Papakolea Green Sand Beach
Nestled in a cove 2.5 miles away from the most southern point of the United States is a 49,000 year old cinder cone that — through the passage of time and the battering of the crystal blue waves — has been reduced to a steep cliff and a beach with a blending of black, white, and the predominant amber-green sand.
One of only four green sand beaches in the world, Green Sand Beach (officially known as Papakōlea or Mahana Beach) receives its strange hues from the erosion of one of the cinder cones belonging to the volcano Mauna Loa. Picking up a handful of the sand is akin to holding a ray of sunshine, as the sand shimmers and gives off its own colorful warmth.
Between the sand and the feeling of the cove’s isolated waters (isolated; even with the number of tourists who make it out), the beach is a restful oasis that feels fully earned after the three-hour round trip hike. While almost entirely flat, the walk along the southern coast of Hawaii leaves you open to the elements of sea winds and an unrepentant tropical sun. Even still, the hike adds a level of wonder and beauty to the trip; exploring across expanses of wavering grassland abutting coastal cliffs before cresting a small rise and seeing Green Sands feels like stumbling onto a shining natural treasure all on your own. The sense of adventure, and accomplishment, is real and was one of our favorite moments in all of Hawaii.
To nerd out for a moment, the experience of walking through the grassland, coming to the beach, and swimming in the isolated cove is the closest I’ve ever felt to living something like Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
While there are buses that lead from the parking lot at the southern tip of the US to the beach, these rides are illegal due to the damage they do to the surrounding environment. Plus, hopping in a car destroys the achievement earned from reaching the beach yourself.