It pains me to title a post in such a negative way. Don’t misunderstand me – Papakolea green sand beach in Hawaii is absolutely stunning. But there is a scam being run there, and I don’t want anyone to fall for it.
Located on the southern tip of the Big Island of Hawaii, the green sand beach, officially known as Papakolea green sand beach is quite the site to see. As a matter of fact, it is one of only four green sand beaches on the entire planet! This olivine crystal-laden beach is quite a treasure and one of the best things to see on the Hilo side of the island.! Unfortunately, a few disappointing people have decided to take advantage of this rarity and tourists’ (justifiable) desperation to see this site.
When you plug “Papakolea beach” or even “green sand beach” into Google Maps when you are on the Big Island, it’ll take you on a long road full of cows until you pull up in a dirt parking lot where other cars are parked. You may notice that the road actually continues for a tad bit longer, but there is a parked truck that is blocking your way. That was my first hint that something was wrong.
Almost immediately after we parked, a local walked up to our car and said, “Are you going to hike the six miles?” We looked at each other and thought, “What? Six miles?” And then, when she saw our confusion, she said, “Because, if not, it’s $20 for the shuttle and the shuttle just left, so you’ll have to wait.”
We let her know that we were going to discuss it, and we all knew that something was off. Things just didn’t add up. If a shuttle could make it to the beach, why couldn’t our car? Why wasn’t the lady wearing any sort of official uniform? Why is she saying the beach is six miles away, because it only looks like two miles on the map. And why is she charging us to go to a beach, despite the fact that all beaches in Hawaii are public property?
While we likely could’ve just walked on past and said we were going to do the not-really-six-mile hike, in our confusion, we decided it was better to just leave. We didn’t want to have any interactions with these people who clearly were not very friendly to those visiting the beach. (And despite the fact that I’ve lived in the Hawaiian Islands my entire life, I still don’t give off the local-vibe, so she likely thought we were visitors as well.)
What to Know About the Scam
Just for clarity, I thought I’d reiterate some important points:
- You do NOT need to pay to access Papakolea Beach (the green sand beach in Hawaii) or any other beach in Hawaii, as all beaches are public access.
- All green sand beach shuttle services are illegal and should never be used.
- You CANNOT drive your rental car (or your owned car, or any other vehicle) to the Papakolea green sand beach in Hawaii.
- The hike to the green sand beach is NOT six miles. It is only two and a half miles and is relatively easy to follow due to all of the traffic in and out of the area. (But, as with any hike, be prepared! Definitely bring water, athletic shoes, and sunscreen!)
Why Is This Scam at the Green Sand Beach in Hawaii Dangerous?
It Harms the Fragile Natural Landscape
There are only four green sand beaches in the entire world. There’s a reason there aren’t more green sand beaches. It’s because these landscapes are fragile! And by driving a shuttle that ways thousands of pounds to Papakolea green sand beach in Hawaii multiple times a day, it will cause irreversible damage!
It Endangers Historical Cultural Landmarks
Along the path from the parking lot to the Papakolea green sand beach in Hawaii, there are a few ancient Hawaiian heiau (cultural temples). By driving to the green sand beach, these heiau may become easy to miss and may accidentally end up being broken, desecrated, or destroyed.
On the other hand, if you hike to the green and beach on foot, you’re unlikely to accidentally do much damage to the heiau.
It Is Not Part of a Registered Business
The shuttles to the green sand beach in Hawaii are not a registered business. This is an issue, because 1) it is illegal and 2) they cannot be held responsible for anything that happens on or because of their shuttles.
It May Put People’s Lives in Danger
There are quite a few stories with of close calls that have happened while riding in these shuttles, such as drivers falling asleep at the wheel. People’s lives have been put in danger! And since the shuttle at the green sand beach in Hawaii is not a registered business, if anyone were to get injured, there is no way to hold the shuttle driver or the shuttle company accountable.
Are There Any Tours to Papakolea Beach? That’d Be an Easy Way to Avoid the Scam!
Unfortunately, no. There are no legal tours to Papakolea Beach. The easiest way to tell if a tour is legal or not is if they drive you directly to Papakolea Beach, and, at the moment, all of them drive you directly to the beach. It is actually illegal to drive to the green sand beach in Hawaii, because, as mentioned above, that area in particular is a fragile ecosystem.
In theory, it is possible for a legal tour to Papakolea Beach to be set up. It would just be a 2.5-mile hiking tour, rather than a tour right to the beach. If that sort of tour does start, it may be legal. But as July 2023, there are no tours like that.
