Green Sand Beach
Round Trip Mileage: 5.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 275 feet
Papakōlea beach is a geologic oddity among few in the world. It means 'plover flats,' after the Pacific golden plover. This hike travels to a green sand beach located in a bay cut into a side of Puʻu Mahana, a cinder cone that erupted about 50,000 years ago. The green sand is created by a common mineral in Big Island lava called olivine, which stays deposited on this beach because it is heavier than the other components of the lava.
Swimming at the green sand beach is possible, but the surf is quite strong along the notorious southern shore. There is no lifeguard. There are no services at the trailhead or the beach, so plan ahead to Leave No Trace.
Trailhead: On Hwy. 11 between the 69 and 70 mile markers, find South Point Road. Carefully drive this road for about eight miles, and stay left at the end where there is a sign indicating the Green Sand Beach. Parts of the road are one-way. There is a large parking area. There might be a portable toilet, but don't count on it.
Gear: Standard hiking gear. The trail is pretty rough, so sturdy shoes are recommended. Bring plenty of water and sun protection. Plan to pack all trash out of the beach.
Hike: From the parking area, walk south on a paved road that turns to dirt. Head toward the ocean. At a concrete boat launch into Kaulana Bay, turn and hike east along a very rough four-wheel drive road. Shortly pass a picturesque bay and continue to hike northeast. There is a maze of dirt roads in this area, but just stay parallel to the ocean. You'll notice some eroded structures along the way. These are ancient sites of various kinds, some are heiau (temples) dedicated to fishing. Stay out of all ancient sites.
After about two miles of hiking along the dirt roads, you'll come to a dramatic view of Papakōlea Beach. Hike around the rim of the eroded cinder cone to the north end where you'll find the path down to the beach. Locate a metal staircase and follow an obvious path down. The footing can be uncertain, and the hike down to the beach is very steep. Enjoy the beach and return the way you came.
Do not remove any sand from the beach. It is unlawful.