An amazing green sand beach on the Big Island

Of all the Big Island Beaches, the Green sand beach on the Big Island is quite spectacular and a one of kind experience worth visiting. A hike to the green sand beach on the Big Island’s south side is a fantastic road trip from Hilo or Kona and also a unique hiking experience. Papakolea beach is the Hawaiian name of the green sand beach located close to the south point of Hawaii Island and it is an easy and relatively easy hike along the coastal trails leading to the beach.

If you love to see something rate and unusual, then go hiking the green sand beach on the Big Island and discover this gorgeous place that is rare and fun to explore. The area around the south point, Big Island, is historic with ancient Hawaiians that settle the area from Polynesia with many interesting things to do around Ka Lae in South Point, Hawaii.

Less than 5 miles roundtrip on mostly flat gravel and sand trails you can go the direct route or skirt trals that follow the coastline and are more scenic to hike through.

Green sand beach on the Big Island

What does Pakakolea beach mean in Hawaiian?

The meaning of Papakolea Beach in Hawaiian (Papa = flats and Kolea = the Pacific golden clover bird) after birds that congregate in the area and the cinder cone (called Pu’u Mahana) that was formed along the beach which collapsed and eventually weathered down to a crater tuffed form with the beach area below the crater cliffs that protect it. (Very similar in nature to the more famous tuffed ring cinder cone called Diamond Head in Honolulu).  

An easy green sand beach hike on the Big Island

The rugged coastline hike towards papakolea beach area.
The rugged coastline hike towards papakolea beach area.

A little history on the green sand beach in Hawaii

Over 49,000 years ago the main cinder cone on the water’s edge was formed by eruptions on the Moana Loa volcano and flowing down to the coastline and forming a tuff cinder cone in the area. The green sand were formed from olivine crystals created when lava hits the ocean and the minerals are exposed.

Constant eroding of the cinder cone tuff which is filled with olivine crystals eventually were washed up onto the shoreline and made this beach area. Olivine, called the “Hawaiian Diamond” is heavier than the black lava sand and accumulates into dense areas and eventually creating the green sand beach this area is known for.

The green sand beach in Hawaii is only one of four large scale green sand beaches in the entire world.

How did the green sand beach form at the Green sand beach, Hawaii?

Even though this is the fourth of green sand beaches found in the world, there are a lot of small coves and swathes of olivine mixed in with lava sands throughout the area that make this entire region more spectacular. You’ll even find green olivine throughout the trails leading up the the beach area in large swathes. But Papakolea Beach is the largest green sand beach located on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Small coves and swathes of olivine mixed in with lava sands towards the green sand beach, Hawaii
Small coves and swathes of olivine mixed in with lava sands towards the green sand beach, Hawaii

driving the green sand beach at south point

How to get to the green sand beach at Papakolea

Not far from Na’alehu town, follow the hwy 11 road going to the southern tip of the island and past scenic pasturelands and wind turbines heading to South Point. You will eventually reach a sign that points to the green sand beach and entrance to the parking lot area. Once you parked, there are a few trails leading directly to the ocean and take any of these which eventually will lead you to the main trail that also has a Kapu “No Trespassing “sign that is jokingly the mile marker and ignored by locals and visitors.  There are two main trails one right on the ocean and the other just a hundred yards further inland.

How to get to the green sand beach at Papakolea

If you don’t want to hike, take a casual taxi

Beyond the trails are larger dirt roads that local taxi’s (pickup trucks that offer roundtrip rides for a donation) and other 4-wheel drive vehicles take to go directly to the beach for a “donation”. Most suggested donations are for one way direction at $15 and the same for the way back and the pick up trucks ply the area regularly when they get their cabs and pick area filled for a fun ride on the sandy roads.

Coastal hike to the green sand beach big island
Coastal hike to the green sand beach big island

Starting point to the green sand beach hike at Papakolea Beach

The hike to the beach takes about a two- and one-half miles in each direction on the coastline and is only one of four green sand beaches in the world.  The rugged terrain and coastline are untouched and scenic with beautiful native wildflowers blooming against black lava rock. 

Along the hike, you’ll start to spot green olivine crystals on the sandy stretches which is what the beach is made of – Lava hitting the ocean breaks up into many particles and the green olivine is predominant in this sandy beach mixed in with the black lava rock. The olivine is a heavier crystal and stays intact on the beach, the finer version of olivine is better known at Peridot when it is of gem quality unlike the olivine crystal which is more of sandy and smaller.

Coastal hike to the green sand beach big island

Green Sand Beach hike aka Papakolea Beach

The green sand beach hike is easy to do and covers gently sloping terrain on dirt and sandy pathways along the coastal area. You’ll enjoy the scenic ocean views and find some cool photo ops along the way with many small coves and rocky coastline heading towards Papakolea beach. You’ll know when you are close when you see the large cinder cone sticking out directly from the flat shoreline.

