Hiking to the Green Sand Beach Mahana Bay on the Island of Hawaii

Exiotic Beaches

August 27, 2010

Arriving on the Big Island of Hawaii for a vacation we heard about many of its unique natural wonders including black sand, green sand and white sand beaches.

Finding these beaches turned out to be a little challenging as they didn’t seem to be well promoted in the tourist information that I found.

Both the black sand beach at Punalu’u and the green sand beach on Mahana Bay turned out to be more local while the Honokohau white sand beach is located in the Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park.

Seeking the Green Sand Beach

Both the black sand beach at Punalu’u and the green sand beach on Mahana Bay turned out to be more local while the Honokohau white sand beach is located in the Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park.

One black sand beach, the Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, turned out to be right next to the resort where we stayed our second week. However, there didn’t seem to be any directions as to the location of any of the green sand beaches. Failing to find any reference in the tourist info we had gathered, I finally asked the owner of a roadside fruit stand who I was talking to as my wife picked out some fruit.

It turned out that the beach was nearby and he gave me some general directions - this was one of those places which all the locals knew exactly where it was and therefore saw no reason to put up signs or publish any directions. They apparently assumed that outsiders wouldn’t be interested.

He told me to continue heading west on Highway 11 about a mile or so until I came to a road on my left and turn on to it.  One thing about the big Island of Hawaii is that there are not very many roads at all on the island and paved roads are even fewer.  Highway 11 follows the coast around the southern half of the island and at the midpoint of the island it becomes Highway 19 which completes the circle around the northern half of the island.

Southernmost Spot in the United States

The road we turned on turned out to be named South Point Rd. and it took us straight to South Point or Ka Lae in Hawaiian,  which is also the southern most piece of land in the 50 United States.  Actually, South Point Road curves sharply to the left just before you get to the ocean.  

However, the part that curves to the left becomes a dirt road while the paved portion continued straight for a few hundred more feet before terminating in a dirt and lava rock parking lot (well, it was relatively flat and people parked their cars there, but it didn’t appear to be man made).  Of course there are no road signs and I only learned this after returning home and viewing the area on Google Maps.

I learned later that evening that we should have followed the road to the left which would have save us about six miles and three or four hours of hiking.  However, the rented car I was driving was a nice little Chevy Cobalt that was not built for driving over what appeared to be a dirt road that disappeared into a field.   We did, however, keep running across the road as we were hiking and the rented car could have made it without real trouble.

South Point, or Ka Lae as the Hawaiians call it, is the southernmost point in the United States proper.  The strong, steady wind off the ocean has not only made it an ideal location of the wind farm located there but  also has has the effect of causing all of the trees and bushes in the area to be permanently bent in the direction the wind is blowing.

There is a more or less flat area where people park and which contains two, somewhat decrepit and foul smelling portable toilets, but then, this is a ways from the nearest city and the maintenance of these two toilets is dependent upon voluntary contributions  There is also a lighthouse - actually a remotely controlled navigation beacon as there are no living quarters attached to it.

The Restrooms at Ka Lae are Primitative

A Long Walk

This entire area is mostly a rocky, volcanic cliff with the waves of the Pacific Ocean splashing against the base of the cliff.  The entire distance between the parking lot at South Point and the Green Sand Beach is mostly a rocky coast varying in height from boulders at sea level to a hundred feet or more above the sea.  In fact the entire area is made up of old lava flow from the Mauna Loa volcano.

We set off heading east on a dirt trail along the coast.  While not crowded, there were a number of people spread out along our trail hiking, camping and fishing.  As we encountered them, I would ask people where the Green Sand Beach was  and they would either point in the direction we were headed and say “down there a ways” or shrug and say “all around” and point to some green crystals in a nearby spot of sand.

There is a desolate, rugged beauty to the area and the terrain is mostly flat making for easy walking.  We had sunscreen on which was good as the constant strong breeze off the Pacific kept us cool and dry despite the tropical sun.  We also had some snacks and water with us which we were glad to have as the trip progressed from the planned short stroll to a nearly six hour hike.

