The Honeymoon Files: Snorkeling on the Big Island

Kahalu'u Beach Park

If the Big Island's land was a little less lush than I had imagined, its waters more than made up the difference.

Kealakekua Bay

I think there's a notion out there that the beaches on the Big Island aren't that great.  I haven't been to Maui or any of the other islands, so I can't really say what they are in comparison.  But if the other islands' beaches are better, they must be verging on magical because the beaches we visited were spectacular.  If it wasn't the flawless swath of sand and the crystal clear aqua water, it was the overwhelming variety of coral and beautifully colored fish, or the proximity to dolphins, or the opportunity to swim alongside a green sea turtle.

Kahalu'u Beach Park

In my opinion, once you're swimming with turtles, you don't really need much else.  But I get that other people have other desires. 

Seriously, though. 

Between the snorkeling and the boogie boarding, our water days were fabulous.  Except for the one where I got horribly sunburned.  Well, that day was fabulous.  But then things were a little rough afterwards.  I wore a shirt in the water and on the beach for the rest of the trip.  It's the worst I've ever been burned in my life, which is exactly what you hope will happen on your honeymoon.  Blisters are so sexy. 

But my wife was very generous with the aloe-rubbing, and I made it through.  Except for a wee bit of whining and a tad less skin showing, it didn't change our trip at all.

I had planned for this post to tell you all about our snorkeling and boogie boarding and beach lounging, but once I'd written a short book about the snorkeling, I realized that I'd have to save the other two for another post.  So, more on those later.  For now, here's the lowdown on the superb snorkeling on the big island.

Kahalu'u Beach Park

We started out at Kahalu'u Beach Park, which we heard had awesome snorkeling and was just about 5 miles from our resort.  Within moments, I was snapping shots with my iphone (I often didn't have my good camera with me, depending on whether I thought it would be safe) of a turtle munching on some algae close into the rocky shore.  There's nothing like a turtle to get me sloshing into the water - I'm normally an inch-by-inch girl.  

Crazed with excitement and kind of scary-looking.

With our flippers on, we mosied around the reef.  The coral and fish were neither the most abundant nor the most colorful of our trip, but the snorkeling there was the easiest and what I would most recommend to anyone who was snorkeling with kids.  Because of a reef about a hundred yards out, the water was pretty calm, as opposed to some of the other areas we snorkeled.  And the fish were incredibly friendly!  We started seeing pretty little guys the moment we stuck our masks in the water, and they swam right over to us.  At one point there were fish swimming through my legs. 

Of course the absolute best part about Kahalu'u Beach Park were the turtles.  I hung out with some close to shore on our first trip there, but the second time we went (yep, we enjoyed it so much, we went twice), I got to spend some uninterrupted time out in the water with a little turtle friend.  I was just swimming along and there coming towards me was a lone green sea turtle that seemed completely uninterested in my existence.  In fact, if I hadn't gotten out of the way, I'm pretty sure it would have just run right into me.  As it were, I followed it for a while, marveling at how graceful it looked under water.  Once it stopped to nibble some algae on a rock, I left it to dine in peace.  But spending those few minutes swimming along together was one of the highlights of the trip for me.

Kealakekua Bay

Kealakekua Bay (where Captain James Cook arrived in Hawaii) gets some of the best snorkeling reviews and is mentioned in all the guidebooks, so that was our next snorkeling stop. You can't get there just by driving.  You have to either take a half-day boat tour with a bunch of other snorkelers or kayak about a mile from a nearby pier.  We went the kayaking route and opted to use a tour company since neither of us are super strong kayakers, and we didn't love the idea of just being set out into the wide ocean to fend for ourselves.  

It turned out to be a great decision on our part because our guide Bari, the owner of Hawaii Pack & Paddle, was crazy informative about everything we saw along the way and made the trip so interesting.  Him and the dolphins, that is.

Yep, we kayaked alongside spinner dolphins.  I never got a picture of them leaping out of the water because my iphone just couldn't get its act together to take photos that fast and I kept having to swing around because I never knew where the next one would pop out of the water.  But it was amazing.  They were beautiful, and it was really special to be right down there with them.  Some folks happened to be snorkeling at the right time and were able to actually be in the water with them, but I guess I'll have that to look forward to that for my next trip.

And it wasn't like our in the water time wasn't exciting.  Just the opposite.  Our tour guide got into the water and swam around with us the entire time, pointing out and identifying various types of fish and coral, something I've never had a snorkeling tour guide do before.  Even before we got into the water, he gave us a little marine life lesson at a small tide pool, showing us sea cucumbers, rock urchins (which, we learned, will not pierce your skin, like black urchins), sea worms, and brittle star fish.  

That sea worm was not pleased
It appears sea cucumbers are not Navah's cup of tea
These rock urchins' pointy spines aren't actually that sharp

I wish I had gotten a picture of the brittle star fish or the look on Navah's face when it was wiggling across her hands.  It was so awesome!  

Once we were swimming around, we saw easily 40 different types of fish. One of my favorite moments was catching a barracuda in the middle of being groomed by a brightly colored cleaner fish.

I love to know what I'm looking at when I'm out and about in nature, so I usually pick up some sort of laminated flora/fauna guide when I'm on vacation.  At Kealakekua Bay, we saw almost every single fish on our guide.  Bari was sad he couldn't find us a white tip reef shark, but I was okay with that, dangerous or not.  Sharks are sharks in my book.

By the time we came in from about an hour and a half of snorkeling, I thought my legs were going to fall off.  The current was pretty strong, so we were working hard.  Of course, I was still freezing - bath water, it's not.  After we had lunch and warmed up a bit on the hot rocks, we muscled our way back to the pier in our kayak.  And I mean muscled.  There was counting involved - as in, "thirty strokes and then we can rest for ten seconds."  But I'd do it all again.

Kapoho Tide Pools

Finally, a friend had told us we couldn't miss the Kapoho Tide Pools. They're on the east side of the island.  Because we spent the majority of our time on the west side where the beaches are, we didn't make it until the second to last day of our trip, but it was so worth it.  Getting around there was a little harrowing because the lava rocks in between the tide pools are sometimes sharp or wobbly or slippery or all of those put together.  And many of the tide pools could only be reached by walking along skinny little "bridges" of lava rock since they didn't all connect to each other.

A tiny tide pool - not deep enough to swim in
We didn't see as many fish as we had at the Kealakekua Bay, but the coral!  Oh my goodness.  I wished in those moments that I were an underwater photographer.  My little disposable just could not capture the beautiful colors and textures we were seeing.  My favorite looked like someone had just laid a blanket of knobby coral all over everything. 

Do you see all the fish?
The colors were so much better than this!

Once we figured out that a few of the tide pools did actually connect, we made our way carefully over the lava rocks to that area and swam through little channels to get into each separate pool. The tide was coming in, so swimming to pools further out was super challenging.  I'm pretty sure that at one point, I was swimming as hard as I could and not actually moving at all.  But then on the way back in, the tide just pushed us slowly through the little channels, and we didn't have to swim at all.  It was like one of those magic river things at a water park.  But real!

During all of these trips, I was carrying around a little disposable underwater camera, never sure what kind of shots I was getting at all.  It turns out I didn't get anything too great, and the pictures don't do justice at all to the colors of the coral.  But I had such a fun time, I'm okay with that.  Just sad that I can't share with you guys what I was seeing down there!

Have any of you been to the Big Island?  Or done other snorkeling in Hawaii?
Tell me about it!


If you're catching up, here's day one of the Honeymoon Files:

The Honeymoon Files: The Big Island