Discover the Enchanting Beauty of Hawaii’s Green Sand Beach called Papakolea (updated 2023)

A rare green sand beach in Hawaii called Papakolea

The cinder cone and beach at Papakolea

Hawaii has so many beautiful and panoramic beaches of every shape and feature. There are little bays that are perfect for snorkeling, windy and rocky beaches that are just right for surfing and then there are those gorgeous crescent-shaped beaches that are fun to just lounge in and take a casual stroll along. But with a little effort, you can hike to some of the most exciting and rare beaches and only found in a few places around the world.

This includes one of the most unusual and stunning beach destinations – a green sand beach called Papakolea beach, on the southern tip of Hawaii Island. The beach along the South Point of Hawaii is also the southern most tip of the entire United States.  A rare green sand beach one of only four found in the world, it is worth the two-mile coastal hike in each direction.  But for those on limited times or have difficulty hiking, you can easily catch a ride with the many impromptu pick-up truck taxis that offer a $15 dollar roundtrip “contribution” to the beach.

A rare green sand beach in Hawaii called Papakolea 

A rare green sand beach in Hawaii called Papakolea

Starting point of the coastal trail

How to get to the Green Sand Beach in Hawaii Island

Getting to the Green Sand Beach on Hawaii Island requires some planning and preparation. Here’s how you can reach this stunning destination:

Start by driving to the nearest town: The Green Sand Beach is located near the town of Na’alehu on the southernmost tip of Hawaii Island. You can drive to Na’alehu from major cities like Hilo or Kona.

From Na’alehu, head towards South Point: Follow Highway 11 south from Na’alehu until you reach the turnoff for South Point Road. Take this road and continue driving until you reach the parking area near the trailhead.

Park your vehicle: Once you reach the parking area, find a suitable spot to park your vehicle. Make sure to lock your car and secure any valuable belongings.

Begin the hike to the Green Sand Beach: From the parking area, you’ll need to hike approximately 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) to reach the Green Sand Beach. Follow the trail along the rugged coastline, and be prepared for uneven terrain and hot weather. Stay on the designated path and follow any signs or markers.

Arrive at the Green Sand Beach: After a moderate hike, you’ll reach the Green Sand Beach. Take a moment to soak in the breathtaking beauty of the beach’s unique green sand and the surrounding coastal cliffs.

Remember to bring water, sunscreen, comfortable footwear, and any other necessary supplies for the hike. It’s also advisable to check local weather conditions and trail updates before your visit. Keep in mind that the trail can be challenging, especially under the hot sun, so plan your hike accordingly and stay hydrated.

Weather and best time to visit Papakolea Beach on the Big Island

Papakolea Beach, also known as the Green Sand Beach, is a unique and stunning destination on the Big Island of Hawaii. When planning your visit, it’s essential to consider the weather and the best time to experience this natural wonder.

**Weather at Papakolea Beach:**

Papakolea Beach is located on the southern tip of the Big Island, near the town of Ka Lae (South Point). This region experiences a tropical climate characterized by warm temperatures and occasional rainfall. Here’s what you can expect throughout the year:

Winter (December to February)

Winter months are generally pleasant with temperatures ranging from the mid-70s to mid-80s Fahrenheit (24-30°C). While rainfall is possible, it tends to be less frequent during this season.

Spring (March to May)

Spring offers comfortable weather, similar to winter, with mild temperatures and minimal rainfall. It’s an excellent time to visit to avoid crowds.

Summer (June to August)

Summer brings warmer temperatures, typically ranging from the upper 70s to low 90s Fahrenheit (26-33°C). Rainfall can increase during this season, so be prepared for sporadic showers.

Fall (September to November)

Fall sees temperatures similar to summer, but there may be a slight increase in rainfall. However, the beach remains accessible, and the landscape remains lush and green.

Best Time to Visit Papakolea Beach:

The best time to visit Papakolea Beach is during the drier months, which are typically from December to May. During this period, you can enjoy more predictable weather with less rainfall and comfortable temperatures. Additionally, visiting in the offseason (winter and spring) can help you avoid larger crowds.

