The Green Sand Beaches at Road To The Sea|
Scenic Drive Overview
It is a stretch to call Road To The Sea a scenic drive, however in this case the ends justify the means. A rugged 6 mile, partly 4-wheel road takes you down to the ocean and a number of secluded green sand beaches with trails, swimming and surfing opportunities and more.
This is an unpaved road that is very rough in spots. While a regular car can probably manage the first half of the drive, about 3 miles into the drive the road has a very rough and pitted area that is also somewhat steep. While a 4-wheel with adequate clearance will have no problem, a regular car will not have the clearance to get through this section. If you intend to take a regular car we highly recommend you park at this point and hike the final 3 miles.
Do not attempt this drive in bad weather. The road floods quickly making the drive very dangerous.
There are no services, bathrooms, fresh water, houses or anything else at the end of this road. Bring everything you need including lots of water. It's hot and dry with little shade.
This scenic drive is on the western (Kona) side of the Big Island. To get to the start of this scenic drive, take Highway 11 to the 79 mile marker. At about 79.35 is a gravel road on the makai (ocean) side of the road. There is a colorful, but seldom open fruit stand on the corner and a boat near the fruit stand. Turn down the gravel road; this is the start of the drive.
Road To The Sea
(Click here for a map)
The Hawaiian Islands are known for many different colors of sandy beaches. Maui has pink sand beaches, Oahu is famous for the white sand beaches, and many of the islands, especially the Big Island, have stunning black sand beaches.
The Big Island, however, also has green sand beaches. Green sand is formed by the gemstone olivine, also called peridot that has been brought to the surface, from deep below the earth, by volcanic action. The Hawaiians considered green sand to be the tears of the Goddess Pele and used the sand in healing ceremonies. Peridot is also the August birthstone and is used in jewelry as well as collected as a gemstone.
While most people are familiar with the beautiful green sand beach at South Point there are actually many pockets of green sand throughout the island, and that is the goal of this Scenic Drive, to get to the secluded green sand beach at the end of Road To The Sea.
As you start out, ignore any private road signs as in Hawai'i they simply mean that the county does not maintain the road so travel at your own risk. The road itself is an unforgiving 6 mile road which starts out nicely enough in a fairly densely shaded area.
You will note, especially near the start of this drive, that there are people living on this road. Old developed properties exist, as do brand new properties. Most are tucked in the trees and are difficult to see and most of the houses are off the grid and supply their own power and water, especially the further down you go. Difficult as it is to imagine people wanting to live down this road, parts do offer stunning views as well as isolation that some people enjoy. Look for the hard-to-see house on the left side of the road that has a roof made from an upside down boat.
The road is a pretty slow drive as it varies in condition constantly. In a few places there are alternate choices to get around bad ruts, take your pick as to which is preferable to drive.
As you continue towards the halfway point the tree line has thinned to just ground cover and raw a'a lava is on both sides of the road. Look for one of my personal favorite rocks on the right side of the road... Face Rock, which some wag has decorated with eyes so that it watches you drive by.
The most recent flow in this area took place on the 9th of January 1908 from the flanks of Mauna Loa. This flow, along with older flows created littoral cones (lava cones that grow out of the shoreline) that were rich in olivine. As you drive you are passing by both the 1908 and earlier flows. On your right, from time to time, you will see a muliwai (channel) on your right, which funneled lava towards the ocean. Occasionally you will also see large round boulders, which appear to be lava bombs but in fact are pieces of lava that rolled down the channel becoming larger just as a snowball can get bigger as it rolls downhill.
At about the 3 mile point along Road To The Sea the road takes a slight jag to the right and is deeply rutted and rain-washed. This section will probably stop any normal car but a 4-wheel with clearance can easily make it down this short unfortunate patch of road. At the base of this patch is a gated road on the left that goes to a distant community. Keep on Road To The Sea.
As you begin to approach the end of the road you may see a very rough and crude road to your right marked with an arrow painted on the rock. This is the exit (or entrance) to a jeep road which goes between this point to the ocean and follows the ocean around the impressive Nā Pu'u a Pele cone and over to Kaunā Point and then over to Manukā Bay. One reason you have yet to see that road documented on InstantHawaii is that when we did the road we were too scared to take pictures. The road goes right up to the ocean, meaning you can only do the trip on utterly calm days, and at points disappears over large tumulus you must climb, and even in a few places takes you on ridges as wide as your car with deep drops in either direction. Perhaps one day we will try the road again, now that we know what to expect.
Just near the end of Road To The Sea is a bit rougher road and then you come to a large loop at the end. If you drive the loop to the left we tend to park near the old rusting Cadillac car relic (though a recent emailer says he is pretty sure it is a "1979 Pontiac Trans AM"). If you keep driving you will find that at the end of the loop the road goes down behind a dune to another lower spot near a beach. Both the beach behind the rusting car remains and the beach at the end of the loop turnoff are green sand beaches.
The Cadillac car relic has been there for years and years. It started out as an abandoned car, which was stripped over time and then proceeded the quick reclamation process back to basic elements. Accelerated by the destructive forces of the oceans salty water only a bit of the chassis remains. The car, being an established icon at this beach, has been decorated with a stone alter and a variety of gifts and trash.
The point here is named Humuhumu Point, and the impressive cinder cone in the distance, towards Kona, is Nā Pu'u a Pele. A road just before the rusting car remains will also take you over a smaller cone to the other side of the green sand beach, and other beaches can be seen along the coast within walking distance. While the beaches are clean, unfortunately the surrounding area has quite a bit of litter as this is a popular spot for fishing and parting at night and the area shows the abuse.
The beaches here are small, 50 to 100 feet long. There is more black sand in the mix at these beaches than at the Green Sands Beach at South Point, lending a darker hue to the green. Picking up a handful of the beach sand and you can see a variety of sizes of crystals of peridot. While most of the crystals are tiny occasionally someone will find a crystal large enough to be cut and polished as a gemstone.
Several rough trails around the area take you to the tops of the various nearby cones and smaller beaches can be found tucked around the coast. People do swim, surf, and snorkel from the beaches here but be warned that the shoreline drops quickly to amazing depths. You will also want to avoid the water during heavy winds as they can create hazardous swimming conditions.
Fishing during the late spring and summertime is popular here and the main catch is ulua. The Big Island record for catching ulua was made from this point in 1977 by Roy Ogata who caught 23 ulua in one night (on average an ulua weighs 30 pounds).
The way out is the same way you came in. So just point your car mauka (towards the mountains) and enjoy the ride out.