Big Island’s western side is world famous for its pristine coastal waters. Indeed, there seem to be spectacular snorkel spots every few hundred yards down the shore, but because of lava shelves and heavy shorebreak many of these places are either accessible only by boat, or from shore by the more experienced ocean-goer. This is not the case at all with Kahalu’u beach. This is the perfect spot for a beginner snorkeler to get wet and see some fish for the first time. Many maps dub this place simply “snorkel beach” because on any given day you’ll see plenty of people here with their heads beneath the surface ogling the fish.
Kahalu’u is by far the easiest, safest, and most accessible snorkel spot around Kona, and here you get the most bang for your buck, so to speak. For how little effort it takes to get there and get in, the payoff is immense. This area is filled with shallow water fish of all kinds, shapes and sizes. Juvenile Hawaiian green sea turtles are extremely common here, and you’ll also find a myriad of invertebrates on the sea bed and among the corals. Lobe coral dominates this shallow cove and unlike many other heavily trafficked snorkel spots in Hawaii, the coral here has remained relatively intact and healthy.
The wildlife at Kahalu’u is some of the least bashful you’ll find anywhere, so getting close usually is not a problem. It’s often likened to Oahu’s world renowned Hanauma Bay, and is a favorite among local underwater photographers. The cove itself is shallow – less than 15 feet deep all around and in many places you can stand on the sandy bottom with your head above the water. Such shallow water means plenty of sunlight reaches the bottom, enriching the coral community and providing nourishment for the sea grasses and algae that attract the juvenile and subadult sea turtles that come to feed here.
Kahalu’u hosts both snorkeling and surfing due to a large breakwall that juts about halfway into the cove from the southern end. It is one of the most popular places for surf lessons in Kona due an almost constant, easy break which is great for beginners. Hawaiian legend says that the Ali’i (members of the ruling class) ordered that the wall be built to create a calm space for their families to enjoy the ocean. Tasks such as this were carried out by the Menehune, an ancient forest-dwelling race of dwarf-sized people renowned for their insatiable work ethic. The Menehune would work all night on a project and usually finish by morning. However, if the sun rose and the project remained
unfinished, the Menehune would retreat to the woods and never return to complete their task. As the legend goes, the Kahuna (the local shaman) loved to surf at Kahalu’u, and when he saw the Menehune destroying his favorite surf spot he hatched a plan. At midnight he began to crow like a rooster, waking up all the roosters nearby and causing them to crow as well. The Menehune, hearing the crows all around were convinced it was nearly sunrise and retreated
to the forest leaving the breakwall unfinished and the sweet surf break untouched, just as it is today.
Regardless of how the breakwall got there, it’s undeniably responsible for creating some of the best snorkeling conditions around. It’s easiest to enter the water and put on your fins at the sandy beach on shore. When you get in the water will be murky, but once you swim out about a hundred feet or so the visibility is superb.
As you swim out, head southwest toward where the wall meets the shore. This sets you against the current so once you get tired you can just drift back. Swimming north along with the current will require a major workout on your way back to the beach.
Kahalu’u is on Ali’i drive in Kailua-Kona less than 5 minutes south of downtown, right next to the Keauhou Beach Resort. Parking is usually plentiful, but will fill up on good surf days. There are showers,restrooms, and drinking fountains.
Why Go to Kahalu’u?
For an easy snorkel experience with tons of viewable marine life in an exteremely accessible spot, there’s no place better on this side of the island.
When entering the ocean in Hawaii always respect the land and the wildlife by leaving a place the same as you found it. Never touch or walk on coral and never feed fish or other wildlife. Remember “Malama o ke kai, ke kai o ke malama” – “Take care of the ocean and the ocean will take care of you”