Hawaii is a tropical paradise, famous for its outdoor adventures, natural beauty and family-friendly resorts. With more coastline than any other Hawaiian Island, the island of Hawaii (the Big Island) is a playground for water enthusiasts. The warm, clear waters of the North Pacific Ocean around Hawaii are teeming with marine life and snorkelling is a great way to get to know this vibrant underwater world. One of the best things about snorkelling in these parts is that you don’t have to venture far from the shore to spot sea turtles, colourful fish and pretty coral reefs. The best time to go snorkelling in Hawaii is May through September and in the morning before the tradewinds pick up. With so many top spots to choose from, we’ve cherry-picked some of the best places for snorkelling in Hawaii.
7 of the Best Places for Snorkelling in Hawaii
1. Kealakekua Bay, South of Kona
Located 17 miles south of Kona, Kealakekua Bay is a popular snorkelling spot and underwater marine sanctuary. The best area for seeing lots of sea life is the north side of the bay. The waters here are home to dolphins, turtles and plenty of other marine life too. Located on the west shore, the visibility here is great so it’s easy to see everything in this underwater oasis. If you like your water pursuits with a side order of history, this is the place for you. This is where British explorer James Cook landed in 1779 and now you’ll find the Captain Cook Monument commemorating the occasion.
2. Kahalu’u Beach Park, Kailua-Kona
Located close to Kona, Kahalu’u Beach Park is probably the most famous snorkelling spot on the Big Island, and the oldest too. King Kamehameha, who reigned Hawaii from 1782 to 1819, built a seawall in this spot so that his family could snorkel these waters teeming with over 100 different types of tropical fish. You’ll also get to see lots of graceful Honu (sea turtles) too. This beach is easily accessible, shallow and sheltered making it great for people of all ages and abilities.
3. Honaunau Bay (Two Step), The City of Refuge
Located 22 miles south of Kona, Honaunau Bay was named by the Travel Channel as one of ‘America’s Best Beaches 2004’. The best snorkelling site at the bay is called Pae’a, also known as Two Step. You enter the site via two steps in the lava rock. Conditions here are terrific. Visibility is usually always great and the water is calm, making it a great spot for beginners. Pae’a is at the end of a finger of lava. On the right side of the bay, the water starts off shallow but deepens to around 30 feet and then quickly to over 100 feet. However, it is this deep part of the bay where you’ll see spinner dolphins. The left-hand side of the bay is shallower (10 – 25 feet) and where the turtles like to hang out.
4. Makaiwa Bay, Mauna Lani Beach
Some 30 miles from Kona, Makaiwa Bay is a beautiful sheltered, sandy cove located south of Mauna Lani Bay. This spot is good for both beginner and advanced snorkelers. There is an easy entry into the water to the shallow reef which is teeming with tropical fish, coral heads, octopuses and eels. Swim out a little further and the visibility improves and you’ll see more coral and bigger schools of fish.
5. La‘aloa Beach (aka Magic Sands), Kona
This small beach in Kona is a great place to snorkel, but you need to make sure you head out during low surf when the waves are calm. Snorkelling is good along the rocks on either end of the beach. Just a few hundred yards from the shoreline, you find some lovely corral, interesting topography and large fish.
6. Richardson’s Ocean Park, Hilo
Locals refer to this black sand beach as Richardson’s. You’ll find it close to the town of Hilo. It is the best sport to snorkel on the east side of the island. It is a good place for beginners and young children as the beach is sheltered from the surf and the water is calm and almost current-free. There are also tide pools to explore and a nice picnic area too. Richardson’s Ocean Park contains a marine conservation area so expect to see lots of tropical fish and sea turtles too.
7. Manta Village and Manta Heaven
If you want to swim with manta rays at night and admire these majestic giants, then head out to Manta Village or Manta Heaven. You can get here by booking one of the many Manta Ray Night Snorkelling tours, just make sure you book with a reputable operator. Manta Village is about six miles south of Kailua-Kona at Keauhou Bay. Manta Heaven is located just offshore, near Kona International Airport. The boats depart the Kona harbours at around sunset. When you snorkel with the rays, you must keep your distance and stay on the water’s surface, so as to observe them from above. You are not allowed to touch the rays. The species that frequents the Hawaiian waters is the reef manta ray (Mobula alfredi) and these are the second largest species of manta rays. These 3,000-pound rays can have a wingspan of 4.5 – 5.4 metres (15 – 18 feet).