The underwater world of Hawaii is beautiful, a paradise for divers, snorkelers and all other ocean enthusiasts. Clear blue waters, an abundance of colorful fish and out-of-this-world magical creatures like Manta Rays.
This post will cover both Kauai and the Big Island and provide some recommendations on good tour offerings, great snorkeling spots to reach by boat or access from the coast and – of course – share some photos (and soon also videos!) we took during these wonderful adventures.
Kauai offers multiple easy accessible snorkeling spots along the coast. Our favorite beaches for snorkeling were all on the north shore and the best one was Anini Beach, we came here twice because the abundance of fish and clear waters made it so much fun. Another good one was Sea Lodge Beach, also known as Kaweonui beach. This one had great snorkel opportunities while not being very crowded. Kaweonui is only reachable via a short (0.5 miles) but steep hike, starting behind the Sea Lodge. Don’t take heavy things down there as the last part of the way is just climbing over rocks. The water is not very deep but its a nice remote place to get away from it all.
We booked a combined snorkel and boating trip along the Na’Pali coast with Captain Sundown which offered a great full-day trip with beautiful vistas of the coast and a lot of time for snorkeling at a very remote place. We even saw a reef shark swimming below us and swarms with hundreds of yellow, blue, pink, green,… fish around us. It looks like they changed the tour a bit, we definitely were around for longer than 6 hours but also paid more. The advantage of being on the water is that you get access to much more remote places and deep water with more of the bigger fishes. However, I found it more exhausting to swim in the stronger currents close to the shore.
Manta Ray Snorkeling
Let’s just start with the platinum experience we’re still thinking about every other day. Snorkeling with Manta Rays was one of the most magical things I’ve done in my life. You might think it would be a bit scary to hop into pitch black water at night time just to meet some up to 24 feet spanning fish?I thought so too but it isn’t.
We booked the combined sunset and manta tour with Big Island Divers, a 5 hour trip with two snorkel trips or 2 bottle dives. We picked them because of the nearly 98% excellent reviews on Tripadvisor and didn’t regret it. Super knowledgeable and friendly staff and our snorkel guide was with us out there the entire time and made us feel safe. The actual snorkeling at night is quite passive, you just hold on tight to a surfboard with handles at the side and look down until the Mantas appear. They come out to eat when seeing the light beams the divers create from below and met by the snorkelers lights from above. These beams of light lure out the plankton which mean extra dinner for the Mantas – so they come out and start their magical performance of gently turning and rolling through the water.
Check out one of the images below, we’re still working on the video footage and some more images. Highly recommend a camera that can deal with the difficult light underwater, we’ve had some issues balancing out the light and colors.
The Kohala coast has some of the most picturesque beaches you can imagine and snorkeling there means just walking into the water on silky sand and easily swimming over to some outer reefs, rock islands or just cruising in close proximity to the coast. It’s very easy and very safe. Great beaches to see turtles and maybe even swim with them are Kahaluu Beach Park and the black sand beach at Punaluu.
Another great one we found kind of by accident is Mahukona Beach Park where you will not only find old sugar mill machinery parts buried underwater but also huge swarms of bright yellow fish. It’s not really a beach, more a fishing spot but great for a remote snorkel trip with easy access into the water.
Also, Beach 69 was a real gem as combining a beautiful sandy beach with lots of shadow (even when more crowded) with a fantastic snorkeling environment. You can enter the Puako Bay from multiple small strips of the beach and access the different reefs with just a few strokes in the water. We really liked the small rocky island you can swim over to, great to just swim around and watch the fish around you.
Lastly, you haven’t really snorkeled on Hawaii if not done so in one of the tidepools. We’ve tested Champagne Pond and the Kapoho Tidepools. Both are quite close to each other but the drive to Champagne pond is a very rough trip over rocks of lava, not recommended without a 4×4. To get to the tidepools, you need to park outside the residential community, they block the streets to keep tourist cars out of their neighborhood. But they let you walk in, so in order to get to the tidepools, be prepared to walk 0.5 mile with your gear. The pools offer very secure and easy snorkeling with lots of fish. We didn’t see any turtles here though.
One of the best snorkeling spots in Hawaii and also in the world is the area around Captain Cook monument. It features a beautiful reef bursting with life of all kinds of sea creatures, sharks, small octopus, sea urchin, corals and plenty of fish. There are numerous tours you can book, we’ve picked W.H.O.A. (Wild Hawaiian Ocean Adventures), again primarily because of their great reviews on Tripadvisor (they’re the #1 activity in the Kona area). The real fun thing about their Snorkel tour is that you go out there on an old Navy Seal raft. It it a bit more rocky than the classic catamaran trip but much more fun! The boat raced over the water and pressed us deep into our standing seats. The only take 8 people max and no kids, so its a truly adult trip.
The entire trip was a 4 hour adventure for about $150 p.P., lead by one of the last unicorns of free diving, Deron Verbeck. This guy freedives down to 200ft and can keep his breath for over 8 minutes- absolutely insane. Even more insane and incredibly beautiful is his website iamaquatic.com, where he publishes a lot of his great underwater photos. Just being with him on a boat and listening to his adventures made the trip unforgettable.