Green Sand Beach: The Big Island, Hawaii

Green Sand Beach, Green Sand Beach: The Big Island, Hawaii, The Travel Bug Bite

Visiting the Green Sand Beach was one of my top 10 experiences in Hawaii. I spent four months living there as part of a study-abroad program but somehow, I never wrote much about it. Today, as I get my annual Facebook reminders about being in Hawaii this time eight years ago, I was inspired. So let me finally tell you about one of the coolest places on planet Earth – Papakōlea Beach, also known as Green Sand Beach or Mahana Beach located near South Point on The Big Island.

Getting to the Green Sand Beach

I was lucky to be able to go here for free as part of a weekend program for students of UH Hilo to get to know the island. It takes a few hours to get from Hilo or Kona to the closest parking.

Then, you need to hike along a dusty path and watch the sands slightly change color as the wind mixes the green sand with yellow and brown.

Finally, you will get to the edge of a cliff and look down at a wonderful sight. Of course, no photos could actually do it justice…

Once you’re there, you can simply enjoy the views from the top of the cliff. But the real adventure starts on the climb down – which isn’t easy, and you need to be really careful. The amazing views of green sand, black cliffs and gradient blue ocean can be quite distracting.

Green Sand Beach, Green Sand Beach: The Big Island, Hawaii, The Travel Bug Bite

When you get to the actual beach, it’s a little rocky so finding a good spot to sit is tricky. When I was there the tide was high so most people just perched on rocks to enjoy the view. The waves here are no joke, as I quickly discovered. They were strong and merciless.

Powerful Waves

I was wading in slowly, taking in my surroundings. When the water was up to my knees, I stopped to look around. Suddenly, there was a sucking sound and all the water was gone. I looked up just in time to see a wave, much taller than me, hit me hard. It spun me underwater, I had no idea which way was up, and I started to panic. My legs and arms scraped all over the hard granules of sand. The water finally released me and for a second I could stumble and take half a breath before another wave hit me.

This wave wasn’t as powerful but I was exhausted from fighting waves. When I washed up, I crawled as far away from the water and it took a while to compose myself again. I didn’t go back into the water that day and later on, a few Hawaiian friends taught me how to jump into waves when you see them coming at you. Needless to say, I never underestimated the water again.

Why is it Green?

Okay fine, it was cool and I nearly drowned. But WHY IS THE SAND GREEN?

“Papakōlea Beach is located in a bay half circled by Puʻu Mahana, a tuff ring formed over 49,000 years ago. It isassociated with the southwest rift of Mauna Loa. Unlike cinder cones, tuff rings consist mostly of volcanic ash produced by violent interactions of magma with groundwater. Since its last eruption, the tuff ring has partially collapsed and been partially eroded by the ocean.

The fragmented volcanic material (pyroclastics) of the tuff ring contains olivine. It is a silicate mineral containing iron and magnesium, also known as peridot when of gem quality. Olivine is a common mineral component of lava and is one of the first crystals to form as magma cools. The source of the green coloration of the beach sands is due to the olivine crystals which are winnowed from the eroding headland by the action of the sea.

Olivine, being denser than the enclosing ash matrix, tends to accumulate on the beach whereas the less dense volcanic sand is swept out to sea. Elsewhere on the Big Island, olivine is enclosed in lava rock, rather than volcanic ash, so the olivine is not easily freed from the enclosing rock and tends to weather away rather than accumulate and concentrate as beach sand.Olivine Crystals in Lava Rock. This is the source of the green sand found on the green sand beach

Although these crystals are eventually broken down by weathering and chemical action and washed away. The constant erosion of the tuff ring ensures a steady supply of sand for the foreseeable future. Eventually, however, the supply will run out and the beach will look like any other.”


Summary: Green Sand Beach

The Green Sand Beach in Hawaii is a place I could visit again and again. I can’t wait to return to The Big Island and make the trip down, this time spending the entire day there. Did I mention that on our way back to campus, we stopped at a gas station to use the bathroom? Well, let’s just say that we made a mess of green sand that fell out of our bathing suits and it was embarrassing.

Also, I was willing to risk a hefty fine to take some of the beautiful green sand home – until the locals warned me that I’d probably be cursed and I’d need to return whatever I took exactly where I took it from to end whatever misfortunes are haunting me. I don’t think that accidentally taking some that sneaked into my bikini bottom counted. Even if it did, it was worth the risk to see this unique beach!

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Green Sand Beach, Green Sand Beach: The Big Island, Hawaii, The Travel Bug Bite

Green Sand Beach, Green Sand Beach: The Big Island, Hawaii, The Travel Bug Bite

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