Keep in mind that reaching Papakolea Beach involves a hike across rugged terrain, including a roughly 2.5-mile (4-kilometer) round-trip hike from the parking area. Be sure to bring sturdy footwear, sun protection, plenty of water, and respect the natural environment, as it’s a unique and fragile ecosystem.

It’s also important to note that the green sand at Papakolea Beach is created by the presence of a rare mineral called olivine. While it’s tempting to take souvenirs, it’s encouraged to leave the sand untouched to preserve the natural beauty of this remarkable beach for future generations.

Exploring and hiking to Papakolea Beach

Indigenous groundcover with yellow flowers cover the black lava rocks beds along the entire coastline, adding some color and contrast to the mostly treeless and desolate landscape.

A rare green sand beach in Hawaii called Papakolea

We preferred to hike along the coastal trail to the beach which is relatively flat and quite panoramic walking through some interesting geology and beautiful coastal paths. The start of the trail begins with a downhill walk from the parking lot to the boat ramp area and you can easily spot the trail on the left side of the ramp with a Kapu “No trespassing” sign which everyone pretty much ignores. It’s a very easy and flat trail skirting around the coastal areas with scenic views of black lava rock, red earth and aqua to blue colored waters of the Pacific ocean, a dazzling combination.

It’s actually a pleasant walk if you go early in the morning before the afternoon heat makes it more difficult – although the coastal trail is quite windy so that’s refreshing at various points of the trail.  You can even spot many salt deposits in many of the sandy dunes with a distinctive white crystal formed into large forms on rocks and the dunes.

A rare green sand beach in Hawaii called Papakolea

Natural salt deposits

A rare green sand beach in Hawaii called Papakolea

Finally we made it to the beach

Finally arriving the viewpoint area to Papakolea – the Green Sand Beach

In no time, we see an uplifted form of a hill which is actually an eroding cinder cone which has slowly deteriorating into the rough surf of the Pacific ocean.  Fortunately, today there was no surf and rip tides on the beach making it a wonderful swim into the aqua and blue waters of this gorgeous inlet.

A rare green sand beach in Hawaii called Papakolea

Stunning aqua colors of the bay

I bump into some Austrian girls that wanted to take a shot of them after they find out that I am photographer, what do you think of the moment?  Definitely  a picture perfect moment with stunning landscape and beautiful models.

Austrian tourist sharing a picture perfect moment

Austrian tourist sharing a picture perfect moment

How does the beach become a green sand beach?

The Green Sand Beach, also known as Papakōlea Beach, gets its distinctive green color from a unique combination of geological factors. The beach’s green sand is primarily composed of a mineral called olivine, which is created through volcanic activity.

The origin of the Green Sand Beach can be traced back to an ancient volcanic eruption. Around 50,000 years ago, a volcanic cinder cone known as Pu’u Mahana was formed near the shore of the Big Island of Hawaii. This cinder cone contains a rich deposit of olivine, a semi-precious gemstone commonly found in volcanic rocks.

Over time, natural erosion and weathering processes broke down the olivine-rich volcanic material into tiny sand particles. The olivine crystals, which are green in color, became the dominant component of the sand, giving the beach its characteristic green hue.

The reason olivine is so prevalent at the Green Sand Beach is due to its unique properties. When lava erupts from a volcano, it contains various minerals, including olivine. As the lava cools and solidifies, the olivine crystals separate and settle near the surface, concentrating in specific areas like Pu’u Mahana. Subsequent erosion and wave action then break down the volcanic material, leaving behind the green sand.

A rare green sand beach in Hawaii called Papakolea

Bay opening at Papakolea

Arriving the Green Sand beach at Papakolea

Papakolea beach is right under a large lava cinder cone thrusting upwards dramatically towards the ocean. The name Papakolea comes from the cinder cone and the land surrounding it formed over 49,000 years ago from the Moana Loa volcano rift. The beach gets it green color from the mineral olivine which is a mineral created when magma starts the cooling process. Since the olivine is heavier than lava rock, it tends to settle in place versus lava rock which gets washed away into the ocean.

A rare green sand beach in Hawaii called Papakolea

Detail of green sand beach

The green olivine sand is colored a drab olive, but in certain areas it sparkles in the sunlight, when it’s mixed in with the natural black lava rock sand.

