Snorkeling on the Big Island (Hamakua Coast)



Let’s Get Wet on the Windward Coast (map)

Snorkeling Tips

Here are some things to consider if you would like to get close to marine life while you are snorkeling:

  1. 1.Use two swimming speeds while snorkeling- slow and stop. Approach schooling fish slowly with as few hand and arm movements as possible. Try keeping your arms folded against your chest and use gentle fin stokes to keep in position.. Then hover in one spot for awhile to allow the critters to get used to your presence.

  2. 2.Marine critters are sensitive to sound. Rather than splashing on the surface and blowing like a rhinoceros, keep your fins underwater and breathe slowly and quietly through your snorkel.

  3. 3.Try snorkeling with a purpose (not porpoise, since they are protected). Buy a reef fish identification card and search for just one or two critters. Take time to observe their behaviors.

Snorkeler’s Checklist

  1. Bulletbeach bag

  2. lightweight day-pack

  3. sunscreen

  4. hat

  5. Bulletpolarized sunglasses

  6. Bulletsand mat

  7. Bulletbeach towel

  8. Bulletumbrella

  9. Bulletchair

  10. Bulletsnacks

  11. Bulletbook, Kindle or iPad

  12. Bulletunderwater camera

  13. Bulletcompact binoculars

  14. Bulletsnorkeling gear

  15. Bulletzip-top plastic bags

  16. Bulletplenty of drinking water


  1. If you have little ones or if you are not sure about the idea of snorkeling consider bringing an inflatable snorkel raft or buying a buying a boggie board at Costco, Walmart, Target, or an ABC Store (map) that has a viewing hole in the board. Or click here to buy one online.

  1. Leave purses and wallets in your room or condo. Take with you to the beach only your driver’s license, a credit card (if you’ll need to pay for parking or want to rent recreational items at the beach, or stop for lunch before going home), and a small amount of cash for soft drinks or shave ice. Consider storing your money and cards in a Dry-Pak.

f you must bring your cell phone, iPad, or Kindle to the beach, consider buying a Dry-Bag to keep sand and water out of the electronics.

Snorkeling opportunities on the East side of the Big Island are not as numerous as those on the leeward side of the island. Beaches on the Hilo side tend more towards crushed lava than soft, white sand. And because it is the windward side of the island, the waters in this area can be a bit rougher than those on the leeward side.

Three beach parks on the south and east sides of the island meet our criteria: easy access, family-friendliness, and ample amenities. Click on this map link to see their locations.

Leleiwi Beach Park Is situated a few miles south of Hilo, which is the population center of the Big Island.The rocky shoreline, which is fringed by tall palms, encloses spring fed fresh water pools. Water entry and exit can be tricky.

Richardson Beach Park is a small but gorgeous black sand beach. The park boasts an abundance of reef fish and green sea turtles. A breakwater guarantees that on most days the water in the protected cove are calm, making it a safe place for children to swim and play. If you tire of snorkeling, take a break by exploring the numerous nearby tidepools.

Both Leleiwi Beach Park and adjacent Richardson Beach Park Parks offer all the amenities you would expect - restrooms, showers, picnic facilities, grass, pavilions and ample shade. A lifeguard supervises the area during peak use conditions.

Punalu’u Beach Park is located near the Sea Mountain Resort and is the largest black sand beach on the island. Its soft and inviting sands are ringed by coconut palms, and snorkeling is in a protected cove. Another reason we mention this beach is that it marks the halfway point of the drive between Kailua-Kona and Hilo, so it is a good place to take a break from the traffic. Also, it is a major nesting and resting area for hawksbill and Hawaiian green sea turtles. Please respect the law and stay at least 20 feet away from the reptiles.

Because of upwelling from fresh water springs the water temperature in this area can be a bit brisk. The name, Punalu’u means ‘diving springs’ and legend has it that during periods of drought Hawaiian villagers in this area would dive down to underwater springs to capture fresh water in gourds.

Strong winds at the south end of the island can often stir up the surf, so caution is warranted. There is ample free parking, and the park offers amenities similar to the parks listed above.

Hawaii’s state fish (above) is the Humu humu nuku nuku apua’a, which means "triggerfish with a snout like a pig" (it’s really all one word, but I broke it into syllables so you could practice pronouncing it). It is the colorful but rarely seen reef triggerfish. Consider yourself lucky if you spot one.

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