Snorkeling on the Big Island (Kona and Kohala Coast)



Getting Wet on the Kona/Kohala 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.

  1. 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.

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

Snorkeler’s Checklist

beach bag
lightweight day-pack
polarized sunglasses 
sand mat 
beach towel 
book, Kindle or iPad
underwater camera
compact binoculars
snorkeling gear 
zip-top plastic bags 
plenty of drinking water

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.

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.

If 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.,k:beach%20towel%20oversized&tag=bigislvac02-20&linkCode=ur2&camp=1789&creative=390957,-156.005173&spn=0.061345,0.075874&z=14&msid=218019196200733449204.00049ba6e62600a621ec9,-155.939255&spn=0.150047,0.173035&z=13shapeimage_2_link_0shapeimage_2_link_1shapeimage_2_link_2shapeimage_2_link_3shapeimage_2_link_4shapeimage_2_link_5shapeimage_2_link_6shapeimage_2_link_7shapeimage_2_link_8shapeimage_2_link_9shapeimage_2_link_10shapeimage_2_link_11shapeimage_2_link_12shapeimage_2_link_13shapeimage_2_link_14shapeimage_2_link_15shapeimage_2_link_16

There are two ways to enjoy snorkeling on the Big Island: on your own, or with a full-service tour company. The map shows the best places on the west side of the island for ‘do it yourself’ snorkeling. Click here for snorkeling opportunities on the east side of the island.

Honaunau (Place of Refuge) Bay has outstanding snorkeling, although it takes a while to drive here.  Pay the $5 and park in the National Park parking lot. There are two benefits to parking there - your car is relatively safe from vandalism, and you can use the park’s clean rest rooms and drinking fountains when you are done. The snorkeling site is in the bay slightly to the north of the park. Water entry is either from the narrow beach or from a lava shelf (locals call it ‘Two Step’). A shallow reef parallels the shoreline. Watch for boaters in the area, and be careful where you place your hands on the reef; black spiny sea urchins like to hide there.

Kahalu`u Beach Park is a snorkeler’s paradise on the Kona Coast. The beach has all the amenities you will need including equipment rentals. A shallow reef parallels the shore near the south end of the bay. Because fresh water wells up in the bay the water can look blurry.

King Kamehameha Hotel Beach is a family friendly beach with all amenities including equipment rental. Facing the ocean, swim to the right side of the bay and parallel the shore around the breakwater. Stay away from the seawall (rough surf can pound you onto the rocks). Use caution; this is an active boating area.

Anaeho`omalu Bay is located at the Waikoloa Beach Hotel. The best snorkeling is straight ahead and to the left at the end of the path from the public access parking lot. Fresh water wells up in this area and the water can look blurry. An equipment rental kiosk is located at the hotel end of the beach.

The Beach Club at Mauna Lani is a relatively undiscovered snorkeling site that has probably the best and easiest snorkeling on the island. Resort amenities and lounges are for hotel guests and condo owners. Bring your own shade.

Pau`oa Beach at the Fairmont Orchid Hotel is a family friendly beach and offers a chance to comfortably snorkel with reef fish and turtles in a sheltered setting. There is a fee for hotel parking. Park at the south end of the lot near a walkway that leads to the beach (map). Bring your own shade.

Waialea Beach (Beach ’69’) is best explored in the early morning, before the afternoon winds kick up. Although the beach is family friendly, keep an eye on your kids while they are in the water.

Hapuna Beach is probably the most popular beach on the island. Arrive early for the best snorkeling experience (the north end of the bay has the best reefs). The water can become rough and murky as the afternoon winds kick up.

Kauna’oa (Mauna Kea) Beach public access parking is restricted to 35 cars and a permit is required (get one at the guardhouse at the entrance to the resort). Plan to arrive before 9 a.m. The best snorkeling is on the north side of the bay. Bring your own shade.

Spencer Beach Park is family-friendly and a favorite with locals and campers. The best snorkeling is at the north end of the beach. From November to April listen underwater for the songs of humpback whales.

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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