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by Donald B. MacGowan

The Justly Famous Green Sand Beach at South Point, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

The Justly Famous Green Sand Beach at South Point, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Whether you visit the Big Island for a few days, a couple weeks or a few months, you want to make the most of your time in Paradise. With such a wide variety of natural and commercial attractions, it is natural for the visitor to get a little overwhelmed in the “Option Overload” and not be able to make a balanced and informed decision on what they want to do and how best to spend their time.

On the Green Sand Beach, South Point, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

On the Green Sand Beach, South Point, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Even choosing which beach you want to spend time on, or where you want to hike can be an exercise in confusion and conflicting advice.  Clearly, visitors to Hawaii could use help making quality decisions about how best to spend their time.

Hawaii's Green Sand Beach at South point in the afternoon: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hawaii's Green Sand Beach at South point in the afternoon: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Tour Guide Hawaii is excited and proud to announce the release of their new GPS/WiFi enabled App for iPhone and iPod that helps you navigate your trip to Hawaii with hours of informative, location-aware video and information. Although our video guide will lead you to dozens of unusual, untamed and unspoiled spots, let’s look at a hike you might have heard about, but might not be able to find from maps and guidebooks and would otherwise miss if you did not have Tour Guide Hawaii’s new App.

Everett Maynard, Co-Founder of Tour Guide Hawaii, Hikes to the Green Sand Beach: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Everett Maynard, Co-Founder of Tour Guide Hawaii, Hikes to the Green Sand Beach: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

South Point’s Justly Famous Green Sand Beach Hike; Papakolea Bay and Mahana Beach, Hawaii

Looking down on the green Sand Beach at South Point Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Looking down on the green Sand Beach at South Point Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Absolutely unique to the island of Hawai’i, beautiful and strange, are the handful of green sand beaches composed of crystals of the semi-precious mineral olivine (also known as peridot). The green sand beach at South Point is the best known, largest and most accessible of these.

The Amazing Green Sand Beach, South Point, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B.  MacGowan

The Amazing Green Sand Beach, South Point, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

To get there, turn left onto a signed, patchy-paved and dirt road immediately when you arrive in the Ka Lae area following signs to the Kaulana Boat Launch. Proceed down the road and park just to the left (south) of the boat launch, where there is a dirt road that leads to the green sand beach. The road has a gate which is sometimes locked as the road primarily provides access for hiking, ATVs or mountain biking: private vehicles are, ostensibly, prohibited but are becoming more and more common—this is the reason for the multiplicity of washed out tracks.

The two-track leading to the Green Sand Beach at South Point, Hawaii is perfect for mountain biking: Photo by Donnie MacGowan!

The two-track leading to the Green Sand Beach at South Point, Hawaii is perfect for mountain biking: Photo by Donnie MacGowan!

We suggest you walk—it’s more enjoyable and it saves wear and tear on a delicate ecosystem.

Severe erosion and deeply rutted roads result from ignorant tourists driving acros the plains...these ruts are larger than many cars! : Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Severe erosion and deeply rutted roads result from ignorant tourists driving acros the plains...these ruts are larger than many cars! : Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Hiking distance is 2 ¼ miles each way along rolling tropical prairie (and if you cannot envision that, you really need to do this hike). Despite the multiplicity of dirt roads, you really cannot get lost as you are never out of sight of the shore. Road conditions along the road to the beach vary dramatically from week to week and the road becomes impassable with even a gentle rain; this is another reason we do not suggest drive but rather enjoy the short, pleasant hike.

Hikers returning from the Green Sand Beach, South Point, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hikers returning from the Green Sand Beach, South Point, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

About mid-way you begin to see the far side of the cone, out of which the bay has been eroded, poke up above the rolling grassland.

When you reach the end of the trail, you are a hundred or so feet above the beach on the rim of the remnant of the crater. There is a weather-beaten, old sign about 100 feet from the crater rim that directs you to the path down. Look closely for the faint track to scramble safely and easily to the beach (there is occasionally a blue trash barrel to mark this spot, but always there is a cairn of rocks). There is one sort of tricky spot where you have to inch your way over a 3-foot ledge, but almost anybody from senior to child can negotiate the hike to the beach.

Sound Advice to Visitor's...don't scratch messages in the canyon walls and don't take the sand! : Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Sound Advice to Visitor's...don't scratch messages in the canyon walls and don't take the sand! : Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

One can also easily scramble down from the middle (easternmost) of the cone using a set of stairs, but this can be slippery at the best of times—even dangerous if wet. Although tricky to spot on the way down, from the beach looking up the way back to the crater rim is easy to follow.

Hiking the cinder cone onto the Green Sand Beach at South Point, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hiking the cinder cone onto the Green Sand Beach at South Point, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Close up of the sand from the Green Sand Beach, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Close up of the sand from the Green Sand Beach, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

The sand grains on this beach are formed from olivine crystals weathering out of the lava and cinders from the cone over an eruptive vent that has been partially breached by the sea. The beach lies in the interior of the cone, and the somewhat protected cove formed by the remnant of the cone makes for a wonderful swimming/snorkeling spot.

Olivine Phenocrysts In Hawaiian Basalt...the source of the sand at Green Sand Beach, South Point, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Olivine Phenocrysts In Hawaiian Basalt...the source of the sand at Green Sand Beach, South Point, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Happy bathers getting wet at the Green Sand Beach, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Happy bathers getting wet at the Green Sand Beach, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Swimming, snorkeling and surfing are delightful within the confines of the bay. Be very wary of rip tides and ocean currents; do not go out far nor in at all if the surf is high or there are strong winds. The bizarre color of the water shrieks for color photographs, particularly underwater photographs taken while snorkeling.

Boogie Boarders at the Green Sand Beach at South Point, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Boogie Boarders at the Green Sand Beach at South Point, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

No water is available anywhere along the hike or at the beach–be sure to take at least two liters of water per hiker for drinking.  If you plan on swimming, you may wish to take an extra liter or two of water to rinse hair and torso, as well as a dry change of clothes.  It’s miserable hiking in wet clothes with salty skin.

About half-way through the hike you begin to see the top of the cone out of which the bay holding the Green Sand Beach has been carved: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

About half-way through the hike you begin to see the top of the cone out of which the bay holding the Green Sand Beach has been carved: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

There are no services. At all. None. And a goodly long way to drive to get to any…plan and act accordingly.

Frank Burgess--just another day at work at Tour Guide Hawaii--hiking to the Green Sand Beach at South Point, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Frank Burgess--just another day at work at Tour Guide Hawaii--hiking to the Green Sand Beach at South Point, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

To see the new iPhone/iPod Touch App, please visit http://www.tourguidehawaii.com/iphone.html. The best of Tour Guide Hawaii’s free content about traveling to, and exploring, the Big island, can be found here. For more information on traveling to Hawaii in general and on touring the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.

We do not reccomend you try this, it takes courage skill and timing--as well as strong swimming skills to return to the beach...Gren Sand Beach, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

We do not recommend you try this, it takes courage skill and timing--as well as strong swimming skills to return to the beach...Green Sand Beach, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Eric Carr heads home after another day at the office at Tour Guide Hawaii...South Point, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Eric Carr heads home after another day at the office at Tour Guide Hawaii...South Point, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

All media copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved.

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3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] but the largest and most accessible is Mahana Beach on Papakolea Bay at South Point, reached by a moderate hike of about 2 ¼ miles along the wild coastline northeast of South Point, following an old 4WD two-track. Because of [...]

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