SOUTH POINT, Hawaii Island – The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands is moving forward with an  11,000-acre management plan to replace rutted dirt roads crisscrossing the 2.5-mile distance to popular Green Sands beach with a pedestrian path and emergency access road.

That means visitors will have to walk instead of drive to a rare green sand beach at the southernmost point in the United States. Some frequent visitors, including fishermen, aren’t happy about that.

“It’s the only place in the state of Hawaii where you can camp and just be free,” said Claudine Kuahiwinui, a Native Hawaiian who said her grandfather was raised in a home that once stood on the hill overlooking the South Point boat ramp.

Some people predicted any barrier to traffic will be ripped out.

Driving along the South Point coastline will be prohibited under a plan the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands plans to begin implementing in the next 12 months. Jason Armstrong/Civil Beat

But it has to be done to protect cultural sites, according to an 836-page final environmental assessment the DHHL recently filed with the state Office of Environmental Quality Control.

Other planned changes starting sometime in the next 12 months include adding “sanitary amenities” and charging for parking.

There are more than 275,000 visits a year to South Point, officially named Ka Lae, which is located closer to the equator than any other U.S. land. One of the main attractions is Green Sands beach, which is made from olivine sand. It’s one of just four green sand beaches in the world, according to Wikipedia.

Vehicle users trample fragile grasslands here, exposing very fine dirt that strong and persistent winds blow away. Although infrequent, rain turns the exposed ash soil into mud slippery enough to trap even the tallest trucks. Difficult and rutted-out sections are bypassed, further scarring the landscape.

“The lack of on-site management and enforcement by the DHHL has allowed unrestricted vehicular access to continue resulting in miles of deep, wide, and extremely severe erosion scars, ranging from several feet to over eight feet in depth,” the report says.

Green Sands beach is very popular despite its remote location, lack of facilities and difficult access Jason Armstrong/Civil Beat

Completion of the environmental process, which found the project will have “no significant impact,” and funding availability allows the DHHL to start work.

“The main near-term priority for DHHL is to regain site control by managing vehicular access, and DHHL will use the budgeted $300,000 for this purpose in the upcoming fiscal year (which started July 1),” Paula Aila, DHHL information and community relations officer, wrote in an email.

“This would prevent people from driving their vehicle to Green Sands beach as there is no road that leads to that natural resource,” she said. “In order to protect the cultural and natural resources of South Point, people will need to access Green Sands beach via foot. We hope that people wanting to access South Point and Green Sands beach appreciate the natural and cultural resources of the area and are respectful of the decision to restrict vehicles from going off-road.”

Implementation will cost $2 million to $3 million, most of which would be spent designing and building a service road and walking trails, Aila wrote.

Security and enforcement personnel will be approximately $400,000 to $500,000 a year for the “short-term,” while adding permanent positions later “should help to decrease the cost of managing vehicular access in that area,” she said, noting parking fees would help pay expenses.

Kau natives Hazel Kuahiwinui, left, and Claudine Kuahiwinui said their ancestral home is a playground where people can camp without a permit and be “free.” Jason Armstrong/Civil Beat

“Many Kau community members are frustrated that there has been no progress for the management of South Point resources,” the report says. “Communities of Kau pleaded in public meetings and talk story consultations to ‘let the land heal’ so that the remaining unique ecosystems of Ka Lae can be shared with future generations. There is general skepticism within the Kau community about the DHHL’s ability to manage these Trust lands effectively.”

But a cultural impact assessment attached to the report cited input from just 15 people, including five kupuna, who granted “formal interviews.”

“Moʻolelo (history) shared by kūpuna (elders) depict South Point as a place of remarkable beauty and great cultural significance with iwi kupuna (human skeletal remains) and sacred sites,” the EA states. “However, over the years South Point has been desecrated and exploited by off-road vehicle enthusiasts, extractive actions by visitors and sports fishermen.”

The only input offered during the ensuring 30-day public comment period came from government representatives.

But people were eager to talk Civil Beat during a recent weekend visit. Many said the lack of regulation is what makes South Point special.

“There’s only a little bit of freedom here where you can do what you want without having to pay,” Devin DeVille, a California resident, said on his inaugural visit.

A shuttle service the Kuahiwinuis have run for the last 15 years transports at least 200 daily the five mile roundtrip from South Point to Green Sands beach. Jason Armstrong/Civil Beat

For 15 years, Claudine Kuahiwinui and her family have run a shuttle business that now takes “at least 200 (people) a day, easy” 5 miles roundtrip to Green Sands beach.

“A lot of people are not going to end up hiking this trail because the heat is terrible,” she said as customers purchased cold drinks from the family’s stand.

Her sister, Hazel Kuahiwinui, likened the DHHL’s plans to install a gate to the imprisonment of Queen Liliuokalani, Hawaii’s last monarch.

“You’re locking the people behind a gate – again,” she said.

Both sisters suggested around-the-clock staffing will be essential to protect a gate from being destroyed.

“It was the next day it went down,” Claudine Kuahiwinui said of cement barricades DHHL had installed previously. A fisherman from Hilo teamed with Kau residents to remove them, she said.

Fisherman Dakota Kala also said any gates DHHL puts up will be removed.

“This is one of the main food sources for the people of Kau,” Kala said as he made another cast from the rocky cliff, hoping to catch an ula.

Kau residents “historically were and continue to be proud, rugged people, fiercely protective of their sacred places and people,” the report says.

Having a consistent DHHL presence is key to enforcement, Aila wrote in an email.

Dakota Kala, left, and Tim Miraflor said they oppose having to pay to access the area known for its fishing. Jason Armstrong/Civil Beat

Recently enacted enhanced penalties for crimes committed within the Big Island’s lava-inundation zone have failed to prevent trespassing, looting and two altercations that allegedly involved firearms.

Ocean View resident Tim Miraflor said he grew up in Kau and has been fishing at South Point since 1975.

“That’s bullshit,” Miraflor said of the DHHL’s plan to install a security gate and charge for parking.

“Why do we got to suffer?” he said. “Leave it the way it is. Ain’t bothering nobody.”

However, Miraflor said he’s fine with protecting cultural sites and charging tourists to see them.

Bryce Hackney of Kona said he enjoys hiking to Green Sands beach, but realizes the journey would be too much for some people. He supports charging for parking “as long as that pay goes to clean it up and add more facilities.”

Too many people visit the area to make composting toilets feasible, while no preferred treatment alternative has been determined, according to the report. The study did find “significant water supply will be necessary to support toilet facilities alone to service approximately 779 people per day or 5,000 people or more per week at South Point,” which lacks municipal water.

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