City Girl Gone Wandering
South Point is a heavily visited tourist destination here on Big Island, and upon arrival it is easy to see why. After turning off the main highway onto South Point Rd., cow pastures abound. Everything is green. But this isn’t the emerald green of Tahoe or the mellow green of fresh cut grass in a middle-America suburb. No, this is a lime green that melds perfectly with the deep royal blue of the Pacific Ocean.
When you finally get to South Point, you see a gate that looks out into what seems to be an eternal ocean. Below you, the waves crash with might and vigor. Perhaps they beckon to you. Be cautious though, this area is known for rough waves and shark attacks. Jump only if the surf isn’t up, or risk being washed out to Antarctica and/or becoming shark food.
Just off the beaten path from South Point, is Papakolea (colloquially known as Green Sand Beach). Rumor has it that there are only four Green Sand Beaches in the entire world, and Big Island just happens to have one of them.
Here, olive-tinted sand slopes down the sides of a cinder cone that formed approximately 50,000 years ago. Three sides still remain, towering above the small sandy area and the ever-lapping shore. The sand at Green Sand Beach is green…ish. Rather than a vividly green tint, the sand particals are actually a combination of colors: green, white, and black sand swirl together into a unique hue. The mineral olivine is highly present in the cinder cone that surrounds the beach, and is responsible for its coloration and its name.
Like many of Hawaii Island’s treasures, Green Sand Beach is a challenge to get to. Some opt to take the sweaty 2.5 mile hike, while others prefer the method of off-roading it in their four-wheel-drive vehicles. Having never done the hike myself, I can only relay what I have heard: it is hard. The entire hike is in direct sunlight, and the trails run alongside the same paths driven by enormous vehicles. Not to mention the fact that the southern part of the island is notorious for its wind, so expect to be wind-battered for the entirety of the trip. As for the 4WD approach, be cautious when driving toward the beach. The roads to Green Sands are Big Island’s equivalent of a New England Corn Maze, and it is easy to choose a path that winds up at an impassible drop or simply dead-ends. You are then stuck driving in reverse on the already difficult terrain.
However, if you can make it there, it is completely worth the trip. The cliffs are spectacular, and the short hike down to the beach is laden with footprints carved into the stone from many years of human exploration.
Green Sands, like most of southern BI, has rough surf. Swimming is possible, but wade carefully or else that undertow will suck you out past the southernmost tip of the United States and there will be nobody there to save you. This is not the beach to go to for serenity and sipping mai-tais; it is, instead, a powerful homage to nature’s glory and continual evolution.
If you’re heading to these locations from Kona or Kohala, keep an eye out on the makai-side (ocean-side) of the road for some exotic creatures. There is a farm near Oceanview that happens to have several creatures on property, including a zebra. Certainly not what one would expect in the middle of the ocean, but hey… who doesn’t love zebras?
The southern part of Big Island is wild and free–largely unpopulated with a landscape of vast forest reserves and epic lava fields. And, of course, zebras. It is a strange and enlightening trip, and one that all visitors to the island should contemplate taking.