Limited Edition, Green Sand Beach

Papakolea Green Sand Beach Hawaii, Big Island

It is a long, hot, dusty walk. But considering that it leads to one of only four green sand beaches in the entire world, it’s tough to complain.

The others, we’re told, are Talofofo Beach in Guam, Cormorant in the Galapagos Islands, and Hornindalsvatnet in Norway. Now that we know of them, they’re definitely on our “to-do” list. But having just visited Papakolea Beach on the southern shore of Hawaii’s Big Island, we’re happy to report we’ve now visited twenty-five percent of the globe’s green sand beaches.

To be fair, you don’t have to walk there like we did. Industrious locals offer to drive you, for a fee of course. Or you can try driving yourself, but the deeply rutted road is really only traversable by a high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicle. Our budget rental car wasn’t nearly up to the task. Besides, after the roughly two-hour drive from most hotels in either Kona or Volcano, it’s nice to be out of the car and on foot for a while.

Road to Papakolea Green Sand Beach, Big Island, Hawaii

And the five-mile round trip hike is stunning. You can follow Hawaii’s beautiful coastline the entire way or short-cut a bit over windswept pastures. Either way, the sight and sound of the ocean is never far away.

Eventually you reach the remains of a volcanic caldera. The sea has washed away one entire side, leaving a semi-circular cliff inlet with our green sand beach at the bottom.

Papakolea Green Sand Beach Hawaii Big Island

The strangely colored sand is really olivine crystal eroded from the volcanic rock inside the crater. When in gem form the crystal is a bright green, while the Papakolea beach sand is more olive. We assume that is because the olivine here is mixed with other types of sand, most notably Hawaii’s ever-present black sand. We’ve noticed before that not all black sand beaches are equally black. We’re curious to see how other green sand beaches stack up with this one in terms of their “greenness.”

Don't Steal the Green Sand

Once exposed to the elements, olivine weathers quickly, making an accumulation sizable enough to color an entire beach exceedingly rare. For that reason, visitors are asked to leave the sand where they find it. There’s a limited quantity of the stuff and a limited number of such places anywhere in the world.

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13 Comments on “Limited Edition, Green Sand Beach”

  1. Touring NH November 8, 2013 at 8:44 am #

    Very neat! I’d love to see a green sand beach. Have you seen the gem form?


  2. digger666 November 8, 2013 at 9:47 am #

    Reblogged this on digger666 and commented:
    Efforts to conserve the beach are clearly worthwhile…and it’s not clear publicising it is the best way to guarantee their success.


    • Brian November 8, 2013 at 10:16 am #

      That’s true. It might be better if such awesome and fragile places are left undiscovered. But keeping these things a secret today isn’t even remotely realistic. People will go. It’s important for them to understand how to go responsibly.


  3. musicgal2012 November 8, 2013 at 7:52 pm #

    Never knew there was such a thing. WOW!!


  4. Sarah November 8, 2013 at 11:04 pm #

    That is so bizarre! Love the photos 🙂 ~~Sarah from


  5. Allison November 9, 2013 at 12:27 am #

    I had no idea such a thing existed. Thank you for posting this. Beautiful pictures of it all.


  6. Rustic Recluse November 9, 2013 at 1:35 am #

    Very nice! I love discovering these gems on a trip, especially when not cluttered by commercialised tourism. Thanks for sharing, I never knew about green sand beaches before this! 🙂


  7. Caroline Cunningham November 9, 2013 at 8:53 pm #

    Wow! Me neither, never knew of such coloured sands…I am studying the healing power of crystals so this is interesting and very real…gracias


  8. maggy342 November 11, 2013 at 4:56 pm #

    We’ve been 4 times and never get tired of this miracle of Mother Nature!


  9. Melinda Green Harvey November 15, 2013 at 9:27 am #

    Reblogged this on Dirtgazing and commented:
    Here’s an interesting blog featuring green sand. Yep. Green sand.



  1. A Lighter Shade of Sand | Everywhere Once - November 15, 2013

    […] are exotically hued. We’ve written a lot about black sand beaches and even an incredibly rare green sand beach. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t regular old white sand beaches here as […]


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