The Edge of Paradise: Our Journey to South Point Hawai‘i

South Point is a wild and scenic area where the rustling wind, crashing waves, and expansive sky create a sensation of standing at the edge of the world.

south point big island hawaii aerial view

The wind rustles through the tall grass, the waves crash against the cliffs, and the sky stretches out past the horizon. It’s as if you’re standing at the end of the world.

Welcome to South Point.

This secluded spot, miles away from any resemblance of a town, exudes a sense of calm yet powerful energy that’s truly mesmerizing.

And, guess what? There’s something unique about this spot – it’s the southernmost point in the entire United States. 

So join us on our adventure as we snorkel in deep clear water, check out the leap from the thrilling South Point cliff, and explore the mesmerizing Papakolea Green Sand Beach!

Essential Tips for Visiting South Point

Aerial view of the cliff jump area near South Point

Before you head to South Point, some essential planning tips are in order.

  • Don’t forget to bring lots of water! South Point is hot and dry and you’ll find yourself drinking more water than normal.
  • Wear lightweight, breathable clothes – your best bet against the heat.
  • The sun at South Point is potent, so wear a hat and sunglasses when walking around the area. We also wear long-sleeved clothing since it helps protect against the sun.
  • It’s a rural area, so pack some snacks. We brought some bentos and water with us in our cooler, that way we wouldn’t need to worry about food or water all day.

Trust us – there’s not much civilization out there. The closest stores to South Point are 13 miles away in Na’alehu so you’ll want to bring water and snacks with you ahead of time.

Snorkeling at South Point

South Point offers snorkeling opportunities like no other.

From the moment you put on your mask and dip below the surface, it’s like entering another world.

Underwater view of South Point cliffside

The first thing you notice is the depth. The waters here can reach depths of over 30 feet near the cliffs, providing ample space for marine life to thrive.

This exhilarating blend of closeness and remoteness is what makes snorkeling at South Point a unique experience.

You’ll see fewer fish – but much larger ones than what you’re used to seeing when snorkeling other spots that are generally shallow.

The most captivating aspect of snorkeling at South Point is the sense of eerieness that envelops you as you float in the ocean.

There’s a strangely soothing sensation of feeling adrift in the open sea while being paradoxically near the shore.

It’s an intriguing juxtaposition – your body buoyed on the deep sea while land remains just within reach.

It’s important to note, however, that due to the depth and ocean currents, South Point is best suited for experienced snorkelers. Always check conditions before entering the water and ensure you have a buddy with you.

The South Point Cliff Jump

Man jumping off cliff at South Point Hawaii

Up for a thrill? 

The South Point cliff jump is a leap from a towering 40-foot cliff right into the Ocean.

It’s high enough to hurt yourself, so aim to enter the water feet-first, in a pencil-dive form. This reduces the chance of injury upon impact with the water.

We saw a few daredevils brave the jump into the ocean. 

However, it’s clear that the real challenge isn’t the plunge – it’s the gritty climb afterward.

Man swimming in water at South Point Cliff Jump

The ascent out of the water requires an exhausting climb up a busted old ladder, held precariously together by weathered ropes. The climb calls for considerable upper-body strength and tenacity. 

The Actual ‘South Point’

The actual ‘south point’ itself might seem a bit underwhelming compared to the grandeur of its surroundings. However, it’s only a short walk and worth the journey.

To get to the actual south point, walk about 5 minutes from the parking area near the cliff jump. You’ll pass by a lighthouse and a heiau, a Hawaiian sacred site, as you follow the rock wall toward the ocean.

Eventually, you’ll reach a rocky coral beach and you’ll see the actual south point peering out amongst the shoreline.

The actual south point on the big island of hawaii
Nestled amongst the shoreline is the true ‘south point’ of the Big Island of Hawaii

Papakolea Green Sand Beach

Green Sand Beach view

A stone’s throw from South Point lies a rare gem – Papakolea, one of only four green sand beaches in the world.

Papakolea Beach owes its unique coloration to the presence of olivine crystals, often referred to as peridot.

While not every grain of sand here is olivine, you can distinctly spot them in a handful of the unique sand.

While you might envision an enchanting emerald beach, in reality, we found that it exudes a subtle brownish-green color. Yet, you can’t miss the distinctive dark green undertone that makes it one of a kind.

The path to the green sand beach is an adventure in itself. It’s a 2.5-mile hike one way on a trail that cuts through hot, dry, windswept terrain. The hike is not overly strenuous, but remember to wear sturdy shoes, lots of sun protection, and bring tons of water.

The road to Papakolea green sand beach
The road to Papakolea green sand beach follows a dirt road through grassy fields.

If you end up hiking to Green Sand Beach, here’s a tip: Follow the high roads on the left (mauka) side. These paths are typically smoother, more gradual, and easier to navigate.

If you don’t want to hike, there are locals in 4×4 trucks that will bring you there for $20. They load everyone up in the back of their truck and shuttle tourists back and forth from the green sand beach.

The locals in trucks are pretty insistent on casting doubt on the skills of would-be hikers by telling them that the hike takes much longer than it actually is. However, in our experience, the hike takes about 50 minutes each way.

The History of South Point

Some sources say that the earliest evidence of human habitation at South Point was 124 AD.

However, the actual archaeology study that dated these remains concluded that the burnt log dated 124 AD was most likely a piece of burnt driftwood or the remains of a castaway’s fire – not evidence of consistent human habitation.

The study also concluded that the earliest permanent fishermen of South Point were there not earlier than 1000 AD, and abandoned the area sometime around 1350 AD.

The abandonment of the area is thought to have been due to a shift in the prevailing winds that exposed the area to wind-whipped sands.

Because of the strong winds and deep ocean currents at South Point, fishing from canoes was difficult. So the Hawaiians came up with a solution – they used rope to tie their canoes off to mooring holes on the rocky shoreline.

The Hawaiians allowed the strong winds to carry their canoes out to sea where they could fish, then used the ropes to bring them back to shore.

The Hawaiians also carved flat, rectangular “pans” into some of the rocks on the shoreline. They would fill up these pans with saltwater and allow the water to evaporate – leaving the salt behind. They used this salt to preserve their fish.

Fishing at South Point

The heritage of fishing at South Point is alive and well today – albeit with a modern twist.

Local anglers manage to reel in impressive catches right from the shore. These include larger species like ahi, ono, and mahi, typically associated with deep-sea fishing.

How do they do it? South Point’s powerful winds are their secret weapon. They cleverly attach trash bags to their fishing lines, harnessing the gusts to carry their bait far into the ocean depths, all without leaving the shoreline.

Trash bags used as sails to cast fishing lines at South Point Hawaii
Trey Lewis is an outdoor enthusiast. Whether its hiking knife-edge ridges or just fishing by the river, Trey isn't afraid to get dirty in search of the next adventure.

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