(Apologies to the Outlaws, whose song “Green Grass and High Tides” seemed almost too apropos.)
Prepare to lengthen your bucket list.
If you’re like us, you just can’t resist visiting someplace or something unique or special. Both words describe much of Hawai’i but apply particularly to a remote beach at the southern end of the Big Island. Granted, you can look in almost any direction on any of the Islands and find breathtaking beaches, but this one, Papakolea Beach (also called Mahana Beach) is so unique because it’s green. That almost makes it literally one of a kind.
Like many Hawai’ian beaches, it’s a volcanic beach, the remnant of a cinder cone now partially collapsed and eroded by the pounding surf. This cinder cone, however, is rich in olivine, a lesser cousin of the gemstone peridot, sometimes called “Hawaiian Diamond.” It’s actually pretty common in Hawaiian lavas as it’s one of the first crystals formed when the magma cools. It can be found all over the Islands, most notably at Diamond Head on O’ahu.
So why is Papakolea Beach green? The rest of the lava sand is less dense than olivine and gets washed away, leaving the green tinted mineral covering the beach. The result is a beautiful green beach, one of only two in the world (the other being in the Galapagos Islands). Thankfully, the beach is not overrun by tourists because it is a bit remote, on the southern slope of Mauna Loa past the end of South Point Road. Surrounded by pasture land, it’s accessible only by foot or four wheel drive, and requires a hike down the cinder cone before you can sink your toes into the moss-colored sand. It’s enough of an adventure to be a great day trip from the resort towns of Hawai’i.
Like most gems, the green sand beach takes some work to get to but the beauty is worth every step.