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.
  • You CANNOT drive your rental car (or your owned car, or any other vehicle) to the Papakolea green sand beach in Hawaii.
  • 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!)

Why Is This Scam at the Green Sand Beach in Hawaii Dangerous?

It Harms the Fragile Natural Landscape

There are only four green sand beaches in the entire world. There’s a reason there aren’t more green sand beaches. It’s because these landscapes are fragile! And by driving a shuttle that ways thousands of pounds to Papakolea green sand beach in Hawaii multiple times a day, it will cause irreversible damage! 

It Endangers Historical Cultural Landmarks

Along the path from the parking lot to the Papakolea green sand beach in Hawaii, there are a few ancient Hawaiian heiau (cultural temples). By driving to the green sand beach, these heiau may become easy to miss and may accidentally end up being broken, desecrated, or destroyed. On the other hand, if you hike to the green and beach on foot, you’re unlikely to accidentally do much damage to the heiau.

It Is Not Part of a Registered Business

The shuttles to the green sand beach in Hawaii are not a registered business. This is an issue, because 1) it is illegal and 2) they cannot be held responsible for anything that happens on or because of their shuttles.

It May Put People’s Lives in Danger

There are quite a few stories with of close calls that have happened while riding in these shuttles, such as drivers falling asleep at the wheel. People’s lives have been put in danger! And since the shuttle at the green sand beach in Hawaii is not a registered business, if anyone were to get injured, there is no way to hold the shuttle driver or the shuttle company accountable.

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, because, as mentioned above, that area in particular is a fragile 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 May 2020, there are no tours like that.

 

So How Can I Legally Get to the Green Sand Beach in Hawaii?

There is only one way to legally get to the green sand beach in Hawaii: hiking. (This also happens to be the only way to preserve the natural landscape and the cultural sites along the way.) Any form of driving, whether it’s your car or the shuttle, is illegal and does irreparable damage to the area.

If you do choose to hike to the green sand beach, bring a lot of water and a hat, because there is no shade a long the route! It would also be a great idea to start early in the morning, so that way the heat doesn’t get too intense. Because of the cars and shuttles illegally driving around the area, the path can be a bit confusing at times, so, when in doubt, veer towards the path headed towards the ocean.

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 May 2020, 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 article 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 in Hawaii, tell me about it in the comments!

 
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32 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.

      1. Just a question about who you think causes more damage to the ecosystem. The locals or all of the tourists hoarding into the Hawaiian Islands? Interesting you feel it is from locals using a road to transport vacationers. Personally, I disagree, but to each bis own I guess.

        1. Hi again Nicole,

          Personally, I don’t think it’s beneficial to try to put the blame on an entire group of people. There are some visitors who damage the ecosystem, and some who don’t. Similarly, there are some locals who damage the ecosystem, and some who don’t. I consistently encourage the readers on my site to take care of the ecosystem, whether it’s through giving the turtles their space, taking part in a hike or beach clean-up, using reef-safe sunscreen, or simply purchasing a souvenir from a local brand who does their part to take care of Hawaii’s nature.

          That said, your comment has made me think. Currently, the post that I’ve written on the Papakolea green sand beach does not explicitly state that visitors can’t drive to the beach either. This may give the impression that it’s okay for one group to drive on this land but not another, which is definitely NOT what I intended. Thank you for bringing this point to my attention, and I plan on editing this post to reflect that in the near future.

  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

  11. I never comment on these, but just have to say it is not a “scam”. Many rental car contracts don’t allow cars to go past the parking area. The locals who offer a ride do not try and say it is mandatory and most are not pushy at all. It is offered as a choice. They take you down, wait until you are done, take you up….and then you pay. They are not trying to offer “a tour” but locals probably know a thing or two about that area.

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Nicole! While, yes, most rental car contracts don’t allow cars to go past the parking area, it is illegal for anyone – local or tourist – to drive in the Papakolea green sand beach area. The land is owned by the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, and, they, as the owners, do not allow access to the green sand beach by car. Why? Because it harms the natural landscape and the cultural landmarks in the area. Consequently, the only legal way to get to the beach is on foot.

