Green Sand Beach: A Big Island Wonder

June 8, 2016, 3:19 PM HST
* Updated June 10, 5:39 PM
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Green sand is evident at Papakolea, a beach near South Point. Photo by Roxanne Carter/Travel + Leisure.

Green sand is evident at Papakolea, a beach near South Point. Photo by Roxanne Carter/Travel + Leisure.

The Big Island has more than its fair share of beautiful beaches—white strands along the West Coast, popular Hilo locations that range from salt and pepper to black sand, and ocean coastlines spanning the circumference of state’s largest island.

Somewhere, hidden between the more commonly known areas and anticipated sand colors, lies one of the Big Island’s most breathtaking destinations, Papakolea Beach, known more popularly to tourists and locals alike as Green Sand Beach at Mahana Bay.

About three miles east of the southern tip of the Big Island (the southernmost point of the entire US), lies a beach that glistens with tiny green specks.

Green Sand Beach’s color was created tens of thousands of years ago when a cinder cone erupted, leaving behind an olive-colored sand—the result of volcanic olivine silicate crystals.

Getting to the popular spot is not an easy trek—there are no facilities along the nearly two-and-a-half-mile hike.


Hikers should anticipate hot, humid conditions; the walk is mostly through shadeless areas. Since there are no facilities, hikers should prepare for the long trek with plenty of water and snacks.


The hike traverses a variety of historical heiau. Paying attention to detail could reveal a unique cultural experience.

After arriving at Mahana Bay’s overview spot, hikers must climb down a steep patch to the beach.

Swimming is possible, but it’s safer to plan for a quick dip along the shoreline to cool off, as the ocean off the beach is known for high surf and strong currents.


Have fun, and remember to pack-out whatever you bring with you.

Getting to Green Sand Beach: Turn south on Highway 11 between Mile Markers 69 and 70 at South Point Road. Stay on the roadway for about eight miles until you reach the Green Sand Beach parking lot to the left. From there, your hike will begin along the coast.

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