Hawaii’s Big Island: Green Sand Beaches and the Southern Point of the U.S.

IMG_7985_LUCiDAfter an incredible morning exploring the Kona Coast, we continued our drive south toward Volcano Village, where we were planning to spend our second night on the Big Island.

It was incredible how much the scenery and geography changed as we continued south and into the areas more recently shaped by volcanic activity. The lush, green environment and beautiful beaches near Kona turned into barren, black lava fields that stretched from as far inland as we could see all the way out to the coast.

Some of the areas looked like tilled fields, the black lava stones piled up everywhere we looked. I’ve never seen lava of any variety before, and I couldn’t get over how it had shaped the surrounding area, cooling in amazing shapes and patterns.

The miles flew by and soon we were rounding the southwestern corner of the Big Island, headed to Kalae, South Point Park, the southernmost point in the U.S. We drove as far along South Point Road as we could and parked in the sandy, high-grass among a sea of rental cars.

I exchanged my skirt and sandals for hiking pants and shoes before Brian and I set out to hike to Kalalea Heiau, a former temple and shrine the people of Hawaii created in recognition of successful fishing expeditions.

Along the way we passed the South Point Cliff Dive where tons of people were gathered in what appeared to be a huge party. There were all kinds of vehicles and tent setups, people sitting around campfire style, eating and drinking, and– one could only imagine–jumping off the cliff!

The wind was whipping off the ocean from all around as we made our way along a rocky wall, past memorials to the people of Hawaii, all the way to the southernmost point of the island. The sand was golden and intensely reflected the overhead sun. The high grass was bright green and swaying in the breeze. It was beautiful out, and we soaked it all in.





On our walk back to the car there seemed to be a commotion over by the cliff dive. People had clumped together in small quiet groups, and several emergency vehicles had arrived. We were prepared for the worst but couldn’t make out what was happening and didn’t see anything about it in the news later. I continue to hope it was an issue that was easily addressed, like heat stroke or dehydration, rather than something tragic involving someone’s leap into the ocean.

The somber mood followed me to our car but quickly dissipated as we followed the makeshift signs along the road directing us to Papakolea Beach, one of only four green sand beaches in the world. I had read online in advance that the only methods for reaching the beach were hiking the 2.5-miles each way, or paying for a ride in a ‘local shuttle.’ Nothing I read online said what the shuttle entailed, but we quickly found out!

We reached the trailhead for Papakolea Beach and quickly realized that we probably weren’t going to be able to tackle a 5-mile roundtrip hike given it was late afternoon and the sun was absolutely baking the landscape. Instead we set out to learn more about the shuttle option.

The ‘shuttles’ are a series of old 4×4 trucks with metal cages welded around the back of the beds! They herd a bunch of people into the truck bed, standing close together and clinging to the metal railing, and take off through the sand dunes toward the beach 2.5 miles away.


We hopped in the shuttle that was about to leave and set off, rocking wildly and trying not to concern ourselves with the creaks and shutters the truck was making as we climbed over huge pot holes and puddles, navigating the torn-up ATV trails to the beach. I felt completely alive, my head in the wind, banging into Brian every time we hit a bump, a smile permanently plastered on my face. It was a highlight of our time on the Big Island, and in Hawaii as a whole.



There were quite a few people at the beach, some who had hiked out to it, and some who had braved the trails with their own vehicles. Even if the ‘shuttle’ ride hadn’t been such a blast, it still would have been the best option for getting there. The people hiking looked totally miserable, and the people driving their cars weren’t constantly getting stuck or having to move so we could plow by.

The beach was in a small cove that I read was likely formed by an ancient volcano. That volcanic stone and debris breaks down, slides down the hills, and results in a beach that appears green, rather than yellow. While I found the color more of a yellow-green from the top of the cove, the color became more apparent as we hiked down to the beach.

Brian took some great close-up photos at the beach and at another stop the shuttle made along the water where the green was obvious. It was really neat, but I have to admit I might not have found it quite worth the five-mile super hot hike to see it after a full morning of activities. We definitely made the right decision taking the shuttle.

We stayed for about half an hour before our driver loaded us in and returned us safely to the trail head. I was on cloud nine as we loaded in and headed toward our last stop of the day, the southernmost bar in the U.S.!






Shaka Restaurant in Na’alehu is the most southern bar in the U.S. and the perfect rendezvous following an afternoon at South Point Beach Park. We wanted a quick bite and drink to revive us before we set off for our hotel in Volcano Village and ended up staying a little while.

I had a feeling we were going to need to know more about this place when we walked in to a wall full of Cleveland Browns paraphernalia! What are the chances?

Brian had to ask our waitress whether the owner was from Ohio. She said he was from Hawaii, but that since Hawaii doesn’t have a football team, people pick young which football team they want to champion. He picked the Browns as a child and never turned back from his decision.

(Could there be a truer statement about a Browns fan? This guy obviously has what it takes!)

We ordered some poke and a couple of beers, and relaxed, reminiscing about our day. What an incredible start to our adventures on Hawaii’s Big Island!




3 thoughts on “Hawaii’s Big Island: Green Sand Beaches and the Southern Point of the U.S.

  1. Pingback: Celebrating Earth Day, Your Way – Heather's Compass

  2. Pingback: Hawaii’s Big Island: Volcano National Park – Heather's Compass

  3. Pingback: Hawaii’s Big Island: Sunset on Mauna Kea | Heather's Compass

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