Southern Coast - Green Sand Beach (Papakolea), Black Sand Beach (Punaluu) and Pu'uhonua O Honaunau (City of Refuge)
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Posted by: budgettravel 3 months, 4 weeks ago
Green Sand Beach - Papakolea Beach, near South Point, Big Island, HI
The hike to Green Sand Beach was 5 to 5.5 mile roundtrip from the parking lot to Green Sand Beach, depending on the route you take. Locals offer a shuttle ride on the back of a pick up truck though I saw no prices listed.
The sandy hike to Green Sand Beach (Papakolea)
The hike consists of mostly sand and (some) lava rock terrain on unmarked/unclear trails, so wearing shoes with traction is a good idea. We weren't sure we were on the right track at all, except for the shuttling pick-up trucks that went by us. We stuck close to the coast for the most part. The" green" of the Green Sand was subtle (more like a greenish brown), so it wasn't clear when we arrived that we had arrived. I remembered seeing a picture of Green Sand Beach with some slanted cliffs overlooking it, so I guessed on the location. Luckily a pick-up truck dropped off its load of shuttle riders taking pictures soon after, confirming my guess. Papakolea or Green Sand Beach is actually a beach formed on the sides of the Mahana crater, as the ocean continues its work of erosion on it.
Almost there, the slanted cliffs marking the rim of the crater that Green Sand Beach is tucked into
There is a somewhat steep downward slope from the trail to the bottom of Green Sand Beach. We climbed down some (naturally) stepped lava rocks, sand and dirt channels to get down. We touched the green sand of the short Green Sand Beach lining the cove, took some pictures and made our way back out. The water was too choppy for our taste to allow the boys to take a dip. Sometimes the destination doesn't seem worthy of the work put into it, but a feeling of achievement comes from a unique hike accomplished.
Climbing down to Green Sand Beach, if you look closely you will find a dot sized
figure on the top of the slant. That's my husband!
Along our entire hike, there was a strong wind that picks up sand and slammed it on any exposed skin, so it is best to wear pants to cover legs, and a shirt to cover shoulders and arms. At one point the wind was so bad, I considered putting on my jacket in 85F temperatures. At its worst, the sand thrown against my arm felt like a hundred needles targeted at my skin. A thin scarf might be useful to cover the face from flying sand and definitely wear a hat too. Now I see first hand, the function of a turban and face scarf of those crossing the Sahara.
Looking out from Green Sand Beach
The green of Green Sand Beach comes from a mineral within the sand particles. The black lava rocks of the crater rim get broken down to black sand, then as water erodes the black away, the green olivine mineral becomes visible as green sand. I learned over the next few days, that though this particular beach near Southpoint is the most popular (and possibly the largest) green sand beach in Hawaii, it is not the only one. Richardson's Beach near Hilo has a short stretch of black and green sand on its south cove. A hike from A-Bay to Keawiki Bay revealed a few small areas of green and black sand near Weli Weli. Papakolea (aka Green Sand Beach) is one of four green sand beaches in the world.
Big holes in the lava rocks at Southpoint, the southernmost point in USA
While you're there, don't forget to go to Southpoint, the southernmost point in USA. Look out for big holes in the hardened lava that open to ocean water at the bottom. We saw a cliff jumper make his way up one of these holes.
FUN FACT: Olivine is also found on Mars.
Practical Information Green Sand Beach (as of June 2017):
Our Hike: 5 to 5.5 mile rt, on sandy, rocky and sandy wind terrain, No shade
Features: Walk oceanside on sand dunes and lava rocks to see 1 of 4 green sand beaches in the world tucked into the rim of an extinct crater
Directions: From Highway 11 (between mile markers 69 and 70), turn towards the ocean on South Point Road. Follow South Point Road, just before the end (South Point), there is a fork in the road with a sign pointing to the left fork for Green Sand Beach. Follow that road until the end when you'll see a gravel/dirt parking lot. Park your car there, and head towards the ocean, then follow the coast until you find the slanted cliffs of Green Sand Beach, about 2.5 miles away (one-way)
Things to bring should include: water, hat, sunscreen, good-traction shoes, cover as much skin surface as possible due to sandy wind, flashlight in case it takes longer than expected, GPS
Amenities: none, locals offering shuttles on back of pick up trucks
Black Sand Beach - Punalu'u, Big Island, HI
After Green Sand Beach, we drove over to Punalu'u, the popular black sand beach near the south. We drove to the parking lot and strolled over to the coconut tree-lined the black sand beach. It was a nice beach, with hot black sand made better by a lilly pond on the other side of it, forming a lagoon of the black sand beach. I read that all over Hawaii there are springs that form ponds, sometimes filled with fish, and in this case covered with lillies and it's large green leaves.
Punalu'u - Black Sand Beach in the south part of Big Island, HI
Lilly Pond directly behind Punalu'u Beach, making a lagoon of the black sand beach
A short trail led us to trees with giant root systems beside the pond. After a few pictures, we followed our trail, which took us to the beginning a broken bridge. The boys thought this was a beautiful challenge, so they decided to cross this bridge with daddy's blessing, before I could even begin to protest. Before I knew it, I was the only one left to cross this bridge that was missing multiple cross planks, requiring me to walk along the middle support for at least half the way, with 4 boys cheering me on. Much like most challenges involving falling from a high place, I reluctantly accepted in order not to hold back the family. The second bridge was also missing planks, but less so, and by the time the fourth bridge came around, it wasn't an option to go back. As we crossed these bridges, we walked by a modern ruin of what looked like a hotel/restaurant. Luckily, these bridges led us to our car, so I didn't have to cross these bridges again. The boys were pumped with adrenaline after this little challenge. I'm not sure what the status of these bridges are, in terms of safety or otherwise, so any use of them will be at your own risk.
One of 4 broken bridges that connected the islands on the lilly pond
and black sand beach
Giant roots of (fig?) trees near Punalu'u Beach, HI
On the way to Black Sand Beach, we stopped by Punalu'u Bakeshop for some malasadas. We got the traditional malasadas which came in four flavors, plain, guava, taro and mango. It was a good treat after our Saharan-like hike.
Practical Information (as of June 2017):
Address: From Hwy. 11, between mile markers 55 and 56, turn towards the ocean on Ninole Loop Rd. The road to Punalu'u Beach is off this road, near the middle of this loop road.
Features: Easily accessible black sand beach, lilly pond behind beach, fig trees with giant roots, broken bridges trail (use at your own risk)
Punalu'u Bakeshop: 95-5642 Mamalahoa Hwy Naalehu, HI 96772, 866-366-3501
Pu'uhonua O Honaunau
Pu'uhonua O Honaunau is an old royal compound and place of refuge from those fleeing persecution. If one was facing a death penalty, successfully arriving at the place of refuge meant that you would be spared. The compound consisted of several rock structures, game boards, temples, fish ponds and tide pools with many fish.
Walking in the City of Refuge
A short walk away is Honaunau Bay. Snorkeling at Honaunau Bay was amazing! When facing the ocean, the left side of the bay is shallower and calmer than the right. The deeper side was very busy on the day we went. We stuck to the shallow side and saw schools of bright yellow fish, black and white eel, a turtle, crabs, snails and urchins. I stood on the rocks and still managed to see all of the above.
Schools of yellow fish just off shore at Honaunau Bay
Practical Information (as of June 2017):
Features: National Historic Park of Hawaiian Culture, awesome snorkeling closeby
Fees: $5 per vehicle fee or $3/person walk in or free with Annual Interagency Pass
Amenities: Parking at National Historic Park, limited parking at Honaunau