Snorkeling Kapoho Tide Pools is a unique and fantastic experience, the best on the Hilo side of things. We also believe that this is one of the best snorkeling areas in the world, when you have a sunny day.
Note: This page is a sample from our popular Big Island Snorkeling Guide eBook available here.
There is a protective reef, and inside this is a maze of tide pools in the lava rock to explore. Some are too small or too shallow to swim in, but there are a good number of them that are both large enough and deep enough for snorkeling. Occasionally the waves are big enough to make the snorkeling dangerous, but most of the time it is very safe and calm.
The only other thing to watch for is the tide. If it is coming in or going out strongly, you will feel that current and it can make navigating the tide pools challenging and possibly dangerous. The very best time to come is at slack high tide. You will have the best maneuverability swimming between pools and not much tidal current to deal with.
Though we understand that the state routinely tests the water quality here, some locals report illness after swimming in the tide pools. We have not had that problem.
The tide pools are protected, and the official name of this area is Wai’opae Tidepools Marine Life Conservation District. Before the conservation district was established, people called them the Kapoho Tide Pools because that is the name of the community.
Our big thanks goes out to the Kapoho Vacationland private community for allowing access to these waters through their private lands. Many other communities don’t allow access like this. So please travel in the area with respect. There is a suggested donation for parking here, the proceeds of which go to the maintenance of the roads. Please, bring cash and donate. Community members seem to keep an eye on the safety of the cars and sometimes there is a volunteer educator present.
UPDATE: On August 7 & 8, 2014 Tropical Storm Iselle directly hit this area. But based on a report we received, complete with pictures, the coral shows little damage, though the fish populations might be lower as a result. Unfortunately, a warming of the ocean by El Niño since the storm has caused some coral bleaching in the pools. There was damage to homes too. Because of that, the community is not allowing the public to drive in. You must walk. Read the driving directions below.
We highly recommend wearing footwear and taking it with you while snorkeling Waiopae Tidepools. It is a good idea to slip into them to move from one pool to another because the area is hot black lava rock and it can get slippery. Please make sure you do not damage any of the corals on your entry. Sit down on the lava rock edge of the pool you choose and put on your fins. Then, push off with your feet belly first into the water and swim.
Two of the large pools are to the right of the parking area. Walk on the rocks that direction. There is a pool before you reach the fence with signs on it and another even larger just past it. We usually enter either of these to start snorkeling Kapoho Tide Pools.
Usually, there is enough water to swim over from the closest one to the farther one. You can swim back away from the ocean into the large pool for quite a distance (along side some houses). There is quite a bit of fresh water in this pool. Explore the edges of the pool and then head out of it on the opposite end toward the ocean.
Check out the pools toward the reef until it gets too rough or the visibility gets low. Then, begin to head left. There are numerous more pools to explore of varying sizes and depths. Some you can swim between, some you need to stand up and walk between. Please refrain from damaging any corals on your exits and entries.
At Kapoho, we saw a great variety of fish, coral and creatures, including:
1. From Hilo drive south on Hwy 11 (Hawaii Belt Road) until you reach the intersection with Hwy 130 (Keaau-Pahoa Road) and veer left.
2. Follow 130 until the intersection with Hwy 132 (Kapoho Road/Pahoa Road) and turn left again.
3. On Hwy 132, shortly after Lava Tree State Park, take the left fork in the y intersection to continue on Hwy 132.
4. At the intersection of Hwy 132 and Hwy 137 (Kapoho Kalapana Rd), turn right, ignoring the dirt roads heading both straight and left. You will soon begin to see roads on your left.
5. Once you see Pua O Kapoho Road, take the next left onto Kapoho Kai Drive.
6. As a result of Tropical Storm Iselle, you are not allowed to drive to the tide pools. You must park along Kapoho Kai Drive and walk in about a half mile.
7. Walk along Kapoho Kai Drive until it ends then turn left on Waiopae Rd. Follow this around the bend and on the right are the tide pools. (There are signs to follow.)
The community provides a portable toilet and portable changing rooms are in the works too. You can also drive about 1.5 miles south on Hwy 137 to Ahalanui Park for a warm natural pool (may not be open after Iselle), showers, restrooms, picnic tables, pavilions, and shade.