Getting to Hawaii’s Papakolea Beach isn’t easy—travelers must endure a hot, rugged, nearly three-mile hike along sea cliffs to reach it. Yet people make the trek every day. Why? Papakolea’s sand isn’t golden or white—or even black. It’s a deep olive green.
Most of us would relish a day at any old beach. But there’s a certain thrill in sinking your toes into sand at a different kind of shore—one, like Papakolea, that looks so fantastical it could be straight out of a movie.
To say that Americans love beaches is an understatement. Approximately 85 percent of us visit a beach on vacation, according to Stephen P. Leatherman, Ph.D., a.k.a Dr. Beach, director of Florida International University’s Laboratory for Coastal Research. “There’s nothing like them,” says Leatherman. “You’ve got sand, water, and waves, plus cool, fresh air. Plus there’s the nostalgia factor: everyone loved sand as a kid.”
Quirky beaches just add another layer to the enjoyment. And the fact that only Mother Nature created these strange beaches is perhaps what’s most astounding. No human hands were involved—just the perfect geologic storms of air, water, temperature, and pressure.
Our 50th state is rife with such occurrences. “We have black, black and green, black and red, green, and gray sand beaches in Hawaii,” says Ken Hon, Ph.D., assistant professor of geology at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. “The colored beaches are almost all related to recent volcanic activity, except the white beaches, which are tied to coral reef erosion.”
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