So How Can I Legally Get to the Green Sand Beach in Hawaii?
There is only one way to legally get to the green sand beach in Hawaii: hiking. (This also happens to be the only way to preserve the natural landscape and the cultural sites along the way.) Any form of driving, whether it’s your car or the shuttle, is illegal and does irreparable damage to the area.
If you do choose to hike to the green sand beach, bring a lot of water and a hat, because there is no shade a long the route! It would also be a great idea to start early in the morning, so that way the heat doesn’t get too intense. Because of the cars and shuttles illegally driving around the area, the path can be a bit confusing at times, so, when in doubt, veer towards the path headed towards the ocean.
How Can We End the Scam at the Green Sand Beach in Hawaii?
Honestly, that’s a great question. As far as I can tell, the scam has been going on since 2016, and as of July 2023, it is still in progress. Local police know about it, but there is little that they can do about it. The only real way they can prevent this scam from occurring is by stationing someone there every single day, which is difficult to do with an already-limited force.
The only way I can think about making any difference is by spreading the word about this green sand beach scam, and that’s where this article comes into play. So if you want others to know how to get to get to the green sand beach in Hawaii WITHOUT getting scammed, share this post! Spread the word now, because there is no cell phone service at Papakolea Beach! That means that visitors won’t be able to check if it’s a scam while they are there, so they need to find out before they go!
Ok, I’ve Decided to Hike to the Green Sand Beach in Hawaii! What Can I Do There?
First off, props to you for making the hike out! It’s definitely worth the effort.
Enjoy the Green Sand
Like I mentioned earlier, Papakolea green sand beach is one of only four green sand beaches in the entire world! So you’ll definitely want to soak up the shoreline’s unique beauty while you can!
Go on a Beachside Stroll
One of the best ways to see the green sand at Papakolea green sand beach is by going on a beachside stroll. While you’ll probably be a little tired from your hike over, a beachside stroll will let you see the beautiful green sand beach from a whole bunch of angles!
Soak Up the Sun
And last but certainly not least, you can simply lay out a towel and soak up the warm Hawaiian sun. After all, it’s one of the best beaches on the Big Island.
*Note: You may have noticed that I didn’t include swimming on this list of things to do on the green sand beach in Hawaii. That’s because the waves and current can be quite strong and unsafe for swimming, especially for those who are not familiar with this particular beach. In other words, swimming at Papakolea green sand beach is not recommended.
Is There Anything Else I Should Know About the Green Sand Beach in Hawaii?
To make your Hawaii green sand beach experience as good as possible, I’ve got a few extra tips to share with you.
Download Google Maps in Advance
Like I mentioned earlier, there’s no cell service near Papakolea green sand beach. And while the drive is quite straight forward, it can be comforting to have a GPS regardless.
Luckily, you can download maps in advance with the Google Maps app. Simply type “Big Island” or “Big Island of Hawaii” into the Google Maps search bar, press the ellipses (“…”) in the top right corner, and press download offline map a couple of hours before you head out.
The Hike Isn’t the Easiest
While hiking is the only way to get to Papakolea green sand beach, it doesn’t mean the hike is easy, per se. The lack of shade can really take it’s toll over the course of the 2.5-mile trail, so be sure you’re ready and able to tackle it. There’s also a bit of a climb/scramble at the end to actually get down the cliffs and to the green sand beach.
If you do decide you’re up for the hike to Hawaii’s green sand beach, get an early start and pack LOTS of water.
While the sand at the green sand beach is olive green-ish, it’s not a shockingly bright green, as shown in many of the photos (including the stock photo used in this article). Instead, those photos are edited to, of course, gain more views.
Despite that fact, the cool olive-green-toned sand is still worth a visit, in my opinion (and hopefully in yours too.)
Don’t Take the Green Sand
While the olive green sand is stunning, please don’t take it with you! If everyone takes just a little bit of green sand, there won’t be a whole lot left. (If I’m being honest, locals have talked about how the green sand beach has gotten less green over the years, and that’s likely due to people taking some green sand with them.)
This post is by no means meant to paint a negative experience of the local population as a whole. As a Hawaii local, I know that the local population is a very kind community. The purpose of this post is simply to inform visitors of this one disappointing occurrence in order to help them avoid it or manage it.
Looking for a different stunning Big Island beach that is worth your time? Kua Bay is one of my favorites!
If you’ve had a positive experience at the green sand beach in Hawaii, tell me about it in the comments!