naalehu, HI 96772
Directions: Papakolea is located at Mahana Bay, three miles northeast of South Point, the southernmost point in the United States. At the end of the paved South Point Raod to Ka Lae (South Point), take the road to the left. Park at the end of the road. This is the first parking lot, which is about 3 miles (4.8 km) away from Papakolea Beach (you'll see a portable bathroom here). From here, it takes about 90 minutes to hike down to the beach. About one mile into the hike, there is a second parking lot. To get to it, you have to make a left turn from the main road about mile (400 m) before the first parking lot.

There are signs that prohibit cars from driving all the way to the beach, which is a very rough and bumpy road. However, local residents frequently drive all the way to the beach with their 4WDs. It is not a good idea to take a rental car on this trail because it's too rough and dusty (and most rental car contracts prohibit driving on unpaved roads). Also, it is not guaranteed that the trail will be open, even for hikers. Sometimes the gate is closed and while it is easy to walk around it, it probably has a reason why it is closed (high surf, rock slide, etc.), so it is a good idea to find out before walking around it.


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Reviews and Comments:
 
It was a very windy and dusty walk in. Still windy at the beach which meant you were blasted with green sand! No calm water with that wind! But a beautiful site regardless.
Anne, Mon Dec 17, 2012
 
Beautiful and definitely worth the drive and cost. We were determined to go despite our knee and ankle problems, but we were able to hitch a ride with Billy. He and his cousin offer rides for $40; they were in the second "parking lot," and whomever takes you out waits there with you amid shows you the easy way down. FYI: The sun can wash out the greenness of the sand in photos.
Wendy, Fri Nov 30, 2012
 
Definitely worth the hike but yes, important to have good walking shoes, water and sunscreen. Bring your bathing suits, too, so you can enjoy the water once you get there. My 6 year old daughter did the hike and it was not a huge deal. She was tired but a real trooper!
Renee R, Wed Nov 14, 2012
 
Me and my wife just completed the hike yesterday. Some things of note, which are one way or another mentioned in the comments below but complied here:
- Bring at least 1 bottle of water for each person hiking
- If you choose to hike to the Green Sands Beach, you definitely don't want to have anything else planned later on the same day as you'll feel pretty dirty after being pelted with fine sand and salt water. It is always windy there
- Bring shoes that you don't mind getting ruined--don't bring your brand new white and lavender New Balance shoes...the sand you're walking on is a very fine mustard colour and will cover your shoes. This hike is almost impossible to do in sandals due to loose rocks and rough terrain.
- Bring sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat. There is no shade.
- The closer you are to the water the more treacherous the path, but you will get possibly the most amazing pictures of your trip. The higher paths are "less" treacherous but still have some obstacles. All paths will eventually get you there.
- The distance from the parking lot to the Green Sand Beach is 4.79km
- There is a steep descent to the beach. If you're afraid of heights or physically not capable of making the descent, you will not be able to make it to the beach itself.
- The beach is not as green as the pictures shown above. It is closer to a mossy green then a bright green.
Adrian, Mon Feb 13, 2012
 
I had a Jeep Wrangler rental car. I know I wasn't suppose to, but I drove to the green sand beach. The wife was a bit freaked out, but that Jeep is a billy goat of an automobile. I will admit, if I was to do it again, I might just pay the local guy that was hanging out at the "boat launch" at the beginning of the trail to give me a lift. My 6yo and 8yo children would not have been able to make the trip.
Ken, Wed Nov 30, 2011
 
It's not really that hard a walk to the beach; long & dusty, but if you have the right shoes, water, & sunglasses, you're fine. Or, ask Joe Maghee in the red pick up to drive you out there. It's worth the trip! He only works for "tips" (or you can go with his bra Paul - also a good guy.) Only sad thing about this entire area is the amount of trash on the shoreline on the hike to the beach. It's a shame people don't take more pride in it. This hike out (I was there a week ago) was my 2nd and it's amazing how different the locals are now - it used to be incredibly dangerous to go to this part of the island as they didn't like tourists, esp. mainlanders, but now that they see the $$ in it, they're quite welcoming. The hike out, the beach itself & the rocks surrounding it are amazing & worth the trip!
Patricia, Mon Oct 24, 2011
 
I was there this week and it's exactly as described. A good hike to get there -stay left of the big cinder cone you see about 2 miles in. The beach is immediately before the cone. It has a ladder and is an easy climb down.

I hitched a ride back with a young local ~30 yo for $20 for 4. His uncle gave me directions on the way in and also returned for more hikers. Nice guys! Worth the hike!
Paul Volek, Sat Sep 24, 2011
 
Unless you are an AVID hiker, don't dare this on your own. Take the ride by one of the locals. We used "Ben", wonderful guide, full of info. Worth the $60 (for two)we gave him!
Phil White, Sun Sep 04, 2011
 
According to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands you no longer need a permit to drive to the beach.
Joe, Wed Jul 06, 2011
 
Unless you are in excellent physical shape and an avid hiker, to attempt the trip to this beach would be a mistake. The hike is very rugged and you should be 100 percent prepared for wind, no fresh water, excellent hiking shoes, etc. I cannot emphasized this enough. Also, this beach is small and in a very wild and beautiful area - good luck finding it unless you get very lucky. BUT, should you find a parking lot (little lanes run all over the place and you are lost before you know it) and a local with a 4WD, have a lot of faith, get in this car and let the nice man take you to the cliff, assist you in climbing down the cliff (for a small donation for his/her time), you've reached the Moon. What a fantastic place. I have spent months all over the main islands and seen the most amazing things, but nothing like this. My suggestion is go early, find the parking lot, find a local (easy to spot) trust in the Aloha Spirit, which is very real, and when the local brings you back to your car, give him/her one big fat donation. There were 3 of us and all chipped in to give the guy $100. He knew the history of the land, was full of all kinds of cultural information, etc. It was the best money I ever spent in my life. In one of our conversations he told me I had the aina (land) in my heart, and he was so right. I don't want to get him into trouble, so I offer a hint. Look for a man in his 30s wearing rubber flip flops and driving a GMC 4WD made in the 1980s.
ML, Wed May 25, 2011
 
One of the most beautiful, unique and spiritual sites I've ever seen -- absolutely worth the hike, which is NOT difficult for a remotely-fit person. Bring lots of water and the sun-block -- nothing compares to it!
LanaSVM, Thu Mar 17, 2011