The Scam at the Green Sand Beach in Hawaii

Green Sand Beach in Hawaii Opener
 

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.

 

 

The Situation

 

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! Unfortunately, a few disappointing locals 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.”

 

The Questions

 

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?

 

The Outcome

 

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 locals who clearly were not friendly to visitors. (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.
  • 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!)
 

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, as that area in particular is a fragile ecosystem. (Just another reason that this scam is quite sad. Their shuttles are also damaging the 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 June 2019, there are no tours like that.

 

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 June 2019, 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 post 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!

 

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, tell me about it in the comments!

 
Hawaii's Green Sand Beach Scam, Big Island, Hawaii #greensandbeach #scam #hawaii #bigisland
LOOKING FOR MORE Big island TRAVEL ADVICE? HERE ARE OUR FAVORITE big island TRAVEL GUIDEBOOKS!

Disclosure: I may use referral links in this post, and I might make a commission on my recommendations at no extra cost to you.

Sharing is caring!

22 Replies to “The Scam at the Green Sand Beach in Hawaii”

  1. Wow- such a shame. We just left the Big Island yesterday it chose not to go down to the green sand beach because the hike was a bit much for us.

      1. 10/21/19 we were there yesterday. 12 people in the back of the truck. 4 people in front our derived ran into a wall, ran into a huge embankment. I was in the front passenger seat I looked over and he was asleep OMG. I woke him up and poked him, chatted him up and kept him awake. We didn’t effing die. But, what if someone passive was there or a non vocal person. Very scary. No oversight no regulations.

        1. Marsha, that is absolutely TERRIFYING!! I’m sorry that you had to experience that, and I’m so glad you’re okay! I didn’t know that these unauthorized “shuttle drivers” were endangering human lives as well! This only makes believe that people need to understand the dangers of this scam even more. Thank again you for sharing your story!

  2. So sad that this is happening and that they are damaging the ecosystem too. I hope one day soon it will end, and I’m glad you are making people aware of this happening.

  3. I did this last year and to be honest, didn’t even think it was a scam. I did go on a very hot day so just paid the guys to which I was kinda happy as I didn’t fancy hiking (I did a marathon the previous day!). But if this is a scam, then the authorities should be doing something to stop it. (and the road is bloody bumpy anyway..felt sick afterwards).

    However the beach is worth visiting and the hike is about 2.5 miles, totally agree on that. So probably would take 40 minutes each way but take plenty of water. 🙂

    1. I’m glad this worked in your favor, Danik! I can’t imagine doing a hike the day after a marathon.

      And thank you for the tips as well! Yes, plenty of water is a MUST on this hike!

  4. I took the shuttle. After seeing the skills required to navigate the terrain, I’m glad I did. Ask for Gilbert when you get there. Everything will be fine.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience, Jim. While I’m glad the shuttle did work in your favor, it’s important to remember the environmental impact that these vehicles have on such a fragile landscape! Papakolea green sand beach is a very unique natural phenomenon, and it would be a shame to see it ruined due to an illegal transportation scam.

  5. We visited the green sand beach in November of 2018. When we arrived there were a lot of locals offering rides for a price. We opted to hike it out even though it was mid day and very warm. The trucks they are using to transport people are definitely tearing up the landscape there. As a tourist if you pay one of these guys then you are contributing to the problem and just encouraging it. Why would they stop if they are making money. Go early in the morning to avoid the heat. If you can’t make the hike then I’d suggest skipping it all together.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience, Lesley. You make some very good points, and I think your reasoning helps to explain why this scam has been going on for years, despite the detrimental harm it causes on the fragile environment. Also, tackling the hike to the green sand beach in the morning is a fantastic tip!

  6. It’s not a scam since people aren’t forced to take the ride. We just took the ride today and the locals were friendly. For people like me who have mobility issues, it’s well worth it. As for tearing up the landscape, there are plenty of tourists in their rented jeeps that drive the same route, but you seem to be ok with that. Just not the locals making a little bit of money?

    1. Thank you for sharing your perspective, Connie. I can understand that access to many places, especially on the Big Island, can be difficult for those with mobility issues. However, these shuttles AND the rented jeeps (and any other vehicle, for that matter) that drive along the hiking path to get to the beautiful green sand beach hurt both the fragile natural landscape and culturally-significant areas. After all, if green sand beaches existed in non-fragile landscapes, there would be more than just four in the entire world! Furthermore, along the trails, there are cultural temples (also known as heiau) which were important to the ancient Native Hawaiian people. Without experience, they can be difficult to recognize, and, therefore, easily desecrated by vehicles.

      I hope this helps you understand some of the complexities behind this issue :).

      -Sarah from Borders & Bucket Lists

  7. I went and I’m glad I did. The locals are just trying to make money. There’s not a lot of jobs and there are a lot of people wanting to see the beach. They may not be able to hike. Also, it’s like a desert out there. They are not ruining anything. How is it a scam? You either like a ride or you walk. If you don’t like the price….negotiate it. Cost of gas in Hawaii is outrageous too so 20 is not much. They are taking advantage of an opportunity to make money and help tourists see a beautiful beach. There not taking advantage of tourists. It’s a yes or no for a ride. They don’t force you. Very much worth seeing! Great pics too! Also, No one should swim in ocean unless experienced!

