We really enjoy snorkeling Mauna Kea Beach. Also known as Kauna’oa Beach, it is one of the most stunning beaches anywhere.
This beach has public access through the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel gate, but they limit the number of public parking passes they issue. When you arrive at the gate, tell the attendant you would like to use Mauna Kea Beach. Arrive early, otherwise you may have to wait until someone leaves to get a pass, but it is worth it. We always bring a book to read just in case we have to wait.
Once you are parked, there is a walk, so if you bring a lot of gear, be prepared to carry it. Just so you know, we have often seen bees or wasps on the paved walk down to the beach.
Snorkeling Mauna Kea Beach is excellent when the water is calm. If the waves are up, the visibility will be lower and you won’t have as much fun. Don’t get in if you are uncomfortable with the conditions. It’s almost always calmer in the mornings.
The snorkeling here is next to the rocky points at either end of the beach, so walk to the end you intend to snorkel. Then, you will have an easy, sandy, gradually sloping entrance into the water.
You can choose which end to snorkel based on conditions the day you are there. They both have nice healthy coral reef, though the shallower corals are less healthy. The north/right side has more fish and is a larger area to explore.
We prefer this end if the conditions cooperate.
There are actually three excellent snorkeling areas to focus on. First, you can hug the rock wall along the edge all the way out to the point. Second, there are shallow (the tops are in 5-10 feet of water) coral fields 30 feet or so from the wall, parallel and running out to the point. Third, past the point, it develops into huge canyons of coral, in 20-30 foot depths with amazing topography and healthy corals. If you swim past the point watch for currents. All along this side there are oodles of fish and they are bigger than the south/left side. The visibility is variable, but generally clearer as you go out to the point and beyond, weather, currents, and waves permitting.
This area is smaller than the north, but still has nice coral fields and some fish to see. The snorkeling is next to the rocks and out toward the center of the bay until it drops off to sand again. There tends to be slightly lower visibility on this side and it is generally shallower. If you decide to round the point, make sure you know and can contend with the currents.
We saw many turtles and urchins snorkeling here. There are also many fish, especially on the north/right side. Here is what we saw:
Find More Great Snorkeling Spots Like This One
We have a total of 34 snorkeling spots, including the two at Mauna Kea Beach, in our Big Island Hawaii Snorkeling Guide eBook. If you want to snorkel all the best spots, take our book with you and enjoy!
1. From Kailua Kona, take highway 19 (Queen Kaahumanu Hwy) north. Follow it through the Waikoloa Resort Area, past the Puako Road turnoff, and past the big Hapuna Beach sign and turnoff.
2. After the overpass look on the left side of the road for the entrance into the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel near the 68 mile marker and turn in.
3. Let the gate guard know you want to go to Mauna Kea Beach. After entering the resort property, just follow the road down the hill and around a ways as it veers left until it ends and park.
4. Then walk through the gate and follow the path down to the beach.
There is a nice shower, bathrooms, changing rooms, and water available, as well as some shade.