Mahana Beach (Papakolea Green Sand Beach)

Visit the Rare Green Sands of Papakolea Beach for an Unforgettable Hiking Trek
The Bottom Line:

Papkolea Beach is a unique trip that you should make when visiting the southern part of the Big Island. The green color of the sand comes from its olivine content and appears on only four beaches around the world. The free trail draws crowds of tourists daily. Make sure to plan your day to arrive early to have a quieter experience on the trail and beach. This rustic site lacks facilities, so bring water for your almost six-mile hike to the beach and back.

- The Local Expert Team

If you want a rare beach experience that features a beautiful hike that skirts the island’s southern shore, add a trip to the green sands of Papakolea Beach to your list.

Papakolea Beach is located on the far southern tip of the island, near the South Point area, and accessible by walking almost three miles from the parking area to the beach for a total there and back trip of 5.6 miles. The beach itself, the trail, and the parking area are free and open 365 days of the year. The beach and trail stay open regardless of weather conditions, so come prepared for heat or rain.

This beach is a popular destination for many who visit the Big Island. Consequently, it can get very crowded as the day goes on. Arrive early in the morning to get the best experience of the hike. Plan for about an hour to get to the beach and an hour back for the hike, which includes rough terrain and stairs.

Once you arrive at the beach, you should spend time enjoying the view and the sand. While you can technically swim or snorkel at this beach, strong currents and the lack of a lifeguard make doing so very risky.

The beach, trail, and parking also lack water and restroom facilities. Bring water for the hike, and plan your bathroom needs before arriving. Your trip will be more comfortable with this planning.

Only three other places in the world can boast of green sands covering the beaches. The origins of the beach are as fascinating as the coloring of its sand.

A cinder volcano that erupted 50,000 years ago, Puu Mahana. When the volcano erupted, its lava included olivine. This mineral sank to the bottom of the lava flows because it was heavier than other substances in the lava. Today, that olivine creates the green sand on the beach. You may know olivine better in its gem form peridot.

The unusual bowl shape of the beach itself also comes from its origins as a volcano. The bay cut into the side of the volcano, leaving the steep, wall-like sides of the beach in place while the rest fell into the water. You’ll need to climb down a stairway to reach the beach from the rim.

When you visit this beach, remember to remove everything that you bring. There are no trash cans at the site. By taking only photographs and memories from your visit and leaving nothing behind but footprints, you can help to preserve the natural beauty of this beach for future generations.

Though out of the way, the trip to this unique beach is worth it. If you love hiking and natural scenery as a change of pace from beaches aimed at swimming and sunbathing, put Papakolea Beach into a top spot on your itinerary.

Insider Tips:
-Leave the brilliant green sand at the beach. It is illegal to take any with you.
-Respect ancient sites in the area and stay away from them as you hike to the beach.
-Plan ahead for restroom breaks because the beach does not have facilities, and don’t rely on the parking area to have an available portable toilet.   
-The hike to the beach goes over rough terrain and down steep slopes. Wear sturdy hiking shoes for the trip and sunscreen to protect your skin from the bright sun.
-Watch out for scammers trying to charge for parking spots. The parking area is free.