This blog post actually consists of three separate day trips, all devoted to snorkeling around the island. The snorkeling at each of these locations was great, but my favorite trip was to Kealakekua. So in this blog post, we’re saving the best for last. Below is a map showing each snorkeling site we visited (Kapoho is south of Hilo and Honaunau and Kealakekua are south of Kona).
Each day was devoted entirely to snorkeling. Gear can be rented for $10 or less in many locations. Although some of my friends don’t like to bother with flippers, I find they help you float easier. To prevent your mask from fogging, try spitting on the plastic or rubbing toothpaste onto the inside, then rinsing it off. If you have to climb over rocks to reach your destination, reef walkers are great albeit more expensive than water shoes. They have good traction inside and outside the water. Now, onto snorkeling!
By the way, this checked off #13: Soak in a Natural Hot Tub, #40: Go Snorkeling, and #56: Wade in a Tide Pool (Kapoho)
Kapoho Tide Pools
Kapoho Tide Pools is also commonly known as Waiopae Tide Pools Marine Preserve. It is located south of Hilo, and you have to drive through a neighborhood to reach the oceanfront. The most exciting part about these pools is that there are volcanically heated! There were definitely pockets of heated water when we were there.
When you arrive, the tide pools stretch along the coast, and you only have to pick somewhere to set up before you start exploring. We spent most of our time in one of the tide pools, but eventually ventured further out toward the ocean. There is no sand here, just lava rock. The tide pools are also very shallow and you have to climb over rocks to enter, so this beach is the perfect place to use those reef walkers.
Because the pools are so shallow and it is easy to scrape the lava rocks, I’ve seen this called “intermediate” snorkeling. None of us had snorkeled more than once or twice and we managed okay by just being cautious.
We found a wide variety of fish during our few hours there, some of which are shown below:
Kapoho was a great start, and the next day we continued onto Honaunau.
Honaunau Bay is also known as Two-Step, for the convenient rock ledge that forms two steps. At this point, you can jump into fairly deep water without worry about scraping any other rocks or coral. Elsewhere around the beach it is difficult to enter and exit the water. This bay is just south of Kealekekua and right next to Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park (also known as Place of Refuge). The waters were crystal clear when we visited. Of the three snorkeling trips, this bay was probably the least protected from ocean waves, so the snorkeling was mildly rough at times. There was plenty of clear, deep water here, making this trip my second favorite. People park right outside of Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park and walk about a block to reach the beach. This is very easy drive-up snorkeling.
Of the three sites we visited, Two-Step had the best snorkeling for the least amount of effort, in my opinion.
As mentioned previously, Kealakekua Bay was my favorite of the three sites. This trip can be easy, if you’re willing to pay $100 for a cruise ship to take you to the bay, or go on a kayak tour. At one point, you could rent kayaks and make the mile journey on your own. Before I arrived in Hawaii, there was a restriction placed on kayaking to Kealakekua though, because of the erosion occurring from kayak landings. To take a kayak there now, you must have a daily permit or be with a tour company that has permits. Even the first few months I was here, some companies were renting kayaks out illegally, but the state seems to have finally cracked down on this.
Since we’re on an intern salary, we decided to take the perfectly legal two-mile hike down to Captain Cook monument. A fair warning: the hike is dastardly dull. There aren’t any spectacular or even nice views the entire way. You are surrounded by grasses and trees tall enough to block your view, but short enough to let the sun beat down on you. The hike is a 10% grade, so while less steep than Waipio, it is also a longer journey back up. We got lucky and went on a cloudy day. When you finally reach the end and see the shoreline, you must take the path to the left. It’s about a hundred feet along the side path before you finally reach the monument. Hiking was a bonus because the boats normally don’t dock very close to the monument and as a result, we got a more secluded experience. Getting in and out of the water is a bit more tricky here than it was at Two-Step, but thankfully someone had a portable ladder they were attaching to the docking area.
Despite the grueling hike, this trip was my favorite. The coral here was incredible, and we even got to see a pod of dolphins!
After several hours of snorkeling, we started the long hike back, which is about two miles at a 10% grade. Sadly for us, the sun had decided to come out from beneath the clouds. Not only was it a long hike, but it was hot too.
After leaving Kealakekua, we saw the beginnings of a beautiful sunset and decided to pull off the road for it.
Of the three snorkeling locations we tried, Kealakekua had the best snorkeling in my opinion; it was also the most difficult to get to. Of the choice between paying ~$100 or hiking two miles, we chose the latter. Honaunau (Two-Step) was very easy to get to and also offered great snorkeling. This bay is just south of Kealakekua, and I’ve heard the dolphins frequent this site too. If you don’t have the time or money to make it to Kealakekua, I found Honaunau to be a great second choice. In fact, based on the weather, I could imagine Honaunau being just as nice as Kealakekua depending on the day. Kapoho Tide Pools were also great, although I didn’t enjoy the shallow waters there nearly as much. If you’re an avid snorkeler though, this site is definitely worth visiting. The possibility of swimming in volcanically heated waters is another great reason to visit Kapoho.
Next Up: Honokane Nui Trail