Explore One Of The World's Only Green-Sand Beaches At This Little-Known Hawaiian Destination

Hawaii is one place that has no shortage of breathtaking natural wonders, including the Earth's tallest active volcano, sky-high waterfalls, and even an extra-large banyan tree. Some of the beaches on the Big Island are truly magical with the many shades of sand, but one beach stands out from the rest for its otherworldly green sand and tropical paradise vibes: Papakōlea Beach. 


Located in Naalehu, roughly 6 miles from The South Point, this interesting beach with olive-colored sand is framed by picturesque rocky cliffs and the brightest blue water of the Mahana Bay. Papakōlea Beach is reminiscent of a fabled island from a children's book and like it wouldn't be shocking to see a lovely sea dragon crawl out of the sapphire water and lazily lay on the green sand. What makes it even more unique is the fact that it is the only green sand beach in all of the United States and one of four green sand beaches in the entire world. Throughout the world, other beaches boast strange-colored sand. However, this green sand isn't actually sand at all.

How the sand at Papakōlea Beach became green

As if seeing the green sand isn't enough, touching it is also strange. The sand is very coarse and doesn't feel much like sand that we are familiar with at all. This is because the sand along the bay is olivine, which is created when cinder cones from active volcanoes break down. The soft mineral is found on the earth's subsurface or upper mantle. Cinder cones are composed of dark-colored igneous rocks like basalt, diabase, and peridotite found near hot spots on tectonic plates of the Earth. 


The olivine is created when magma begins to cool and crystalize. The magma also creates dolomite, which lends magnesium, while the quartz adds silica with the end result equalling a crystal called serpentine. Olivine can be yellowish-green, olive green, or brown in color, which is apparent while gazing at a handful of the strange sand. Calling olivine otherworldly is on point since it has even been found in some meteorites, suggesting it came from a rocky planet.

Experience the green beach of Papakōlea

Experiencing the olivine beach is to bury your toes in precious gemstones, literally. Since the translucent olivine becomes the precious gemstone peridot, the locals refer to the gem as the "Hawaiian Diamond." It is also found at the hiker's paradise known as the Diamond Head landmark, making it all the more special.


Getting to the beach isn't as simple as some others. It requires a roundtrip hike of 5.5 miles with minimal elevation gain. Use caution once you've reached the beach because its banks are very steep. It is recommended to follow the trail down instead of making your own. Be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks because there isn't anywhere to fill a water bottle or purchase more. 

Visitors are strongly discouraged from taking any green sand as a souvenir, so take plenty of photos and selfies to remember it. While at the beach, visitors must remain vigilant if they choose to get in the very powerful currents. Swimming is at your own risk but can become deadly as conditions deteriorate. Over time, the olivine slowly erodes from the beach and will eventually run out, changing it back into a regular-colored sand beach. The time to check out this intriguing and lovely green sand is slowly running out.