Tunnels Beach Snorkeling
The MOST popular snorkel dive spot in Kauai.
Monday 10 December 2018 06:20 GMT
West of Hanalei at Haena Beach Park on Kauai, the snorkeling at Tunnels Beach is an excellent place to explore during low tide. But you've got to work for it since the best snorkeling is well offshore. It is surprising how many snorkelers come to the Makua Beach (aka Tunnels) snorkeling dive site and only venture 25 feet offshore into the very murky waters with only smothered coral formations. The best Tunnels snorkeling is the outer reef about 500 feet offshore across the channel known for its massive 25 foot diameter lobe, mushroom and cauliflower coral formations. While snorkeling Tunnels, you may encounter plentiful green sea turtles, monk seals, yellowstripe cloris, humuhumunukunukuapua’a (Hawaiian state fish aka rectangular triggerfish), white tipped reef sharks, goatfish, porcupine pufferfish, moral eels, parrotfish, tangs and rainbow cleaner wrasse.
While beginner snorkelers at Tunnels will greatly enjoy the reefs close to the far eastern shoreline where there are some reef fish in the murky waters, advanced snorkelers who are strong swimmers will enjoy heading out to the horseshoe-shapped outer reef about 0.25 miles offshore that is clearly visible at low tide. If you are going to snorkel out to the reef, continue walking east on the beach to the eastern point before entering the water where the outer reef makes a close approach to shore. Start snorkeling out about an hour before low tide and snorkeling to the northwest, west and then south before crossing the channel east back to shore. There are now a couple marker buoys indicating a protected fish reserve near the outer reef.
From September through May, the surf off Tunnels Beach is affected by seasonal northwest swells that kickup the large waves and generate strong currents so make sure to exercise caution. Note, during the summer months, the surf tends to be lower promoting easier access, however, the higher water temperatures produce growth that reduces visibility further.
To reach the snorkeling in Kauai by air, fly into the Lihue airport (LIH). There are direct flights from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Seattle and Honolulu. While most visitors to the island rent a car, it is possible to use the public bus but keep in mind that its small and slow. Plus, most of the main snorkeling beaches are well off the bus route requiring some hiking. If you do rent a car, make sure to leave the inside empty when at the beach to avoid attracting break-ins.
To reach the snorkeling at Tunnels Makua Beach, head west on Kuhio Highway (SR56) through Kapa'a towards Hanalei. At Princeville, continue west on SR560 through Hanalei for another 5 miles to Haena Beach Park. There is a large parking area at Haena Beach Park. Note, the best snorkeling access is off the road just prior to Haena Beach Park, but there is very limited roadside parking which is filled by 9am. From the main Haena Beach Park parking area, walk to the right heading east along the beach for about 2,000 feet to where the reefs come up to the beach. Since parking is limited, consider taking the newer North Shore Shuttle van from Hanalei which runs regularly. When planning a trip to the Hawaiian islands, be aware that the State Of Hawaii has banned all sunscreens that oxybenzone, which has been proven to kill coral reefs.
In the Spring of 2018, there were heavy rains that damage the primary access road, Kuhio Highway, from Hanalei west to Ke'e Beach. As of December 2018, the road is still closed to tourists, and locals can only proceed through at scheduled caravan times. The projected reopening is the second half of 2019, or later. The Hanalei Colony Resort has been used as rescue housing and a temporary school, while their laundry/pool building is also rebuilt.
Before snorkeling at Tunnels Beach, make sure to check the current surf report. The waters off Kauai are known for potentially strong currents, high surf and rogue waves. Luckily, there are excellent up-to-date surf reports that can provide guidance on these adverse conditions. WIth the usually rolling surf, it is strongly discouraged to use open-tube snorkels which are common at snorkel rental locations -- only use snorkels with a dry-top splash-guard and a sump purge-valve in the mouth piece. In addition to changing surf conditions, a Tunnels Beach snorkeling dive may expose you to sharp coral reefs and you may encounter sharks, such as whitetip reef sharks, galapagos sharks and tiger sharks. Most snorkeling shark attacks in Hawaiian waters tend to occur near spear-fishing snorkelers, so be aware of the activities of others in the water.
Overall, Tunnels Beach is the 1st most popular snorkel dive spot of all 23 snorkeling dives in Kauai.