Want to go to the green sand beach in Hawai?
Green Sand Beach, also called Mahana Bay or Papakolea Beach, is one of the most magical spots that many tourists never find out about. It’s located just west of South Point, which is the southern-most tip of the United States in Hawaii. If you’re coming from the resorts in Waikoloa Village, the drive is just over two hours. The drive from downtown Kona is a little shorter and the cruise from Hilo is closer to three hours.
Thankfully, the scenery on the drive is incredible; alternating between miles of desert lava fields, lush forests and charming coffee plantation towns. There is plenty to stop and see on the way. If you are a coffee lover like me, it is definitely worth the time to stop at one of the quaint coffee houses and get a 100% Kona bean latte.
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Which Road To Take To Go To The Green Beach
The Queen Kaahamanu Highway, simply referred to as Route 11, is the major road that takes you there. However, it’s a narrow, two-lane highway that curves and twists through the Hawaiian landscape, and the speed limit remains low. Hawaii’s speed limits never seem to bother me because the sights are always so glorious that I am happy to take the extra time and enjoy the views. My passenger friends didn’t seem to mind either.
Being absorbed by all the surrounding nature, I missed the turn-off point with its nondescript sign. Backtracking a few miles allowed us to find the subtle turn-off which doesn’t say anything about Green Sand Beach. This side road is incredibly narrow and offered some amazing views of grassy fields overlooking the cerulean ocean. Eventually, we reached a fork in the road, and following my Internet instructions, I stuck to the left side. We ended up in a dirt parking lot manned by civilian locals.
Image credit: Merin Mathew
To Drive or to Hike On The Green Beach?
There are three ways to get to the Green sand beach from the dusty and unassuming parking lot: get a ride in a truck with a local for a $15 fee, take your own four-wheel drive vehicle or hike. Unless you’re a seasoned off-road driver, I wouldn’t recommend taking your own vehicle. The terrain is ridden with deep trenches, huge rocks and other rugged features. While my friends and I were in a fully equipped Jeep Wrangler, we opted for the two mile hike because we knew it would offer more adventure without the risk of damaging our vehicle.
We made sure our water bottles were full, donned some coconut oil sunscreen and headed out. The hike takes you directly along the coastline which is full of tide pools and little caves to explore. To the left of us was a huge expanse of Hawaiian desert. The soil was a tangy sienna brown, decorated with desert brush, wild grass and deep ravines. These two views are very juxtaposed and the result is a unique landscape with mesmerizing features.
Almost orange soil flowed into ledges of lava rock that met the tropical waters. All of the colors are vivid and intoxicating, if you’re into that kind of thing. A warning to the faint of heart: this hike is hot and windy; there’s no shade to protect you from the intense sun. I wouldn’t recommend taking children or elderly people on this hike, but if you’re used to hiking in hot climates, it’s totally worth it.
Tide Pools On The Green Beach
After trekking along the dusty road for a little while, we moved closer to the coast and found ourselves exploring some mermaid worthy tide pools. We immediately shed our clothing and dipped into the cool, relaxing pools. Huge lava rocks create a perfect barrier for waves, so you don’t have to worry about getting knocked down and smashed into the jagged rocks. If you’re a snorkel fanatic, these pools are wonderful places for some fishy action.
Here’s another secret: this is where the most green sand is. While the actual beach still has an olive hue, years of activity from nature and people have greatly diminished the vibrant color. However, since hardly anybody makes the long hike in, the tide pools are filled with patches of bright green sand unlike anything you’ve ever seen. All three of us were completely spellbound by our first handfuls of the magical sand.
Why is the Sand Green?
One of two green sand beaches in the world, this is a truly unique and special place. Very specific conditions are needed to produce this kind of environment and the cause of Green Sand Beach was the eruption of a volcano that had been dormant for decades. Huge chunks of olivine, or peridot, crystals were formed when the lava started to cool. Over time, the ocean and winds turned these huge chunks into trillions of teeny-tiny pebbles which we refer to as sand.
The Green sand beach is located in a giant cinder cone that is a southern rift of Mauna Loa, the biggest land mass in the world. Due to erosion, the cinder cone partially collapsed, creating an incredibly unique landscape surrounding the Green sand beach.
Image credit: Merin Mathew
The Green sand Beach
In order to get down to the Green sand beach, we had to slide and step down this strange sandy rocky path. The view from the top of the path is incredible, the ocean an impossible shade of blue accented by the dense black of nearby lava rock. Once we got down, we were so ecstatic. It wasn’t packed, all the people looked happy and the water was absolutely pristine. Gentle waves lapped at the olivine shore in a picture of paradise.
Unable to contain myself and hot from the hike in, I was the first to jump into the water. Swimming on this island is always somewhat alarming because the waves tend to be powerful and erratic, but the scene here was just right. I waded into my knees, waited for the next wave and dove under it. The temperature was absolutely perfect and I swam around in pure child-like delight. After several minutes of swimming, I realized how hungry I was and rode the waves back to shore.
We shared a homemade lunch of quinoa salad and fruit; the perfect foods to re-fuel the body. I took some time to bask in the sunlight and listen to the sounds of people and children playing with the incessant waves breaking in the background. We hung out for a while without speaking and simply enjoyed the moment. Gratitude glowed from our faces and we knew that we were blessed to be somewhere so special.
After my friends took a dip and we relaxed a little more, the sun started to make its slow descent back beyond the horizon. We packed up our beach blanket and made our way back to the top of the trail.
Image credit: Merin Mathew
Riding Back From The Green Beach
All three of us were rather tired from the long day of driving, hiking and swimming, so we took a ride in a van with several other people. Our fellow passengers were from England and it was really fun talking with them about their experience of Hawaii. One of my favorite things about living on this island is that you get to meet people from all over the world and realize that they’re not much different than yourself.
The actual drive was fun, but a little nerve-wracking as the van maneuvered over and through the crazy trenches and ravines that twisted through the landscape. I grew up going on off-road adventures with my dad, and this experience provided some deep nostalgia.
We were back to the Jeep in a fraction of the time it took to hike, and we were grateful for it. Taking a minute to breathe deep, we simply sat in the Jeep for several minutes, full of gratitude and wonder. Then, I started the car and we were off on the winding road back to Hilo.
Blessed to Visit Green Sand Beach
I count myself as an incredibly lucky individual to be able to have experiences such as this. Nature never ceases to astound me and the majesty of this special place was stunning and inspiring. The fact is, this place won’t be like it is forever. Tourism and nature are slowly eroding the last of the peridot deposits which means that eventually, the Green Sand Beach will be no more.
It’s important to me to take advantage of the opportunities I have while they’re available and to respect nature when I do so. I never leave trash behind or damage the natural environments of the places I visit and seeing such a beautiful temporary place filled me with the awareness that everything is always changing. The places we journey to today may not be the same tomorrow, and for this reason, we must meet every adventure with appreciation, respect, and awe.
Merin Mathew is a software engineer by profession. Now she is living another version of the dream who left her job to pursue her passion for writing and traveling around the globe. She loves interacting with people and experiencing something different in her life.