    1. Hello, Sherri! Thank you for sharing your thoughts. The landscape of and around the green sand beach is actually much more complex than it may appear. This area is home to both a fragile natural landscape and culturally-significant areas. After all, if green sand beaches existed in non-fragile landscapes, there would be more than just four in the entire world! There are also cultural temples (also known as heiau), which were important to the ancient Native Hawaiian people along the route from the parking area to the green sand beach. Without experience, these heiau can be difficult to recognize, and, therefore, easily desecrated by vehicles.

      For these reasons, I think it is very important to consider preserving the landscape. While these shuttles may be more convenient, they are ultimately causing pieces of nature and history to slowly be destroyed. Consequently, fewer people in the future will be able to catch a glimpse of these absolutely stunning landscapes. As a matter of fact, there have been quite a few examples of this throughout history, including the closing of the Lavaux Caves and five islands in Thailand! As you may have heard, governments and tourist agencies are planning on limiting the number of tourists to Machu Picchu in Peru and Uluru in Australia as well, due to the fact that large numbers of tourists (and sometimes locals) disregard the rules that are in place. It would be a shame for this to happen to the lovely Papakolea Beach.

      I hope my explanation helps you understand some of the complexities behind this issue :).

      -Sarah from Borders & Bucket Lists

  8. Just found this article while searching for reasons as to why the sand is green.
    My family and I visited Green Sand beach today. While everyone was just standing around by the parked cars, we decided to drive through and try it for ourselves. We realized rather quickly that a 4 wheel drive vehicle is absolutely necessary to get there but is definitely doable. At one point the “shuttle” (an old Nissan truck with about 10 people standing in the back holding onto makeshift handles) stopped to yell at us that we couldn’t follow her…even though the trail leads to the same place. The shuttle service is a complete scam and should be addressed for safety reasons. Thanks for writing about this

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Jill! I 100% agree that this should be addressed! As a matter of fact, after reading some of the most recent comments, where people have shared some terrifying stories about their experiences with this scam at the green sand beach, I wish I could do more than writing a simple article! The land, the culture, and even people have been put in serious danger due to this unauthorized business. I definitely looked into what else I could do after my personal experience at the Papakolea, but I struggled to find anything. I plan on trying again this week – maybe some new information has been posted online within these past few months? If you (or any other commenters) happen to have more information about how to make a difference, please let me know in the comments or send me an email!

  9. We visited this beach 2 ago and yes the locals are trying to control access to the beach and are ruining the ecology by driving their vehicles in and out. It is a scam. We saw one of their vehicles on its side. They were denying access to us and a young local proceed to swear and cuss us out when we did not opt to take their access. The State of Hawaii needs to take hold of this situation or close the access because the terrain is being totally damaged.

    1. Hello KB! Thank you for sharing your story! Wow, I have never heard of the locals there verbally assaulting anyone, as they did with you. I’m so sorry that you had to experience that. I definitely agree that this issue needs to be addressed. If you (or any other commenters) happen to have more information about how to make a difference, please let me know in the comments or send me an email!

  10. It’s not a scam. You can walk. And it’s close to one mile if you walk close to the coastline. For context: I’m a haole that lives on Oahu, but am often exploring the big island.
    Why shouldn’t they make some money on tourists that often ignorantly destroy and disrespect them and their land? … While also providing an often appreciated service. They might also be preventing some of the many who drive that road when they 100% shouldn’t be doing such.
    I’ve been to some incredible “locals only” spots as well, most often accidentally, and I’ve never experienced anything other than Aloha. Respect, knowledge, and communication (even about being scammed) goes a very long way.

    1. Hello, C! Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I too am a Hawaii local. I’ve spent my entire life in the islands (with the exception of college), so I understand the difficulties and tensions between the tourism industry and the rights of local people. The islands belonged to the Native Hawaiians and were unfortunately taken from them by a handful of powerful, greedy U.S. businessmen during Queen Liliuokalani’s reign. Even today, the locals are fighting for the protection of their sacred lands, as can be seen by the protests on Mauna Kea against the TMT.

      I 100% agree that visitors shouldn’t ignorantly destroy and disrespect the Native Hawaiian people and their land. However, it’s heartbreaking to me to see locals themselves destroying and disrespecting their islands – and they are most likely not ignorant to the damage that they are doing. These unauthorized shuttles (and any other vehicle, for that matter) that drive along the hiking path to get to the beautiful green sand beach hurt both the fragile natural landscape and culturally-significant areas (including several heiau, or Hawaiian temples).

      I also agree with you about the beauty of hidden local gems. I’m careful to avoid mentioning these places on Borders & Bucket Lists, even though I want to encourage visitors to explore beyond the tourist hubs of Waikiki or Lahaina, for example. While the green sand beach is beautiful, it is not, at least in my opinion, a “locals-only spot.” For as long as I can remember, tourists have been visiting Papakolea to see this stunning natural wonder. As a matter of fact, many of my friends who live on the Big Island recommend that tourists go to the green sand beach – and, of course, do the hike that is necessary to get there, rather than drive it.

      My point is I don’t think anyone – tourists or locals – should desecrate the natural and cultural gems found at Papakolea green sand beach. We should all learn to respect and preserve these important sites as best as we can.

      I hope my explanation helps you understand some of the complexities behind this issue :).

      -Sarah from Borders & Bucket Lists

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *