On our trip to Hawai'is Big Island we planned to visit the southern most point of the USA and the Green Sand Beach (Papakolea Beach). Yes, that is correct. They have green sand on this beach. When we visited the Big Island last time about four years ago, I was far along pregnant and we were told that a trip to this beach is strenuous, so we decided not to do it. Also the access to South Point was restricted to 4 wheelers only. This time we didn't want to miss these two awesome spots.
After breakfast, we hopped into our car and headed to the southern part of the island. Along the way there were multiple little towns so we stopped to get some sandwiches and fruits from the grocery store. From Kailua-Kona to Ka Lae, the South Point, it is about a two hour drive. If you look at the map it doesn't seem to be that far, but the speed limits are low and there is often some traffic on the road. Road to the South Point has been repaired and it is now accessible with any vehicle.
We conquered the southernmost point of America. Yay!
The place itself has no special markings about being the southernmost point eventhough it is a historic landmark. The view to the turquoise ocean is very beautiful especially if you stand on the edge of an embankment. There are no fences and it often gets windy so be careful. There is usually some fisherman on the spot. If you walk further you will see an old heaiu (Hawaiian temple) and burial ground. This is a sacred place of worship so visitors should treat the area with great respect. Further by the rock formations you will see some writing made of rocks. People wanted to mark their visit to this place somehow.
After eating some snacks we continued our trip to the Green Sand Beach. The official name of the beach is Papakolea Beach but it is commonly known as the Green Sand Beach. Beaches with green sand only exists in three places in the world; on the Big Island, in Guam and at the Galapagos Islands. They also say that there is one in Norway, but there are no pictures or any kind of evidence that this is true. So these beaches are very rare, and at some point in the future, also Papakolea Beach will become just a regular white sand beach. Unfortunately people steal some of the green sand and most is swept away by the waves. We even saw some of it sold at Punaluu Beach which is a black sand beach close by. We were told that taking sand from this beach is illegal but I didn't see any signs or anyone enforcing this. In fact, the beach is very remote and there are no lifeguards or any other services. The colour of the Green Sand Beach comes from the mineral olivine, found in Big Island lava. The wind erodes the cliffs filling the cove with green sand. There are no actual roads to this beach so you will have to hike about 3 miles both ways to get there. Just follow the coastline since the paths have no signs and can mislead you. Prepare for high winds and extremely warm weather, but the good news is, that the path is not difficult to walk. You can even see some ancient sites and heiaus along the way.
If you like hiking and are prepared, I'm sure you will enjoy the view on this hike. On the other hand, if you want to take the easy way, like we did this time, you can get a lift from one of the locals in the parking lot. There usually are multiple 4 wheelers around and they are happy to take you down to the beach for and an hour for a little charge. The ride itself was quite bumpy and fun. So if you travel with small kids or are not otherwise able to hike, consider this option. The Green Sand Beach is worth it!
Once we were there we looked down from the embankment and wow! The beach really was green and sparkly. We climbed down the narrow steps and walked on the beach. From close up the sand looked like small diamonds. The surf on Green Sand Beach is quite strong so I wouldn't recommend swimming but there were people in the water. We on the other hand got some toys out for our 3 year old and sat down to enjoy the view.
After one hour we were ready to leave. The wind was quite strong and the beach itself is small. We picked up a couple tired hikers on our way back and I was happy that we didn't attempt to hike with our little one. Many places in the USA warn about difficult hikes when they really are not that in my opinion, but this time the heat and wind makes the hike quite tiring.
South Point... CHECK! Green Sand Beach... CHECK! Bucket list has been updated! An awesome experience and a great place! Then it is time to go to the hotel for a shower and a nice dinner. But right now I remembered again why travelling is so much fun!
TIPS FOR VISITING SOUTH POINT AND THE GREEN SAND BEACH:
- Plan your routes beforehand. From time to time there is no cell service and you might not able to download maps on your phone
- Bring some snacks, lots of water, sun screen and a sunhat. Neither of these places have any services. South Point has portable toilets.
- If you plan to hike to the Green Sand Beach, be prepared for a hot and windy hike. Follow the paths on the coastline.
- If you want a lift to the Green Sand Beach, drive all the way to the parking lot (the road goes from South Point) and people there can ferry you over. Bring cash.
- Leave no trace on the beach and do not take any sand with you! Clean your shoes and towels on the beach before leaving. Preserving this beautiful beach for others to enjoy is important!