Diamond in the Rough

There is a fork in the road near the end of Ke Lea: if you go to the right you end up at South Point where the fishermen are; the left fork takes you to “Green Sand Beach.” We drove back up to the fork and went in search of the beach.

The road ends at a small gravel parking lot and natural ramp used by the locals to launch their boats. The grade over the rock is so gradual that they have to weld 10 to 15 foot extensions onto their trailer hitches in order to get the boats into the water without submerging their vehicles.

Above the boat launching area rises a small bluff with a marginal and very rough road cut through it to the top and there on the top is a sign that says, “Kapu. Keep Out. Government Property. Violators will be arrested and prosecuted.”

We had read in the guidebooks that the Green Sand Beach was about 2 or 3 miles from this point and accessible only by foot or 4-wheel drive vehicle. Well, we weren’t going to walk 2 or 3 miles over lava rock in this heat, but we were concerned about the “Kapu” sign (I’ll tell you about “kapu” in a later post; for now, let’s just say that it means, “prohibited”).

Dale asked a Hawaiian woman that was sitting under a small tree at the bottom of the bluff whether that rough road was the way to Green Sand Beach and she said, “Yes.” To which Dale responded, “What about the sign that says Keep Out?” The reply: “Oh, nobody pay attention to dat. Dat your black Jeep? You make it. No problem.”

So off we went. It was a challenge getting up the bluff, but nothing like the challenge that faced us on the other side. Here’s a picture that I took looking back toward the top after we had driven about 1/4 mile.

You can see that the road in this area traversed jagged volcanic rock and that previous vehicles had crushed the rock into gravel that could be easily spotted and followed. But not much further along, the “road” dropped down into sandy, grass covered dunes with tire tracks going in every direction and we had no way of knowing which path to take.

After about a half hour of following various dead ends and slowly making our way toward Green Sand Beach, a local Hawaiian in a beat-up pick up truck came along and took pity on us, saying, “Follow me.” We did and made it back up the grade to the top of Puʻu Mahana, a cinder cone overlooking Green Sand Beach that was formed over 49,000 years ago. Here’s Dale at the top of the cone.

The south wall of the cinder cone has eroded away, creating a little bay that the Hawaiians call Mahana Bay.

The beach at Mahana Bay is the Green Sand Beach.

We grabbed our beach gear and started the descent down into the cinder cone…

At the time, we didn’t realize it, but we were walking down a path that had been scraped into the ash of the inside of a volcano (not to worry, the last volcanic activity here was over 10,000 years ago).

The eroded cone walls continually replenish the beach as the sand is washed away by the wave action.

It was a great place to swim and body surf; the only beach we have found so far that wasn’t littered with sharp, underwater rocks.

The sand really is green, a result of being partially composed of a mineral called olivine that contains iron and magnesium. Olivine is a component of Hawaiian lavas and one of the first crystals to form as magma cools. Known locally as “Hawaiian Diamond,” olivine is also found at Diamond Head on Oahu; we’ll be looking for it when we visit there next week.

Olivine is denser than the grey ash and black volcanic sand, so the wave action pulls the grey and black materials out and washes them away, leaving the heavier olivine crystals and giving the beach its green color.

But, eventually, even the green sand will wash away, so beach goers are discouraged from packing up jars of souvenir green sand to take home.

We loved Green Sand Beach and stayed for about two hours, until we worked up the courage to make the drive back to the paved road.

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