Papakōlea Beach – Naalehu, Hawaii - Atlas Obscura

Papakōlea Beach

A beach made of semi-precious green sand on the Big Island of Hawai'i. 


About six miles from the South Point is Papakōlea Beach. There are beautiful cliffs, clear blue-green Pacific Ocean, and green sand. Unbelievable coarse, speckled green sand.

In the entire United States, it is the only beach with green sand, and one of only a couple in the entire world. Despite its frustrating location, accessible only by miles-long hike or four wheeler, it is a site on Hawai’i’s Big Island that is worth the hassle. Situated beneath Mauna Loa, the world’s largest volcano, a strange mix of chemistry and geology has combined to form this bizarre and strangely beautiful sandy environment.

Over thousands of years, Mauna Loa’s eruptions formed a massive cinder cone that circled around to create a small bay. Like many of Hawai’i’s volcanoes, the eruptions brought tons of minerals to the surface, including an abundance of the semi-precious mineral olivine. It brought so much olivine to the surface that much of the cinder cone surrounding the bay is made from the silicate mineral.

As the cinder cone eroded, most of the other ash and glass from the eruptions were washed out to sea. But the denser chunks of olivine survived the tides, and caused the beach to turn a rare green color.

Since the last eruption was 10,000 years ago, a short time in geological terms but a long time in an active volcanic region, the beach is actually living on borrowed time. Not because of another coming eruption that will destroy the beach, but in fact because of a lack thereof. The supply of olivine is slowly running out. Although it washes away slower than other minerals, it will eventually all erode, turning Papakōlea back into a normal beach.

For professional tanners and those who appreciate geological novelty, the time to plan a trip to South Point is fast approaching, and you may only have a few more millennia to see the distinctive beach. 

Know Before You Go

2.5 hour drive from most resorts along the Kohola Coast. The hike through the coastal areas is relatively flat, scenic and easy to walk through, but if you prefer to catch a casual taxi ride roundtrip - there are volunteers that troll the area for donations to get you to the beach.