Learn about the Papakolea Green Sand Beach

Papakolea Beach, sometimes referred to as Green Sand Beach or Mahana Beach, is a green sand beach on the Hawaiian island of Hawai’i that is close to South Point in the Kaʻū area. It is one of only four unique green sand beaches in the world, along with:

  • Hornindalsvatnet in Norway
  • Talofofo Beach on Guam
  • Punta Cormorant on Floreana Island in the Galapagos.

This natural wonder, which can be found in the southern region of Big Island, the largest island in the Hawaiian archipelago, gets its color from olivine, a magmatic mineral that contains iron and magnesium and crystallizes to produce peridot, a semi-precious gem also used in jewelry.

The nearby volcano Pu’u Mahana, which has been inactive for 49,000 years, is where the mineral that gives Papakolea its green color originates. The olivine can separate from the ash and land on the beach thanks to the ocean waves that crash on the volcano’s slopes.

Papakolea’s green beach is rather remote, and quiet, and has a setting that almost seems like something out of a fairy tale. It is a tranquil retreat where you may enjoy the rich and magnificent marine life from a privileged vantage point while snorkeling and surfing in the gorgeous, crystal-clear waters of the ocean. Access to the bay is limited and it is overseen by the Department of Hawaii to preserve its uniqueness. The island is meticulously watched over to stop any “souvenirs” from being taken off the beach, and admission costs about $30.

Characteristics of Papakolea Green Sand Beach

Papakolea Beach is in a bay that is encircled by Pu’u Mahana, a tuff ring that was created around 49,000 years ago and connected to Mauna Loa’s southwest rift. Tuff rings, in contrast to cinder cones, are mostly made of volcanic ash from the abrasive interactions of magma with groundwater (Diamond Head, on the Island of Oahu, is another example of a tuff ring).

The tuff ring has largely collapsed and been eroded by the water after its most recent eruption. The beach is sometimes referred to as the tuff ring and other times as the Papakolea region of land, which is derived from the Hawaiian word papa kolea, which means plover flats. In the winter, Pacific golden plovers (Pluvialis fulva) can sometimes be spotted in the vicinity of the crater, known as Papakolea.

Olivine, a silicate mineral containing iron and magnesium that is also known as peridot when of gem grade, is present in the fragmented volcanic debris (pyroclastic) of the tuff ring. One of the first crystals to form as magma cools is olivine, a common mineral found in lava. Locally referred to as “Hawaiian Diamond,” olivine is particularly prevalent at Oahu’s well-known Diamond Head monument. The ferrous iron-colored olivine crystals that are winnowed from the eroding headland by the movement of the water are the cause of the green coloring of the beach sands. Because olivine is thicker than the surrounding ash matrix, it tends to settle on beaches while volcanic sand, which is less dense, is blown out to sea. On other parts of the Big Island, olivine is surrounded by lava rock rather than volcanic ash, making it difficult to break free and leading to a tendency for it to weather away rather than build up and concentrate as beach sand.

The constant erosion of the tuff ring assures a stable supply of sand for the foreseeable future, even if these crystals are eventually broken down by weathering and chemical activity and washed away. But eventually, the supply will be exhausted, and the beach will resemble any other. 

Some claim that lava flowing into the sea was suddenly cooled, forming a structure on the coastline (a littoral cone), while others claim that the cone was most likely too far from the ocean at the time of formation (the sea level was much lower during the last Ice Age when the cone formed) to make such an event possible. The formation of the tuff ring is currently a matter of debate. Whatever its origins, the area is one of the more stable structures in the geologically volatile region because the last lava flow there ceased over 10,000 years ago, according to the United States Geological Survey. As a result, the granite around the beach and bay, which is resistant to erosion and consequently displays geologic strata created by prior eruptions, lava flows, and other volcanic events, may be used to understand the site’s geologic history.

Additionally, the patterns of erosion that are now taking place may be observed first-hand since only the sections of the tuff ring collapse that are closest to the ocean’s surface have been exposed to the waves and converted into green sand; the rest of the structure is gray.

Access to Papakolea Beach

On the Hawaiian island of Hawaii, the beach is located approximately 3 miles (5 km) east of Ka Lae, also known as South Point. It can only be reached on foot legally and is bordered by pasturelands. The Department of Hawaiian Homelands, the landowner, has been trying to limit automotive traffic in the region since 2016 owing to the area’s rough trails (which are caused by both unlawful vehicular activity and erosion). However, because of the demand generated by visitors to escape the 2.9-mile walk to the beach, attempts to stop the unlawful shuttle transportation of people through the incredibly delicate ecology have been unsuccessful.

Activities at Papakolea Green Sand Beach

Get ready to have fun at this beach! The following are some of the fun activities you may choose to do while you are at the Papakolea Green Sand Beach:

1. Take a walk on the beach

Walking around Green Sand Beach itself is one of the primary pastimes. You may also explore some fascinating cliff rock formations once you get to Green Sand Beach.

2. Digging for shells and sea glass

It is recommended to visit the beach if you are searching for a peaceful thing to do on the Big Island. Hours might be spent simply digging in the sand in search of amazing treasures.

3. Taking Pictures and Videos of the sunset and the Fantastic Scenery

It is advised to arrive early in the morning if you want to snap pictures since the light is better later in the day when the sun is not as high in the sky.

4. Surfing

You can surf some sound waves, but only seasoned surfers should attempt it. Make sure to surf safely as there are no lifeguards on duty at this beach.

5. Sunbathing

Papakolea Beach is the perfect place to unwind in the sun due to its lovely sea and smooth green sand.

What to Bring when visiting Papakolea?

  • Water (It is important to bring plenty of it! There are no amenities during the long trek in this area.)
  • Sunblock or sunscreen
  • Hiking Shoes
  • Hat or Sunglasses
  • Towel

You should store your belongings in an easy-to-carry bag, such as a backpack, due to the lengthy journey. Also, do not leave valuables in the car.

Conclusion

The unique and remote Papakolea green sand beach may be visited to have a few activities to enjoy. Its characteristics are stunning, and you may enjoy the rich marine life from the crystal-clear waters of the ocean.