In Search of Green: The Unusual Side of Hawaii’s Big Island

Green Sand Beach
Green Sand Beach

Nothing can beat the feel of soft, green sand squishing between your toes. At least, that’s what I’m told. That’s why I’ve spent the last hour trekking along a rocky coastline under a hot Hawaiian sun, trying not to trip on the lava rock that covers the area. My three children are at my side, their little legs struggling to match my strides, while the rest of our group marches ahead.

We’re all looking for green, and we’re determined to find it.

Black sand is unusual, of course, while red sand is truly dramatic. And what love-struck soul hasn’t dreamed of walking with his/her lover down a deserted white sand beach? But green sand? This I’ve got to see.

It’s only here, on the southern tip of Hawaii’s Big Island, that you’ll find this most unique and secluded strip of land – the Green Sand Beach. There are long and drawn-out scientific explanations for the color of this sand, but I’ve never begun to understand them. Suffice it to say that rich mineral deposits cause the dark green color located in the sheltered cove.

The beach isn’t the only thing that is secluded. Here at Ka Lae, (South Point), it feels like the end of the earth. That’s an exaggeration, of course, but it really is the southernmost tip of the United States, and very few souls make their home here.

The land is scattered with dusty earth and lava rock, resulting in a moon-like landscape. Yet here and there, hardy vegetation grows lush and wild, as if in denial of the harsh climate surrounding it. It’s a glimpse of the Big Island in its natural state, long before men came to build big hotels and set up tour companies.

The Big Island is the youngest of the eight main Hawaiian Islands, as well as the largest. An active volcano near Hilo still spews lava from its bowels – and cooled lava rock is everywhere here. Locals use the various colored lava rock for graffiti and art along the roadsides.

Though more than twice the size of all the other Hawaiian Islands put together, the Big Island population is only 150,000. Most visitors stay near Kailua-Kona or along the Kohala Coast, the sunniest side of the island. And Hilo, with its tropical climate, lush flowers and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, is certainly worth the visit. Yet there are many other accommodations that are off-the-beaten path, some in very remote locations. Depending on what you’re looking for, they may be just the place to base your stay.

Although the Big Island may not be as well-known as some of the other islands, it enjoys many repeat visitors. In fact, half of all visitors return at some time or another – and we are a part of this statistic. Every year, my family and I come back to explore another part of the island.

This time, we’re staying near the island’s southern tip at a macadamia nut farm. There are many coffee, fruit and nut farms on the Big Island, but sometimes, farming income isn’t enough to make ends meet. Many farms run a secondary business. So besides being a working nut farm, Macadamia Meadows is also a lovely bed and breakfast. Each morning, we awaken to the smell of the sea, the crowing of roosters and a huge breakfast set out before us.

The kids have learned all about macadamia nuts, one of Hawaii’s famous exports, and have been free to roam and play to their hearts’ content.

We’ve explored other areas of the island by car, as well, cruising past fertile green farms and stopping for lunch in remote seaside villages. We spent an afternoon wandering through the Hawaii of the past in the historic national park of Pu’uhonua o Honaunau (south of Kailua-Kona). The only ones there at the time, we walked in awed silence past royal fishponds and early 19th-century temples and village sites.

Searching for some adventure, we’ve snorkeled along the black sand beaches near Kailua-Kona, visited a tiny Christian church decorated in traditional Hawaiian arts and bought fresh fruits – some, like starfruit and lychees, that we’ve never even seen before – at the open-air markets that dot the island.

There is always something to do here, but we’re never quite sure what we’re going to see around the next bend. The Big Island is tricky. Just when you think you have her all figured out, you drive a few minutes and everything changes. There is no “norm” here for landscape and topography. Both can change within miles.

“If you don’t like the weather or the landscape, just drive a bit,” joked one of the locals when I remarked on the landscape. It turns out that his words had incredible truth.

The wonder of the Big Island rests in its diversity. Of the 13 climatic regions on earth, the Big Island has 11 of them, from lush rainforests to desert. You can ski at the top of a mountain and then relax on the beach – all on the same day.

Perhaps that’s why we never seem to tire of Hawaii’s Big Island. There’s always another adventure – and this trek down the coast is one of them.

Knowing that the Green Sand Beach was near the southern tip, we had asked some locals for directions. “Just head south on Highway 11,” one offered. “You can’t miss it.”

With those “detailed” directions, we had set off. The road turned into one narrow dirt lane. Finally, we noticed a hand-painted sign. “Park here for Green Sand Beach $5.”

We paid our fee and parked in the dirt “parking lot.” (Don’t leave any valuables in the car. Petty crime still exists, even in Hawaii.) The man sitting out front pointed us toward a “path” that followed the coastline, and off we went. But that was over an hour ago, and the coastline seems to go on forever.

“Are we ever gonna get there?” my oldest whines, a tired look on her face. The kids are covered in dust, whipped up by the wind, and their steps are dragging behind. The youngest one seems to be squinting from something in his eye – sand, I think – and the middle one looks extremely frustrated. I’m beginning to question the wisdom of this journey.

“There it is!” someone shouts, pointing in the distance. And sure enough, dark green sand stretches out along the crystal blue ocean below.

Below? Somehow, the coastal path we’ve been following has ended up on the cliffs above the seashore. We can see tiny people down there on the sand, but we can’t find any way to get down to the beach.

Our group paces the cliff, determined to get down. But for the life of us, we can’t find a path. We’ve followed the yellow-brick road only to find that Oz is now unreachable.

The kids slump down in the dust, uncaring about how dirty they get. We’re filled with disappointment, but I pull out my camera to snap a few shots. After all, we have to prove we were here.

Having had our look, we’re about to turn back when suddenly two heads poke up from under the cliff. Locals!

“Come ‘er,” they motion, pointing out small holes carved into the cliff that will allow us to get down a trail that leads to the beach. There is an anchored rope to hold onto as we descend.

But from here, the cliff looks very steep. “No way!” I say, but the rest of the group is determined. So down we go. The two locals help the kids scramble down the cliff, while I follow behind.

There are about a dozen others at the beach, fellow adventurers who have triumphed over wind and lava rock to get here. They grin with welcome and turn their eyes back to the sea.

The waters here are a clear cobalt blue, a startling contrast to the dark green sand. “Don’t go in too deep,” one of the others warns. “The tide is strong, and you won’t be able to fight it.” Indeed the water looks a bit dangerous.

So we play on the shore, building green castles, hopping the waves and feeling far away from the rest of the world. And in reality, I guess we are. Digging my toes into the sand, I look out across the ocean-filled horizon. There is nothing out there but a flock of gulls, miles of deep blue waves and a warm Hawaiian sun.


Big Island Visitors Bureau


250 Keawe Street

Hilo, Hawaii 96720

How to reach the Green Sand Beach

This trek is NOT for the faint of heart. Have good shoes, a bottle of water, sunscreen and a determined spirit. Excellent directions can be found at the site below.

Macadamia Meadows Bed & Breakfast


Pu’uhonua o Honaunau (Place of Refuge)

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park



Janna Graber
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