What you don’t know about Green Sand Beach

Green Sand Beach Hawaii
Photo credit: explore-the-big-island.com

Green Sand beach is one of the must-see attractions on the Big Island. The beach consists of green crystals, known as olivine, mixed with black and white sand, which give the beach the green tinge it’s well-known for. A trip to Green Sand beach makes a great day trip from Kona, or Hilo. We’ve got all the details on how to make your trip to this amazing beach a memorable one.

Green Sand Beach Hawaii
Photo credit: explore-the-big-island.com

About the beach

Green Sand Beach in Hawaiʻi is one of only two Green Sand beaches in the US (the other is in Guam). The beach is part of a bay carved into the side of Pu’u Mahana, a cinder cone which first erupted over 50,000 years ago. The lava flows were heavily concentrated with olivine (a heavy green silicate) and were not easily washed out to sea (hence their presence on the beach). Over time the cone has degraded causing more olivine to move onto the beach.

Note: The beach itself is not patroled by a lifeguard and the currents can be unpredictable.

Green Sand Beach Hawaii
Olivine. Photo credit: lovebigisland.com

History

Nearby Ka Lae, Hawaiian for South Point, is thought to be the original landing point of the first Polynesians that arrived in Hawaiʻi from Tahiti. Ruins of an ancient Hawaiian temple can be found in the area.

Green Sand Beach Hawaii
Remnants of a Hawaiian temple at Ka Lae near the Green Sand Beach. Photo credit: Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images

When to go

As with a number of attractions on the Big Island (and throughout the Hawaiian Islands) the earlier you go, the better your experience will be – fewer people and cooler temperatures. The hike to the beach can be hot and windy so make sure you have enough water, adequate sun protection (shade is limited to non-existent), and sensible walking shoes. Be aware, you’ll need to take your trash with you – it helps to take your own trash bag!

Help preserve the natural environment – don’t take the green sand home with you, it belongs in Hawaiʻi.

Green Sand Beach Hawaii
Photo credit: bigislandhikes.com

How to get there

Green Sand beach (also known as Papakōlea beach) is accessed by taking Highway 11 and then turning off at the road to South Point (between mile markers 69 and 70). Drive down the road until you reach the end. You’ll find a parking lot on the left hand side.

From the parking lot, hike toward the ocean and turn left. Follow the road which runs parallel to the beach for approximately 2.5 miles. The road ends above the bay. Navigate the lava cliff carefully on your way down to the beach.

Green Sand Beach Hawaii
Photo credit: lovebigisland.com

What not to do

It’s important to respect the land adjacent to the beach as well as the beach itself. The Department of Hawaiian Homelands owns the land and actually does not permit access via vehicle to the beach (those offering rides to the beach are violating this mandate). Please be aware that your car rental agreement will not allow you to drive on the road to Green Sand beach – please don’t drive any further than the parking lot (the hike is well worth it!).

Be part of helping to preserve the natural Hawaiian environment when you visit Papakōlea beach!

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Kona’s secret garden: the Makaʻeo Walking Path

Looking for a short hike in Kona? Why not try the Makaʻeo Walking Path. Located within the Old Kona Airport State Recreation Area beside the beach, this trail is an easy hike through some colorful Hawaiian flora.

The loop path itself is less than a mile long and part of the trail has been paved. The garden itself is maintained by the local community and features a wide variety of plants – from natives to unique succulents.

Fun fact: Makaʻeo means “point of the piercing eye” and was named after the nearby point.

Makaʻeo Walking Path Kona Hawaii

The Old Airport

The Old Kona Airport was originally built in 1947. By the 1960s it was apparent that a new airport was needed as Boeing 707s and DC-8s were not able to take off on such a short runway. The new Kona International Airport was built at Keahole Point in 1970 and by 1976  the old airport was converted into a state park.

Fun fact: Walk the loop 3 times and you’ll have walked 2 miles!

Old Kona Bay

Directly opposite the garden, across the old airport runway landing strip, is a long sandy beach. There are plenty of picnic tables on the main part of the beach, or you can try the more private beach cove at the far end of the runway.

