• Libby Miller

The Colorful Sands of Big Island

The Big Island of Hawaii is a hot spot of terrain diversity, ranging from snow-capped mountain tops, to miles of dramatic rock cliffs spewing hot lava, jungle so thick you can’t even walk through it, and desert land scattered with white coral. It’s no wonder that you can find a plethora of different colored sand on the island! Hues of the typical yellow and white sand are not the norm here, the largest beaches are actually filled with black sand! And to take it even a step further, you can even find green sand. In this article come with me as I explain a little about each unique color of sand on the Big Island and where to go to see them for yourself!

Sand collected in Waipio Valley. Look for crystal clear, olivine, red, yellow, and black sand grains

Black Sand Beaches

You can find the richest hues of black sand at Punalu’u beach towards the southern tip of the island. Black sand is made from hot magma hitting the cool ocean water and shattering, and is also created from eroding lava rock – which there is no shortage of on Big Island! Punalu’u is known for the sea turtles that love working on their tans and basking in the sun on the hot sand. It’s also one of my favorite swimming spots, and you can drive right up to it! The iconic Waipio Valley on the Hamakua Coast also has deep black sand, speckled with rainbow colors. It is a great place to picnic and admire the majestic sea cliffs! Be ready for a steep walk down (and back up!) the road if you don’t have a four-wheel drive vehicle, though.

Green Sand Beach

If you are up for an adventure, Just past Punalu’u Beach, you can head to South Point, the southern most point in the United States, where there is actually an entire beach filled with green colored sand! That is right green sand! It is only 1 of 4 beaches likes this in the entire world.

To get there head to South Point. It is paved for part of it but eventually turns into a bumpy 2-mile four-wheel drive ride (or walk) to Papakōle or Mahana Beach, more commonly known as Green Sands beach. I don’t recommend walking it because the sun can be brutal. Usually there are locals there with 4WD vehicles that you can get a ride with for $20 a person. It is kinda pricey but it may be worth it as a once in a lifetime opportunity to see green sand.

When you get there you will find a dramatic wind-carved-rock cliff side, spilling olivine colored sand to the beach below. This beach was formed 49,000 years ago and is actually an old cinder cone. The old volcano used to spew olivine-rich lava, which now remains trapped in the bay. This olivine mineral is what makes the sand green. I love walking around on the rock formations, and sliding down the steep hill of green sand down to the water (bring a boogie board if you have kids 😉 – or even if you don’t.)

White Sand Beaches

You can find white sand beaches scattered all over the Kona side of the island, but if you want to get away from the resorts, my favorite lesser known beach is Makalawena (W is pronounced as a V in Hawaiian). The easiest way to get here is from Kekaha Kai Sate Park. White sand beaches are typically formed from eroded coral and other marine fragments. Even though some of this beach is outlined with black lava rock, there is enough coral being washed up and eroded here for a full beach of palm-lined white sand. This, my friends, is my go-to spot for camping, and nothing can beat an early morning sunrise followed by a refreshing dip in the ocean – without the crowds!

Different environments on Big Island:

Black lava rock cliffs eroding into black sand by rough ocean waves at Mackenzie State Park

Snow-capped Mauna Kea cone at sunset (With my snowman friend, Fred, in bottom right corner 😉)

Kua Bay, white sand backed by black lava rocks and white coral chunks

Waipio Valley covered in clouds (but you can see Maui in the background!)

Little surfer buddies chillin at Punalu’u Beach. Look at that black sand!

Hanging out and admiring the wind art on the rocks inside the cinder cone at Green Sands Beach

I love the rock formations at Green Sands Beach – unlike anywhere else on all the islands. This is the trail down to the beach!

Beautiful white sand beach section of Makalawena, lined by black lava rock and iconic palm trees