Northeast of Kona and north of Waikoloa Village on the Big Island, the snorkeling at Mauna Kea Beach in Kaunaoa Bay is well known for its scenic shallow and calm waters. When snorkeling at Kauna’oa Bay, you can expect to spot a variety of marine life, including butterfly fish, goat fish, jacks, surgeon fish, tangs, parrotfish and sea turtles.
The best Mauna Kea Beach snorkeling is to the far righthand side. Once in the water, snorkel along the rocky ledge where the coral grows supporting all the marine life. The water depth is about 10 feet. If you are here after dark, you may see some manta rays feeding in Kauna’oa Bay, which is sometimes lighted by the resort.
The Mauna Kea Beach is located off SR11 from mile marker 68. It is about a 45 minute drive from the Kona airport. There are 25 to 40 public access parking spots (depending upon who you ask) at the Marriot Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. These spaces fill up quickly, so make sure to arrive before 9am. The hotel has a guarded gate, so just tell them you are going to the beach and they will give you a pass if there are any left.
To reach the snorkeling on the Big Island by air, you will need to fly into either Kona International Airport (KOA) on the south side of the Big Island and Hilo International Airport (ITO) on the northeast side of the Big Island. From either airport, the best bet is to rent a car since the dive sites are pretty far off the main roads.
The best Big Islands snorkeling dive sites are spread around the island. The conditions at each dive site vary throughout the year depending upon winds and currents. Since many of the Big Island snorkeling destinations are open water and unprotected, make sure to check the current surf reports before heading to any of these dive sites. 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.
Overall, Mauna Kea Beach is the 1st most popular snorkel dive spot of all 7 snorkeling dives in Big Island.