There aren’t too many elopement locations where you will find people hiking to a green sand beach. Some say there are only four green sand beaches in the ENTIRE world. And guess what? Big Island is home to one of the most epic ones!
Kaylee + Ben’s Elopement Photos at Green Sands Beach
We took Kaylee and Ben on a sunrise hike to Green Sands Beach for their adventurous elopement shots after their wedding in the hills of Waimea on the Big Island. They had the most beautiful ceremony with all their closest friends and family, but they still dreamed of having those super dramatic and adventurous shots. They originally wanted to elope down in the area of South Point, so when we all decided on Green Sands for their adventurous bridal session, Ben and Kaylee were absolutely stoked. We ended up hiking all the way to the pu’u (hill/cinder cone) above the beach with all of their wedding attire in hand. Because the ocean water and tide were really strong, we simply stayed on top of the beach for safety and went adventuring all around this area. We had such a blast with these two, and we cannot recommend this location enough for our future brides and grooms.
Diverse Landscapes of the Big Island
Why we love living and capturing couples on the Big Island so much is because Hawaii is so unique and diverse! There are actually eight of the thirteen ecosystems that exist on Big Island. What does that mean for you? TONS OF VARIETY for photography shots! Seriously though, you can be driving just an hour and see tropical dry forests, snowy alpine deserts, to beautiful Anchialine ponds. The list goes on and on, but another really amazing advantage of having such diverse ecosystems is that you can nearly always find dry weather on some part of the island. Even if it’s raining on the east side, you can drive thirty minutes to an hour and find a much sunnier part of the island. I love that the Big Island has so much to offer once you get out of the main tourist areas and explore!
One of the most unique landscapes we have on the island is definitely Green Sands Beach. It is one of my favorite gems of the island, and we love being able to share this unique location with our couples.
Green Sands Beach aka Papakolea beach aka Mahana beach
Wait, so what the heck is the actual name for this beach? Well, it goes by all three, and here are some of the explanations behind the names. Papakōlea in the Hawaiian language means plover flats. What the heck is a plover flat, you ask? These particular birds can be found in this area in the wintertime. The massive cinder cone that sits right next to the beach is called Pu’u Mahana; hence, this is where Mahana beach comes from. Green Sands Beach is the name of the beach that you will usually find in guidebooks or hear locals telling tourists about. It gets its name from the small green crystals called olivine that landed there after a volcanic eruption over 50,000 years ago.
Hiking vs. Driving to Green Sands Beach
There are two ways to get to the infamous Green Sands Beach, also known as, Papakōlea beach: hiking or driving. I’m here to break down the biggest differences, advantages, and disadvantages of hiking or driving to the beach. So, here they are.
Hiking to Green Sands
If you want to hike to Green Sands Beach, we highly recommend hiking in the early hours of the day or at sunset. If you hike in the morning, you will need headlamps to see, but the temperature will be cooler (which is a major advantage). If you go in the middle of the day, this hike becomes very popular and there are many people and cars on the roads to get to the beach. Not to mention, as the day goes on, it definitely gets HOT. There aren’t any trees that offer shade on the hike so make sure to bring lots of water and snacks. We would also recommend hiking in normal hiking attire, bringing a towel, and changing once you get to the beach. The hike is approximately three miles from the parking lot but there isn’t any incline, which makes this hike relatively easy. Although there are various paths on the way there, they all will lead you to the beach eventually if you keep walking south and keep close to the coastline.
Driving to Green Sands Beach
The biggest advantage of driving to Green Sands beach for an elopement is that you don’t have to carry your wedding attire and you don’t have to get all sweaty before you say your vows. 😉 Because this is a crazy road, you will definitely need a truck or jeep with 4×4. Unfortunately, a lot of the car companies who rent their Jeeps out will not allow you to even drive on this road. Make sure when you’re browsing 4×4 cars, you get the approval to take your car to Green Sands. Otherwise, there are drivers who will take you to Green Sands from the parking lot once you arrive. Also, please only drive this road if you have off-roaded before and you feel super comfortable driving 4×4 roads. This road is definitely not for the faint of heart.
Tips for Visiting Green Sands Beach
Before you head down to the beach, please make sure you are totally prepared. Whenever we are heading down to the beach, we always make sure to pack lots of water, sunscreen, and snacks. Especially if you are hiking, there is absolutely no shade on the hike or near the beach. The sun will start beaming down on you as early as 9 am. It is so important for us to always wear sunscreen that is environmentally friendly and won’t damage the ocean or its surroundings.
Here a few of my favorite sunscreens that are environmentally friendly:
Some other tips to consider when visiting Green Sands Beach is to leave no trace of you being there. We often will take an additional trash bag or Stasher bag to put any remains of what we’ve eaten or used during our time there. Also, please don’t take any of the olivine crystals with you. We have heard many stories of people taking things from the island (lava rock, olivine, etc.) and finding themselves with stories of endless bad luck once they’ve arrived home. Ryan used to work as a Recreation Manager at one of the hotels. He used to have guests return lava rock that they had taken from the island WEEKLY because of all the bad luck they were having once returning back to the mainland. Some say it’s a myth, but in order to truly respect this place and the land, we always recommend leaving the sand and rocks no matter what. 🙂
In the summer, there are days where the ocean is actually calm enough to swim. However, please swim at your own risk as there are no lifeguards and no easy way to transport people out of the beach once you are there swimming. The swells that come into this bay can get really strong and powerful in a matter of minutes, so definitely be careful and cautious if it is safe enough to get in the water.
Where to Stay: Find Accommodation in Na’alehu
If you are wanting to beat the crowds to get to Green Sands or you simply want an alternative to the hustle and bustle of Kona town and would rather escape the rain of Hilo, I would recommend staying in the town of Naalehu. It’s technically known as the southernmost town in all of the United States. It’s a small, quaint town with less than 1,000 people that live there, but it’s worth the visit if you want to visit Green Sands and South Point early or even later on in the evening. There are some bed and breakfasts and cute Airbnb’s to stay at. You can also explore the surrounding areas where there are black sand beaches, lava cliffs meeting the ocean, hiking trails, and more.
What to Do After Your Elopement Near Green Sands Beach
If you are driving to Green Sands from Kona or Hilo, we’d recommend sticking around the area and visiting some attractions before heading home.
Visit South Point Cliffs
The first that we’d recommend is the South Point Cliffs. They are amazing cliffs that line upright against the ocean. There are always fishermen and locals hanging out in this spot. On a calm and clear day, you may even find locals and some daring tourists jumping the cliffs. The scary part isn’t jumping. It’s climbing back up the ladder after you’ve landed in the water. I wouldn’t recommend jumping if you’re not 100% confident or the least bit afraid of heights.
Get Your Sweets Fix at Punalu’u Bakery
Have you ever tried a malasada? If not, I’m going to have to *gently* force you to hit up Punalu’u Bakery to try one! Malasadas are a Portuguese doughnut! You can try samples of all the different kinds of malasadas: from ones that are covered with granulated sugar to other ones that are filled in the middle with chocolate ganache or bavarian cream. There are even doughnuts that have lilikoi, guava, or taro flavors! Yum! I promise you won’t be disappointed after leaving this bakery.
Try Different Kinds of Coffee at Ka’u Coffee Mill
One of our favorite places to stop after a hike at Green Sands is Ka’u Coffee Mill. You can arrange a tour with them and visit their coffee mill and learn all about coffee produced in Ka’u. You can also taste all of their samples, order a coffee (if you want more), and buy some amazing coffee or mac nuts after your taste samples. You really can’t go wrong with this place!