A rare green sand beach in Hawaii called Papakolea

Cliff details

Inside tips to visiting the Green Sand Beach at Papakolea

Here are some inside tips to enhance your visit to the Green Sand Beach in Hawaii:

Prepare for the Hike: The Green Sand Beach is accessible via a roughly 2.5-mile (4-kilometer) hike from the nearest parking area. Be sure to wear comfortable, sturdy footwear and bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and a hat to protect yourself from the sun. It’s also a good idea to pack snacks and a light picnic to enjoy at the beach.

Consider Off-Peak Times: To avoid crowds and have a more tranquil experience, consider visiting the Green Sand Beach during weekdays or early in the morning. This can give you a better chance to soak in the beauty of the beach without many other visitors around.

Respect the Environment: The Green Sand Beach is a fragile and culturally significant place. It’s important to respect the environment and leave it as you found it. Avoid leaving any trash behind and refrain from taking any sand or rocks as souvenirs. Help preserve the natural beauty of the beach for everyone to enjoy.

Stay Safe: While the hike to the Green Sand Beach is relatively moderate, be cautious when navigating the trail and the rocky terrain near the beach. Watch your step, especially on the descent to the beach, and be mindful of waves and strong currents if you decide to swim. It’s always wise to prioritize your safety during your visit.

Take in the Surrounding Beauty: The Green Sand Beach is located in a stunning coastal area. Take some time to explore the cliffs, enjoy the panoramic views, and appreciate the unique geological formations. It’s an excellent opportunity for photography enthusiasts to capture the beauty of this remarkable landscape.

Plan for Limited Amenities: Keep in mind that there are limited facilities at the Green Sand Beach. There are no food or drink vendors nearby, so it’s advisable to bring your own provisions. Additionally, restroom facilities may be basic or non-existent, so be prepared accordingly.

Stay Informed: Before visiting the Green Sand Beach, check local weather conditions and any advisories or closures. This will ensure a smoother and more enjoyable experience, as conditions can change due to weather or other factors.

A rare green sand beach in Hawaii called Papakolea

Cliff detail hike back up from the beach

After the beach hike we drove to the southern most tip  the island, I wrote a post previously about the South Point area of Hawaii Island here. The short drive to the South Point is dramatic with jagged cliffs dropping sharply into the Pacific Ocean, a beautiful place to enjoy the panorama and capture some images of the coastline.

Here are some things to know when you visit the green sand beach at Papakolea

It’s a 12 mile mostly one lane road from the main Highway 11 road, you need to drive the shoulder if you come across someone going the opposite direction to share the road.

At the end junction, there is a sign showing the green sand beach on your left and straight ahead is the road leading to the end of South Point.

Follow the road all the way to the parking lot and you can spot the trail leading downhill to coast and boat ramp, follow the trail.

Or you can easily flag any of the 4 wheel truck taxis who can easily take you to the beach in a few minutes roundtrip is a suggested donation of $15, make sure you tell them around what time to want a pick up if you are staying at the beach for a few hours.

The area is exposed sun with no shade, so bring hats and cover for yourself.

More things to see around Papakolea

Visit the Kahuku Unit of Volcanoes National park

Visit Naalehu town

Black sand beach at Punalu’u

HIke Punalu’u to Kamehame beach

Is it worth visiting the Green Sand Beach at Papakolea?

This is one of the most rare beaches of the world in a very remote and scenic part of the Big Island. If you are planning on visiting the south side of the island on the way to Volcanoes National Park, then this is a great opportunity to explore the landscape and coastal areas of the Green Sand Beach.

Have you been to the Green sand beach at Papakolea Beach?

What stood out for your visiting the area? Please share in the comment section below.

Conclusion on exploring the Green sand beach at Papakolea Beach?

Exploring the Green Sand Beach in Hawaii offers a unique and memorable experience. Prepare for the hike, respect the environment, and stay safe. Take in the beauty of the green sand, appreciate the surrounding landscapes, and capture lasting memories. Cherish this extraordinary destination and the wonders of nature.

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