Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Green Sand Beach

[You can click on the images to see larger versions.]

Several times as we toured about the island we kept hearing about the "Green Sand Beach" - "only two in the world and one of them is on Hawaii". One person even showed us a little container of green sand (it is now illegal to take the sand, so I will trust that his sample was taken before it was illegal).

Only two in the world? That was enough to seriously whet my curiosity. There were some obstacles to getting there. A one-hour or longer hike across hilly terrain to get there, hot sun, black lava rock, and the threat of pirates! Ok, not really pirates but car thieves - close enough for this story. With such a challenge set before us, we had to tackle it. We set out early in the morning. It would be about a 90 minute drive and the directions were not very precise and at least one of the guide books we consulted had them wrong. "Keep to the left at the first fork in the road" - I think that should have said the third fork and I don't even know if what we were still driving on would be classed as a road at that point.

We found a place to 'park' and it didn't look like there would be much risk of thievery. The trail was varied; it was very rough in spots, heavily rutted by off-road vehicles in many places, and very easy walking in others. I do suggest the following to future travelers. Wear hiking foot wear, take water, and if you rented a vehicle, seriously consider parking it before taking it any further than the boat ramp. You might look at these next two pictures and think it doesn't look so bad, but I didn't take pictures of the worst spots. There were pot holes that would swallow an ATV whole. Sharp lava rock stuck out of the road, some of them brightly adorned with aluminum and deeply grooved by the bottoms of jeeps. I was surprised that I didn't see any oil spills, but lava rock is very absorbent. I didn't keep serious count, but would guess we passed at least a dozen vehicle pieces and a few soles of shoes abandoned in the grass.

1/1000 f/3.3 ISO 80 @ 4.9 mm DMC-TS1

The wind blew and the sun shone brightly, drying out our skin as we walked. Did I mention "take water"? A hat and sunscreen would be a good idea as well.

1/200 f/10 ISO 80 @ 4.9 mm DMC-TS1

So what makes the sand green? The beach gets distinctive coloring from olivine crystals found in a nearby cinder cone. The image below is the cinder cone; half-eroded with a slight tinge of green. We had no doubt that we would find green sand when we got there because the path along the way showed increasing tinges of green as we walked along.

1/1250 f/4 ISO 400 EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM @ 70 mm Canon EOS 40D

Standing on the upper rim, the view was quite beautiful. I tried to stitch together this panorama using Photoshop CS4, but it couldn't seem to handle it. So I reverted to a program from Microsoft research, "Image Composite Editor". Three things I liked about this program: easy, free, and it works. It is not particularly fast. [Note to Microsoft - try multi-threading. My Quad core processor looked like a Hawaiian road crew - one guy working and three watching. Ah - no different than back home.]

I use a little trick to help me find my panoramic images later. When I decided to take a series for a panorama I take a picture as a marker with my hand in the frame point the way that the images will be taken. After the last of the sequence I take another with my finger pointing in the opposite direction. Some people only do one, but I find that the two is helpful.

A five image composite

There were two ways down to the beach, that we found. One path began at the sign you will come across if you approach from the south (about the intersection of the top-third and right-third in the above picture). The second way began with a small set of stairs about half way around the rim. Both were a significant climb down.

Up close, the Olivine crystals are a lovely shade of green. They are mixed in with black, grey and white crystals which it why the beach is somewhat muted in colour.

1/800 f/3.3 ISO 80 @ 4.9 mm DMC-TS1

1/1250 f/4 ISO 640 EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM @ 24 mm Canon EOS 40D

The currents were very strong, so if you want to go in for a dip, study the waters first and be careful. There was one other thing a local told me. The sand is very sharp and can irritate the skin. The story is told of one bikini clad girl who thought it would make a cool picture to go for a dip and then roll in the sand to be completely green. A creative idea and I'd like to see how it turned out, but apparently she suffered from small scrapes for many days - especially in little nooks and crannies where the sand got a chance to rub around.

1/250 f/10 ISO 400 EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM @ 24 mm Canon EOS 40D

The beach was a beautiful place and we enjoyed our time there. We took a lunch and spent some time just enjoying the peace and quiet. There were only a couple of people there while we were there, but we met many more as we hiked out about noon, when the sun was hotter. I am very glad we started early and also happy for the adventure.

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