South of Kailua-Kona off Captain Cook Monument, the snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay is definitely the most popular snorkel dive spot on the Big Island. But, that doesn't necessarily mean it is the best or most scenic. The bay itself is unspectacular and the water clarity leaves something to be desired. The are prettier snorkeling spots on the Big Island with better coral...
South of Kailua-Kona off Captain Cook Monument, the snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay is definitely the most popular snorkel dive spot on the Big Island. But, that doesn't necessarily mean it is the best or most scenic. The bay itself is unspectacular and the water clarity leaves something to be desired. The are prettier snorkeling spots on the Big Island with better coral and higher visibility. The best Kealakekua Bay snorkeling is normally found during the months of April through June on calm, windless days.
Kealakekua Bay is an underwater marine sanctuary in an isolated location at the base of lava cliffs. At the Captain Cook snorkeling spot, the water depth ranges from 5 to 50 feet deep and the visibility ranges from 10 feet up to 35 feet. Oddly, even with the low visibility, there is plentiful and diverse marine fish.
The bay is teeming with reef fish in their habitat of very healthy coral formations. When snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay, watch out for yellow tangs, blue tangs, wrasse, parrotfish, and green sea turtles among the large lobe coral and mound coral formations. In addition, this large unprotected cove does attract resting spinner dolphins. While many expect a dolphin to "rest" by sitting on the sea floor, they actually rest while swimming as a pod in lazy circles with one eye and half a brain shut, so do not disturb them. Effective September 2021 under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the NOAA Fisheries issued a ruling that now prohibits swimming with, approaching or remaining within 50 yards of a Hawaiian spinner dolphin. It covers waters within 2 miles of shore from Lanai to the Big Island. In addition, there are time-area closures from 6am to 3pm to reduce daytime disturbances in the spinner dolphin habitat of Kealakekua Bay. To avoid hefty fines, make sure to follow the new regulations.
In addition, do not disturb the resting white-tipped reef sharks you may see sleeping in the recess caves formed by the reefs and rocks. If it happens to be super calm or you arrive by boat, there are hammerhead sharks known to frequent the waters outside of the protected cove, too.
To access Kealakekua Bay State Park from Kona by car, head south on SR11 for 17 miles. Just past the intersection with Mamalohoa Bypass Road, park on either side of the road. From the roadside parking, look for signs to the Ka'awaloa Trail. This is a rocky 2 mile hike down 1,400 feet to Kealakekua Bay. The water entrance is off the wall just below the monument. Keep in mind that it is a tough hike back up the 1,400 feet after snorkeling! If you survive the climb back up, then head over to Black Rock Pizza for some food with a view.
If you don't think you're up for the hike down (or back up), there are two other options. One option is to rent a sea kayak (permit required), but the most popular starting point is 5 miles round trip from the south. Alternately, you could arrive by charter snorkel boat. The best snorkel boat tour is offered by Sea Quest, which has a 3-stop South Kona Expedition including Captain Cook.
PRO TIP: Be aware that the State Of Hawaii has banned all sunscreens that oxybenzone, which has been proven to kill coral reefs. While you can purchase really gooey reef safe liquids ahead of time on the mainland, the do sell reef safe sprays locally at the Big Island stores for a reasonable.
Overall, Kealakekua Bay is the 1st most popular snorkel dive spot of all 28 snorkeling dives in Big Island. Several of the better snorkeling spots are nearby Kealakekua Bay including Honaunau Bay, Ke'Ei Beach, Manta Ray Night Snorkel, Kahalu'u Beach Park, Manini Beach and Ho'okena Beach Park.
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