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Green Day: Exploring Hawaii Island's rare and remote Papakolea "Green Sand" Beach

The north end of Papakolea "Green Sand" Beach and remaining face of Puu Mahana volcanic cinder cone, which created it. Photo by Derek Paiva.

"Pretty green, yeah?"

My guide for the afternoon, Patrick, smiles as he asks the question, watching me poke at a mound of dark green sand in the palm of my hand. We’re standing on a smallish patch of the stuff washed up by waves onto lava rock, somewhere between Ka Lae, the geographic southernmost point of the Big Island, Hawaii and the United States, and Papakolea, a larger, more famous, and more remote, green sand beach that is our final destination.

The granules I hold are larger and coarser than the fine white sands of beaches on the island's west side South Kohala Coast, and black sands of the east side’s Hilo Bay. The bright sun giving them a lovely luminescence, the sand crystals in my palm gleam in the light like miniscule, uncut olive diamonds.

I drop the sand back where I found it and Patrick and I hop into his road-beaten, salt-air-rusted pick-up truck. The vehicle groans disapprovingly as he shifts it into four-wheel-drive mode and begins heading north on a  series of crisscrossing coastal dirt roads hugging the coastline.

Papakolea “Green Sand” Beach isn’t easy to get to. Once you negotiate the 20-mile, single-lane South Point Road to its car-rattling asphalt conclusion at Ka Lae peninsula (“the point” in Hawaiian), there’s a three-mile, moderately strenuous hike to Papakolea over dry, windswept coastal grasslands and dirt dunes to contend with. Always keep the coastline in  sight and you’ll definitely find the beach; but the hike can still prove tough on folks unfamiliar with the topography of the area. Loose dirt particles from the dunes are ever swirling in the strong tradewinds. And blazed by ATVs and off-road vehicles, those aforementioned crisscrossing roads can be confusing and labyrinthine.

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