None of the Hawaiian Islands have the sheer number of fantastic snorkeling spots that we have here, on the Big Island. The Big Island has a massive coastline that is so long that it would take weeks to walk it all. This means more snorkeling than you could do in many years’ time.
Summer and early fall are the best time for snorkeling because the waters are calm and clear, sunshine is abundant, and you need sunlight to see all the amazing underwater colors! Read on to find out more about what makes each snorkeling spot one of the best snorkeling on Big Island and how to get there.
Kealakekua Bay – Captain Cook Monument
Kealakekua Bay is a piece of paradise on land and underwater. The bay hosts one of the most abundant coral reefs on the island and is located on the lush and tropical Kona coast. The center of the bay is deep, and you can often find a pod of spinner dolphins that use the bay as resting grounds.
The bay is one of the best places in the state for snorkeling. Fish are plentiful, colorful and swarm over a well-developed reef that slopes steeply from the shore into the nearby deep water, making it easy to see different kinds of the reef in a relatively short time.
The best snorkeling spot is on the opposite side of the bay from the parking area, where the Captain Cook monument is located. Unfortunately, there is no parking near the best snorkeling waters, so you have to hike to get to the shore.
There are three ways to get close to this best snorkeling area:
1. By hiking down to the monument, or
2. by paddling out with a kayak, or
3. by joining a boat tour.
Two Step Beach at Honaunau Bay
Honaunau Bay (or Two Step Beach / Pae’a) is among the best places in Hawaii to enjoy world-class snorkeling among impressive coral reefs and lava rock pathways. Although not always present, there is a good possibility of seeing dolphins in the deeper waters of Honaunau Bay.
The bay is also home to the Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, aka City of Refuge, an important historical site worth visiting.
Honaunau Bay typically becomes overcast in the afternoon resulting in lower marine life visibility, so we suggest morning as the best time to go ‘two-stepping.’ There isn’t a sandy beach area at Honaunau, just a smooth lava rock ledge where visitors can set up chairs and towels. This ledge meanders along the water line, making for a great spot to put on your snorkel gear and creating the famous Two Step entry point into the water.
You will see many schools of fish there, Hawaiian green turtles, interesting coral formations, and, hopefully, dolphins.
Paniau Beach in Puako
Up north, on the Gold Kohala Coast, is a lesser-known Paniau Beach, located in the small oceanfront community called Puako. Stretched along the Puako Bay, this charming neighborhood lies between Mauna Lani and Hapuna Beach resorts. To get there, turn into the Puako Beach Drive from the highway and follow it almost to the end (about 3.5 miles) until you see the beach entrance on the right. You will notice parking places under the trees and possibly divers and snorkelers getting ready to get into the water.
The marine life in Puako Bay is rich and abundant, and you will even see a large purple coral formation towards the bay’s south end and possibly, the local seahorse. The beach is enjoyable for experienced snorkelers and scuba divers. Paniau means “many currents,” so reef shoes with snorkeling fins are advised.
Mauna Kea Beach
This pretty beach (also known as Kaunaʻoa), with its soft white sand and numerous palm trees offering lots of shade, is a perfect Big Island snorkeling spot to enjoy with the family. The waves are big during the winter months, but when the waters are calm, there are lots of fish to see near the rocky sides.
Access to the beach is limited to the number of beach parking places available unless you are staying at the Mauna Kea Beach Resort. The best time is to come early, around 8 am. The water is also usually calmer then. Come to the gate and say that you are going to the beach. They will direct from there.
Lastly, our beloved Shipwreck Beach is also one of the best snorkeling beaches! Located in the Waikoloa Beach Resort, it is perfect for snorkeling with the family. The waters are pretty shallow, and the reef is right off the shore, so accessing it is a breeze. Since not many people go there, the sea life is numerous, and you can often see green turtles on the sand and in the water.
To get there, go to the Anaehoomalu (A-bay) Beach in Waikoloa Beach Resort. Once you get to the main beach, turn south, walk past the Lava Lava Beach Club restaurant, and continue walking along the shore for about 15 minutes until you see an old rusted engine sitting on the beach. That is the spot! The best time to go is in the morning – you almost always will have the whole beach to yourself.
What are your favorite snorkeling spots on the Big Island? Please let us know in the comments.
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We hope to see you soon – a hui hou!