Located at the southernmost point of the United States, Papakolea Beach is in Naahelu on the Big Island of Hawaii. The name Papakolea is a Hawaiian word meaning “plover flats”, a type of bird that is common in the area.
There are only four green sand beaches in the world, and Papakolea is one of them. The rich green color of its sand comes from the green mineral, olivine, and erosion due to volcanic activity.
Route 11 is the main road that follows the central and southern coastlines, forming a U-shaped periphery road. This is the main access road that will take you to Naahelu. From there, you can visit the USA’s southernmost bakery, Punalu’u Bake Shop to fuel up on goodies before your beach adventure.
Off of Route 11 near Naahelu you will find South Point Road. This long, rural road is your last stop before reaching the southernmost point of the United States. When the road ends, there is a large, unpaved parking lot and clear paths to start a 3 mile hike to Papakolea Beach.
In the parking lot there are usually locals with pick up trucks who will offer you a ride to the beach for about $20 round trip per person. Legally, there is no other way to reach the beach besides hiking. Any driving of any kind in the sand dunes access road is illegal, although many visitors opt to accept the ride from locals.
If you do accept the ride, consider that it is illegal. This is because vehicles can damage the terrain. The ride is also very bumpy as the roads are completely unpaved and only exist due to years of vehicles crossing the dunes.
Once you reach the end of the sand dunes, your work is not done! I promise it’s all worth it to reach this amazing beach.
You will need to descend some rock formations and climb down a small step ladder to reach the beach area. Use caution and make sure you’re wearing comfortable, non-slip shoes for your descent.
Although we come for the green sand, most visitors also want to take a dip in the ocean. I know I did!
However, due to the beach’s location, there is a possibility for rough waves and rip tide. Waves can seem normal and you can let your guard down, but please know that a bigger wave with more force can come at any moment. Stay alert!
For inexperienced swimmers, use caution and common sense to gage if you should enter the water. If you are experienced with waves and rough surf, be careful!