      Usually, I’m all for asking locals for advice and going on locally-run tours. After all, you’re right, locals know more. (As a Hawaii local myself, I am confident saying that I know more about Hawaii than the average visitor to the islands.) But that does not mean that every single thing that every single local does is legal, good for the landscape, and good for the cultural landmarks. The green sand beach is one of the rare cases in which the locals do not offer a mindful, helpful, and knowledgeable service. And because they run an unauthorized business, this small group of locals can actually cause negative outcomes for their users, as there are NO regulations that they must follow. (Just skim through some of the other comments to get a glimpse of some of the terrifying occurrences.)

      I hope my explanation gives you a little bit more insight on this issue.

      -Sarah from Borders & Bucket Lists

  12. We did the hike there yesterday on our last day on the big island and fortunately read your post before going. We got there early and were actually able to drive down to the boat launch and park there away from the craziness and we were the first people to the beach that day. The only additional tip we wish we knew, and one we passed along to those we passed on the way back was to go all the way to the picnic table and go down to the beach from there which is far easier than climbing down the rocks at the first point we came to. The hike and the beach were amazing and by the time we got back the craziness has begun at the parking area and when people saw us come up from the boat ramp in our rental Kia they were confused about how far they could get in their rental cars. Anyhow, avoid the scam and preserve the fragile environment by enjoying the easy and beautiful hike to a real treasure!

    1. Thank you for sharing that tip, Jim! It can definitely be difficult to tell how far you are a allowed to drive with all the craziness happening at the green sand beach, so your information is extremely helpful.

  13. Green sands beach is owned by HHL (HAWAIIAN HOME LANDS) so there for it is not illegal, the locals who are running the shuttles are not in the wrong… it’s about 3 miles in and 3miles out- 6 miles round trip, that is the reason why there are SHUTTLES, I think it’s a shame to be judging and treating Hawaiian people with disrespect, considering that it is private property, therefore it’s illegal for rentals to enter in, that is why they tell you to park and hike or they do provide shuttles, I go to Hawaii every year to visit that beach and I take the shuttle and for me it’s an amazing fun experience! The locals are such wonderful people and they aren’t “SCAMMERS” the way I see it is Hawai’i is an expensive place to live, so people have to do what they have to do, so us as outsiders visiting should never judge others by the cover, or judge by there jobs they are trying to make money for their ohanas.

    1. Hello Katherine,

      Thank you for your comment. This post is not meant to disrespect; it is meant to clarify and inform. As someone who has spent my entire life in the Hawaiian Islands, I 100% agree that Hawaii locals are wonderful, kind people!

      However, I think that the handful of humans running the shuttles to the Papakolea Green Sand Beach are in the wrong. The shuttles are not part of a registered business, and, consequently, by charging people for these rides (and endangering them and the fragile environment), they are doing much more harm than good. Furthermore, Papakolea Green Sand Beach and every other beach in Hawaii is public, so it is not owned by HHL and it is not their property. And even though Hawaii is unfortunately a very expensive place to live, I still do not believe that that gives anyone the right to misinform people (according to my friends on the island, the hike is only four miles round trip), harm the fragile natural landscape, and destroy cultural gems.

      I hope my explanation gives you a little bit more insight on this issue.

      -Sarah from Borders & Bucket Lists

  14. I thought the scam was going to be publishing a picture (like yours) with the saturation turned up so high that the sand looks like spring green grass. The sand definitely doesn’t look like that in person. The olivine in the sand is strking but the water with all the sparkling mica particles in it was definitely the highlight of the trip for me. The part that most people should know about before hiking the trails to it (which I did) is that you can’t just walk out onto the beach. There’s a steep climb down the rocks to get to the beach that rarely is mentioned. There were several older people (older than me and I was 55 at the time) who also hiked the distance to see it but were unable to make it down to the beach. They were very disappointed. It is a beautiful sight though and I’m glad I took the time to drive to South Point and hike the dusty red trails to see it. It was one of the highlights of my trip.

    1. Hi Lynn!

      That is true! The color is not as green as the picture I included. Thank you for pointing that out. I will go in and try to un-saturate the photo I used to make it more accurate.

      Thank you for the tips that you provided as well!

      -Sarah from Borders & Bucket Lists

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