Hawaii May 2021, Day 4: South Point and Green Sand Beach!

After leaving Paradise Meadows, I continued down South Point Road, with some great pullouts for views along the way:

Dramatic sea cliffs with Mauna Loa in the background

And tell me this doesn’t look like West Texas!

Anyway, the road continued on, getting narrower and narrower, until finally it just ended in a parking lot at the southern tip of the land. There was a small crowd here who appeared to be cliff jumping, but they also seemed like they might be Hawaiian nationalists, so as a haole I kept my distance. Other than that, there weren’t very many people there.

So there I was, at the southernmost tip of the southernmost island in the southernmost state in the U.S! South Point (or Ka Lae) is not technically the southernmost point in the U.S. because there are territories such as Palmyra Atoll and American Samoa that are farther south, but at 18.9 degrees north it is the southernmost point in a state, and it was by far my personal Farthest South.

It is hot, dry, remote, and extremely windy.
The nearest land is Kiribati, 1000 miles to the south (much closer than the U.S. mainland).

Historians think that this may have been the location of the native Hawaiians’ first landfall on their way from Tahiti, and there are remnants (not visible) of an ancient temple there. I stood there for a little while soaking in the scenery and the fact of where I was, then turned to leave.

Practically right next door is the parking lot for Papakōlea Beach, famous for its green olivine sand. Getting there is kind of a weird situation. You have a choice between an almost 3-mile one-way hike, which I took, and buying passage on a slow, crowded, and extremely bumpy pickup truck ride. I hadn’t known that a ride was an option until I arrived, but I didn’t choose it and wouldn’t. I cannot overstate how tortuous and rutted the paths are (you hike along the same “roads” they drive, so I saw many of them along the way), and I cannot imagine how uncomfortable the ride must be… not even considering COVID danger. On the other hand, the hike is long, hot, dry (bring plenty of water), and dusty (I think the socks I wore that day are still stained orange from the dirt).

I will also say there were LOTS of other people there; this is one of those places that’s in the middle of nowhere, but very crowded.

After almost an hour’s hike, I reached an overlook with a spectacular vista of the beach and its surrounding cliffs.

I ended up not even going down to the beach, both due to time concerns and because, as you can see, the path down to the beach looks a little dodgy. So I contented myself with the view and turned around.

In all honesty, Green Sand Beach is something you should be ready to devote 4+ hours to (for the hike/ride, climb down, and swimming). I only had a little over 2 hours, and while the view was incredible, I’m not sure it was really worth it for that.

Anyway: I continued back up South Point Road to Hawaii Belt Road and continued east. As I rounded the southern tip of the island and started entering the eastern, windward, wetter half, the land grew markedly greener. A little later, I pulled into the Punalu’u Bake Shop in the village of Na’alehu. I had heard good things about this place, and it was good, but it was quite a bit more touristy than I had expected. I checked a couple more Hawaiian food boxes: a malasada (basically just a donut) and a manapua (a tasty roll filled with pork in tangy sauce).

I also saw this tree, which was apparently planted by Mark Twain?

Just a little bit farther down the road, I arrived at the Punalu’u Black Sand Beach. This was far more accessible than the Green Sand Beach (it’s just off the highway), and though it lacks the dramatic setting, the sand is even more striking.

A ways farther on and 4000 feet up, I arrived at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. First I turned left, up the slope of Mauna Loa, to see the lava tree molds and to hike the Kipukapuaulu Trail, a delightful easy walk showcasing several rare Hawaiian trees, flowers, and shrubs. Yet again the microclimates of Hawaii were at work: it was 60 degrees and misty, and I felt obliged to put on a jacket – a far cry from the hot, dusty South Point!

Next: Lava!!!


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