An amazing green sand beach on the Big Island

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 on the south side of the island.

Green sand beach on the Big Island

An easy hike to the green sand beach on the Big Island

Papakolea Beach is named in Hawaiian (Papa = flats and Kolea = the Pacific golden clover) 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).  

How did the green sand beach form?

Over 49,000 years ago the cinder cone was formed by eruptions on the Moana Loa volcano in which the green sand was formed by the olivine crystals formed when lava hits the ocean and the constant eroding of the cinder cone filled with olivine was up the crystals all over the beach and surrounding coves in the region. Olivine, called the “Hawaiian Diamond” and since it is heavier than lava sand, tends to accumulate and stay in dense areas, hence the green sand beach this area is known for.

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.

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.

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 hiking 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.

Coastal hike to the green sand beach big island

The Coastal hike to Green Sand Beach aka Papakolea Beach

The hike is easy to do on gently sloping terrain and the ocean views are nice and fantastic to photograph the many small coves and rocky coastline heading to Papakolea. 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 and spot some fantastic 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:

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 is completely exposed.

Bring sunscreen and water for your basic needs

entrance to Green-sand-beach-Big-Island

Gorgeous green olive colored beach at Papakolea 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 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 area

Once you head back to the parking area there are a few other places of interest to see in the South Point area below. 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
  2. Those on an adventure kick actually love to jump from the cliffs for a real thrill ride.
  3. You can also just walk along the cliffside trails for more fantastic views in the area.
  4. Check out the Kula Kai Caverns for lava tube explorations in Ocean view
  5. Visit Punalu’u black sand beach and the gorgeous turtles that bask on the lava rocks and sandy beaches there.
  6. 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.

More details and hikes in Hawaii

Hiking to Narnia

Big Island Hike at Pu’uwa’awa’a

Big Island Hike to Polulu Valley in Kohala

Big Island Hike to Ha’ena/Shipman Beach

Visit to the South Point or Ka lae

Explore Whittington Beach park

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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.