Ocen Waves Hitting Cliff at Ka Lae

The Lighthouse that Guided Us Back in the Dark

The Path to Mahana Bay

We Find the Beautiful Beach

Finally, late in the afternoon, we climbed up a small rise and looked across a small cove with the green sand beach nestled at the bottom of a 50 foot rocky embankment which surround the horseshoe shaped cove.  Despite its height, there was a rocky path of sorts which enabled us to walk down to the beach without too much difficulty.  

Unlike the black sand which is composed of course lava, the green sand is very fine grained sand that feels much like the common smooth sand found on other beaches.  The sand is really tiny crystals of a common mineral called olivine .  Among other places, olivine is often found in the lava spewed forth by volcanoes and the olivine crystals that make up the sand on this beach are the result of the ocean water breaking down the olivine in the hardened lava from the Mauna Loa volcano that makes up this area.

The climb down to the beach wasn’t that bad and the beach itself was quite nice.  Kicking off our shoes, my wife and I strolled along the smooth beach as the gentle waves washed over our feet.  Being more adventurous, my son elected to put his body board, which he had been carrying all afternoon, to use with some body surfing on the waves.

As it was getting late, we did not stay long but started our long hike back walking at a good clip along the straightest trails possible.  The sun set and, by the time the twilight turned to darkness we were about a half mile from the parking lot.  However, trail was straight and I soon saw the light from the lighthouse by the parking lot and used that as a reference point guiding us to the parking lot. 

It Was Dark When We Arrived back at Our Car

Despite the desolate and lonely location, I was still able to get a signal on my cell phone which allowed my wife and I to chat with our daughter in Seattle as we made our way back to the car in the dark.

An Ancient Native Burial Site

Burial sites such as this are found all over the Island and when they are discovered, as this one was, they are honored and protected.
Burial sites such as this are found all over the Island and when they are discovered, as this one was, they are honored and protected.
Sign informing passers by that this is a burial site.
Sign informing passers by that this is a burial site.

An Example of Lava Graffitti

Traveling around the island one frequently encounters "lava graffitti" - words or designs created by arranging white coral stones to make words or designs on the jet black rocks or sheets of hardened lava.  The white on black stands out but no damage
Traveling around the island one frequently encounters "lava graffitti" - words or designs created by arranging white coral stones to make words or designs on the jet black rocks or sheets of hardened lava. The white on black stands out but no damage

Looking Down At the Beach from the Bluff

My Wife Above the Green Sand Beach

Mahana Bay and Its Green Sand Beach

Walking in the Sand

The Cliff One Has to Climb Down to Reach the Beach

The Path Back to the Parking Lot at Ka Lae

Walking back on the Dirt Road Portion of South Point Road

A Pacific Twililght

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Comments 7 comments

Chuck profile image

Chuck 4 years ago from Tucson, Arizona Author

Say Yes to Life - Thanks for the comment and the tip. We did pass the parking place you mentioned. But it was after we had hiked for an hour or so. My advice to others is to take a left on the dirt road that parallels the ocean and follow it to the parking spot. Just be warned that it is not the best of roads. Also, here is a link to your Hub "Sandboarding at the Green Sand Beach" http://hubpages.com/travel/Sandboarding-at-the-Gre...


Say Yes To Life profile image

Say Yes To Life 4 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

Sounds like you guys had a great time! I live in Hilo, so am very familiar with the Green Sand Beach. There is a place you can park where the hike is only 2 1/2 miles. Please check out my hub, "Sandboarding at the Green Sand Beach".


beccas90 profile image

beccas90 5 years ago from New York

Missed that Green Sand Beach when I visited. Great photos and commentary about your trip. The Big Island was one of my most memorable islands I visited in the Hawaiian chain. Thanks for your hub and bringing back some fond memories.


NCBIer profile image

NCBIer 6 years ago

I'm heading to Hawaii soon and my boys have a mission (I guess I do as well) to find as many different colored beaches as possible. I've been trying to figure out where these are and wasn't having much luck until now. Thanks for this hub!


elayne001 profile image

elayne001 6 years ago from Rocky Mountains

Thanks Chuck. I enjoyed this hub - I was not aware of the green sand beach on the Big Island although I live here in Hawaii. Now I want to go there. Great pictures too.


minesgm profile image

minesgm 6 years ago from Texas

Interesting place. It's awesome and i voted up.


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

Great pics and good commentary!! Thanks so much, it was like going there.

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