Local community support

After its conversion, the State in conjunction with the local community worked together to turn the area into multi-use path and garden space. The Kona Farm Bureau began a planting program at the north end of the proposed path, while the Kona Outdoor Circle oversaw the planting of larger trees and a grassed area.

Eventually other local community organizations became involved with the garden, including the Friends for Fitness. Facilities such as an outdoor workout space (including a chin-up bar, balance bars and stretching post) and drinking fountain were added. Members of the Friends have taken responsibility for different sections of the garden. Look out for volunteers working in the garden on Thursday mornings.

It isn’t just the Friends for Fitness who are involved with the garden. Under the Adopt-A-Park Program, members of the community, whether individuals or businesses, can take responsibility for a part of the garden. This community approach to the garden makes room for a wide variety of spaces including a Japanese garden, a Thai pavilion house and a number of sculptures.

Where? Makaʻeo Walking Path – 755560 Kuakini Hwy, Kailua-Kona

Take a tour amongst the fragrant plumeria in this unique seaside community botanical garden.

Off the beaten track: Ho’okena Beach Park

South Kona has many hidden treasures and one of them is Ho’okena Beach Park. Tucked away at the end of a winding road through ranch land and quietly grazing horses, this hidden beach is an understated local favorite.

Ho’okena Beach Park is located in South Kona on the west side of the Big Island. Camping, swimming, snorkeling or boogie boarding – Ho’okena has it all. Nestled at the end of Kauhako Bay near the cliffs, the beach consists of a mix of black and white sand. The sand can get hot so make sure you pack your flip flops. A line of large trees along the beach edge creates an oasis of shade, making it the perfect spot to spread a blanket and have a picnic.

Where is it?

Hoʻokena Beach Park is located 20 miles south of Kailua-Kona on Highway 11.

Directions from Kailua Kona

Turn right onto Hoʻokena Beach Road just after the 102 mile marker. Follow the road down to the beach park (approximately 2.5 miles). When you reach the end make sure you take a left down a narrow road to the parking lot.

Directions from Hilo & Volcano

Head north on Highway 11. Continue past the 101 mile marker and Kealia Ranch Store. The next left will be Ho’okena Beach Road. Look for the big green road sign.

Amenities

Concession stand with ice, food, cold drinks, ice cream, camping and beach supplies (credit cards accepted)
. Outdoor showers, county restroom facilities, 
camping
 parking
 and picnic tables. 
No pets allowed.

There are sites available on the beach for tent camping. A permit is required. For more information, check out Camp Ho’okena.

The History of Ho'okena

In the 1880s Ho’okena Beach Park was the location of a steamship mooring site. At the time Ho’okena village was a vibrant port, with trade bringing prosperity to the area. There was a wharf, school, courthouse, livery stable and jail. Robert Louis Stevenson stayed a week in Ho’okena when he visited the Big Island in 1889. He mentions Ho’okena in ‘Travels in Hawaii’.

In the early 20th century Ho’okena village began to decline as steamship visits were reduced. By the late 1920s the wharf was receiving so little in the way of regular freight that stores as well as the local post office were forced to close. Storms in the 1930s permanently damaged the landing at Ho’okena and gradually the town’s population dwindled as residents moved further inland to be closer to the highway.

Termites and then an earthquake in 1951 caused the Puka’ana Church to collapse. Take a hike north along the beach to view the old church ruins, stone house platforms and what remains of the old wharf.

Support Ho’okena

The Friends of Ho’okena Beach Park (FOHBP) was formed with the express purpose of preserving the cultural integrity of the beach. Part of this objective is developing sustainable business opportunities that both enhance the beach and provide employment to the local community.

Ho’okena Beach Park is steeped in local history. The site of a once important commercial port as well as the site of one of the last Hawaiian canoe fishing villages in Hawaii. The beach itself offers great swimming as well as snorkeling without the crowds seen at nearby Two Steps. Bring your lunch and make a day of it or camp out overnight – sunsets at Ho’okena Beach Park are worth getting off the beaten track for!

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