A stay on the "Big Island" of Hawaii
gave me the chance to indulge in some easy snorkeling. Calm waters, lots of
fish, and ease of entry to the water made the following three places my favorite spots on the
Kona (west) side of the island.
City Of Refuge
Also known as Honaunau Bay, this is a favorite spot for snorkeling as well as a
good destination for exploring the island's history, as the snorkeling cove is
adjacent to Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historic
Park. The park commemorates refuge sites (Puuhonua)
where ancient Hawaiians could retreat to escape the dire penalties exacted for
breaking many of the arcane laws that kept order in society during that time.
We are not talking murder and robbery, we are talking
things like men and women being forbidden to dine together, allowing your
shadow to cross the path of a chief or nobleman, and so forth. Off with their
heads! Or go to a Place of Refuge, such as this one. The park contains
reconstructed houses, churches, and other village attributes.
The snorkeling cove, calmest during morning hours, is home to eels, turtles,
dolphin, and a host of fishes. Water entry is easy (when seas are calm) from an
array of flat black stones that are situated conveniently at water level. Note
that the black lava stones are pretty rough, however -- this is a good site to
use snorkeling booties to protect your feet. For even easier entry, use the
(coarse, black-sand) beach adjacent to the boat launch, but obviously be aware
of any boats coming and going from the launch.
Parking is limited, as are amenities. Porta-potties
are provided, and there are a few picnic tables and barbecue grills. To get
there, take Highway 11 south from Kailua-Kona about 15 miles, then turn right
on Highway 160 ("highway" being a somewhat deceptive term for these little
two-lane roads), also known as Keala O Keawe Rd., and follow the signs.
Spencer Beach Park
All sources tout Spencer Beach as a great family
destination, and I can vouch for that. In addition to ease of water access and
protected swimming (courtesy of an offshore reef), there are abundant free
facilities for family activities including picnic tables, barbecues, basketball
courts, and volleyball nets. Restrooms, showers, and a lifeguard are also
present. The combination of features offered at this beach makes it a popular
hangout for locals. I heard a lot of Hawaiian being spoken here, and many small
brown children were swarming the beach and shower areas. The smells from the
grills were sweet, exotic, and tantalizing.
The snorkeling itself is not the best here, if your goal is crystal clear
water and lots of fish. The day I visited, the surf was a bit rough -- not
enough to make you feel in danger at all, but enough to churn up a bit of the
bottom and make things a tad murky. It seems this is not unusual. That being
said, I did see a number of tang and angel fish, as well as coral and anemonae. And the access is gentle, sloping, and sandy,
albeit the pebbly kid of sand typical of many Big Island
beaches. It's not a bad place to start out, especially if you're staying in the
Waikoloa or Waimea vicinities.
Spencer Beach Park
is less than 20 miles north of the Waikoloa resort area via Highway 19. At the
Highway 270 junction, turn left onto 270; Highway 19 continues to the right
toward Waimea, just 9 miles from the junction. The
left turn to the park is well signed and not far past the junction.
Kahalu'u Beach Park
Talk about easy pickin's! This beach is right smack
in the middle of Kailua-Kona, with easy water entry, free parking, and more
fish than your average aquarium. The water is warm and clear here, especially
when you get out away from the entry point and more toward the middle of the
semi-protected bay (freshwater springs near the shore pump startlingly cold
water into the shallows). Much of the bay is sandy-bottomed, which is not
always the case on the Big
Island, and many areas
are shallow enough to stand up. Just be sure you are standing on sand or rock,
not living coral.
I understand that larger marine life is abundant just outside
the breakwater, but I can't attest to that, as I'm not a strong swimmer and I
wouldn't recommend venturing out there unless you are, and then only on a calm
day. Inside the protected area, you'll see a variety of colorful wrasses,
parrotfish, tang, needlefish, angels, and puffers.
A breakwater offshore creates protection as well as an attractive
environment for the many fish that live and feed here. Turtles abound as well,
particularly in the shallow southern end of the bay, which turns into tidepools at low tide. The area is posted "DO NOT TOUCH THE
TURTLES," and I was pleased (and frankly more than a little shocked) to find
that being respected by the families who packed the little beach and the tidepool area.
Did I say "packed"? Um, yeah. That's the downside
to Kahalu'u Beach Park. All the things that make it a
great beach for you make it great for everybody else, too. As with any good
snorkeling beach on the Kona
Coast, your best bet is
to go early. Going on a weekday also helps. Combining these two should net you
a parking spot.
The park has decent restrooms and usually has trucks providing everything
from snacks to snorkel gear to security lock boxes for your car keys, wallet,
and other small valuables. If the trucks aren't present, you are just steps
away from other vendors providing all the services you need, as this beach is
just north of the Outrigger Hotel/Resort and right on the main drag (Alii Drive) in Kailua-Kona.
Sally O'Neal shares her land and sea adventures weekly in this column. She
spent two weeks on The Big Island in March/April 2011. She thanks her dog-eared
copy of the 1973 classic "The Many-Splendored Fishes of Hawaii" -- still in
print! -- by Gar Goodson for help with fish