You’ll definitely get better photo opportunities along the coastline when you reach the cinder cone with some areas offering fantastic panoramic views to capture the moment. Once you get to the entrance, you’ll notice that the beach is below the tuff cliffs and there are ladders that you can climb down to get to the beach area. Since there is only one access going up or down, be patient with hikers going in both directions and share some aloha.

Cinder cone at Papakolea
Approaching the cinder cone at Papakolea

Tips for visiting Papakolea and Mahana

The well protected Mahana bay and surf is variable so do take precaution if you want to go swimming in the bay. Also note these other details when visiting:

There are no lifeguards on site.

There are also no facilities available on this rugged beach area.

There is a small downhill trail and staircase leading down to the beach, so be patient with people going uphill

Weather is unpredictable in the area and the beach area is completely exposed.

The trails are all exposed rugged terrain and sunny, wear adequate head or body cover.

Bring sunscreen, hat and water for your basic needs

Please pack up and take out what you bring into the area.

entrance to Green-sand-beach-Big-Island

Gorgeous green olive colored beach at Papakolea beach below

Green-sand-beach-detail of olivine sand

Climbing down the face of the cliffs via ladders and rocks to reach the bottom of the olivine beach area below.

climbing down to Papakolea beach

Here’s a cool video highlighting the entire hike to Papakolea – the green sand beach in Hawaii

What else to see in South Point, Big Island area

Once you head back to the parking area there are a few other places of interest to see in the South Point, Hawaii area. Also, check out the other attractions and fun things to see in the immediate area of South Point.

South Point tip

Gorgeous coastal views from the South Point area

Jumping platform to the south point area

Other fun things to do in South Point area

  1. Go visit the tip of South Point – the jagged cliff areas of South Point are spectacular and wild it is definitely worth the short drive to see this place and hike along the shorelines
  2. Check out the ancient fishing heiau at Kalalea close to the southern tip
  3. Those on an adventure kick actually love to jump from the cliffs for a real thrill ride.
  4. You can also just walk along the cliffside trails for more fantastic views in the area.
  5. Check out the Kula Kai Caverns for lava tube explorations in Ocean view
  6. Visit Punalu’u black sand beach and the gorgeous turtles that bask on the lava rocks and sandy beaches there.
  7. Get your fix of delicious Kau coffee at the Kau Coffee Mill in Wood Valley

How to get to Papakolea beach and South Point

From Kona area, the drive is about 63.6 miles driving down Highway 11 and in between mile marker 69 and 70. Look for South Point road and make a right, then drive down to a sign showing the Green Sand Beach on the left side. Drive to the parking lot area and look for the trails towards the ocean.

From Hilo area the drive to Papakolea is about 81.7 miles on Highway 11 and in between mile marker 69 and 70. Look for South Point road and make a left, then drive down to a sign showing the Green Sand Beach on the left side. Drive to the parking lot area and look for the trails towards the ocean.

Public transportation is limited and there are no tour outfitters going to this area. If you plan on doing this trip, then you should rent a car from either Kona or Hilo airport and drive down to the South Point area.

Where to stay in the area

If you are looking to stay and explore this region, you can base yourself in Na’alehu town or further into Volcano Village and the national park.

Check out all the accommodations around Na’alehu town here for reviews and current prices

Check out all the accommodations around Volcano Village here for reviews and current prices

How to get to Papakolea beach and South Point

Must bring packing and essentials for the beach

You can’t go to the beach without some of these essentials to enjoying your beach time.

Cell phone water proof case – if you want to take some underwater pictures, get one of these easy and cheap water proof cases.

Ocean reef protected sunscreen – You’ll need this in Hawaii to get in the water and it’s required usage for Hawaii reefs and ocean. Get it in SPF 50 or SPF 30 here

Rash guards for water fun – a great way to protect yourself from the elements and water fun. Check out these women’s rash guards and men’s rash guards here for reference.

Cooler backpack – the perfect picnic and drinks carrier to the beach or any outdoor fun on the islands.

UFT 50 sun hat for men’s or women’s sizes – essential head protection wear at the beach and a sport look

More details and hikes in Hawaii

IF you are looking to do some hiking and exploring in this part of East Hawaii, check out all these fantastic hiking experience you can do in the area.

Hiking to Narnia

Big Island Hike at Pu’uwa’awa’a

Big Island Hike to Kamehame beach from Punalu’u

Big Island Hike to Ha’ena/Shipman Beach

Visit to the South Point or Ka lae

Explore Whittington Beach park

Black sand beach at Punalu’u

visit to Kahuku unit in the Kau region

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Have you been to the green sand beach in Hawaii at Papakolea Beach?

How was your experience, any inside tips to visiting? Please share your comments below, thanks.

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Noel Morata this Hawaii Life

Meet Noel Morata

Noel Morata is the creator of This Hawaii Life along with a small team of contributors. Living on the Big Island and traveling regularly to the neighbor islands, Noel and team actively search and share the latest information and updates to Hawaii travel, food, adventure and various lifestyle activities on the islands for your planning and vacation. Aloha and enjoy This Hawaii Life.