Most people have heard of white sand, yellow sand and some have even heard of black sand. But have you heard of a green sand beach? That’s right. Green. It is geologically a bit of an oddity. In fact there are only 4 places total in the world that have a green sand beach and the Big Island of Hawaii is one of them. (The other places are Guam, Galapagos Islands and Norway.)
What is Green Sand?
The Big Island green sand beach is a stretch of beach formed from an ancient volcanic cinder cone. The green sand is actually called olivine. The olivine was spewed out of the lava thousands of years ago but was trapped by the bay. Since the crystals are dense (to the Hawaiians these are known as Hawaiian Diamonds) they have accumulated on the beach. The green sand is also liberally mixed in with the black sand from the rest of the volcanic material so it forms a darker hue than if it were by itself.
Is there Swimming and Snorkeling at the Beach?
The main attraction at the beach is definitely the sand, the off-beaten beach and experiencing something very unique in the world. But as for snorkeling? There is none here. Or we should say, none that is safe. The waves can get pretty fierce. Yes, you can swim in them but that is at your own risk. When the water is calm it can be nice. At times though the waves feel like they are going to get you a free trip to Antarctica. And swimming deeper in the bay is definitely not recommended. So be careful and exercise common sense.
Wow! How do I Get There?
Getting to the main green sand beach is not as easy as it sounds. It first requires a drive down to South Point which is also pretty cool. Then turn off to South Point is on Highway 11 between mile marker 69 and 70. You keep going south on the paved roads, then gravel roads until you come to a quasi beach area with some interesting parking. This is where you will leave your car as now it is a 2.5 mile hike along the coast. Over the years there have been local entrepreneurs who have wanted to charge $5 for parking. It’s not necessary. Some clued in and then started offering rides to the beach which according to the DHHL is illegal to give rides for commercial purposes.
You can drive yourself but it is HIGHLY discouraged for a number of reasons. There are sand pits that are hard to avoid and many, not just a few have got their trucks stuck. Unfortunately there is no cell phone service and tow companies are not eager or thrilled to come bail you out here. Add to that driving hurts the fragile ecology of this location. Again, we highly discourage risking your vehicle to make this drive.
After you’ve parked your car, continue to head south following the coast. It’s tough to get lost as the coast is right there. It’s about 2.5 miles but when you see the beach and the cinder cone it is quite obvious.
Now most people will go to the slippery cinder cone and slide down the beach. What most don’t know is that there is another way. It’s a bit tricky to find but is a much better path to the beach. On the southwest side across from the cinder cone beach there is a path, sometimes marked with a trash barrel. You will need to hop down several feet to get to the path but once on the path, it is a much flatter trail to the beach. Otherwise just go to the cinder cone and carefully slide down.
There are no facilities to use so keep that in mind. There are typically a handful of people there so it is probably not a beach you will have to yourself, but it so unique it is worth a visit if you are physically able. But PLEASE – do not take any green sand beach home. It’s tempting, we know. But the green sand is limited and once it is gone, it is gone forever. Yet tourists come all over the world and are diminishing the sand by thinking “I’ll just take a little bit.” And not to worry. The sand is SO sticky when you get home and shower, just collected it from the basin.