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Papakōlea Beach

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The green sand of Papakōlea Beach is … well it’s green for starters. This is one of only 4 green sand beaches in the world. (Of course, reading that feels like a challenge to now visit all of them, right?) The beach is in a cove formed from an old cinder cone that was rich in olivine, which is why the sand is green. The edge of the cinder cone that’s still intact provides protection for the beach and an amazing view of both the land and the ocean.

From the cliffs above the beach, you’re standing on rich red dirt and rocks with a view of a lush green carpet of plants rolling over the black lava landscape, and green sand below with impossibly blue-green water — it’s quite a color palette. The beach location is pretty amazing in itself. It’s near the southernmost point in the Hawaiian Islands, which it turns out is also the southernmost point in the entire United States.

The drive to get to the parking lot for access to Papakōlea Beach is a narrow and scenic 2-lane road. It’s surrounded by a lush green landscape covered with fresh and thriving small plant life and even a few trees. It seems impossibly green considering all this life has made its hardscrabble existence by setting roots in lava rock. This part of the island gets a lot of rain, a lot of sun, and a lot of wind.

We went earlier in the day on a weekday in an effort to avoid crowds and the hottest part of the day. We were lucky to have a cool, overcast weather and just a few dozen other people visiting the area with us.

When you arrive in the parking lot, you’ll see a bunch of locals and their trucks. They will do their best to discourage you from driving — partially to protect the land, and partially because they would prefer that you pay them for a lift./span>


There is a “road” that goes from the parking lot up to the beach, but a few words of warning about getting there: It is not a marked or maintained road, and there are many “offshoots” making it very difficult to know where the actual road goes. And since offroading is illegal in Hawaii, plus the fact that there are quite a few sites of historic significance in the area, (and no one wants people driving over them!) it is not recommended that you drive the last leg to the beach. In fact, most rental agreements and insurance specifically exclude coverage for driving to the green sand beach.

If you decide to drive, make sure you have a vehicle with a decent amount of clearance for the few sections where ruts and a few rocks will ruin your day without that clearance.

If you decide to hike, it’s about a 2.5-mile hike from the parking lot to the beach. You’ll want to bring plenty of water and something to eat. By the time you hike in, spend some time at the beach and hike out, it’s at least a few hours. There are no trees, no shelters, and no facilities — not even a trash can, even once you get to the beach.

The hike takes about 30 minutes to an hour each way, and the drive takes about 15-20 minutes.

We spent some time at the beach admiring the green sand and crystal clear water, watching fish leaping back into the waves retreating from the beach, and becoming mesmerized by the black and green sand creating patterns as it slid down the steep decline toward the beach.


We reveled vicariously through the local who, after driving a truckload of tourists to the beach, swam and rolled into the waves probably the same way he’s done for 30 years. He looked like he could have been 5 years old the way he flopped and frolicked around in the water.

After an hour at the water’s edge, we walked up the rocks of the caldera’s edge. Another couple walked up just ahead of us and headed down the single-track path to the edge. We lingered back at the wider portion until they were done. Frank was taking photos of the green landscape when we noticed the guy bring out a box from his pocket and start to kneel down. Holy cow, this guy is proposing! The others from their group cheered from the beach below once it was clear everything went off without a hitch — that these two would be getting hitched soon. So Frank got a few epic shots of the proposal and a few of the first engagement photos for this adventurous young couple.


After visiting the big island a few times and not going to the green sand beach, we’re glad we made it happen on this trip. And we’ll definitely go back again to this place of otherworldly beauty.



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