Snorkeling Tunnels is great if you know where to go and are a confident swimmer. Tunnels, also known as Makua Beach, is a deceptively massive snorkeling area. Standing on this wonderful wide, long beach, looking out at the waves breaking on the reef edge offshore, it just does not look like all that big of an area, or that far away to it’s outer edge. But the reef here is a big horseshoe that protects what amounts to a small bay inside. It is much bigger than it appears when you start trying to swim around in it.
Note: This page is a sample from our popular Kauai Snorkeling Guide eBook available here.
Snorkeling Tunnels is some of the best you can find on the island. It is one of the best places on Kauai for seeing big coral formations. Because it is a large area and there are currents, the snorkeling out on the larger reef is not for beginners, but for strong swimming, experienced snorkelers.
Tunnels, like any north shore Kauai snorkeling spot, is seasonal. Often in the winter the waves are too big and the current too dangerous to attempt to snorkel here. We recommend in the winter to snorkel on the south side of Kauai.
The parking for snorkeling Tunnels is even more scarce than at Ke’e Beach. You must arrive very early in the morning to guarantee yourself a spot here. If you don’t get here early enough to get one of the few spots nearer the beach, you can park farther down the road at Ha’ena Beach Park and walk down the beach to Tunnels area. It is over a half mile walk along the beach. If you want to avoid the parking issues all together consider taking the shuttle from Princeville or Hanalei. More information on that below.
The beach is sandy and you can enter the water in your bare feet. There are some areas of coral shelf at the shoreline where you should not enter, but they will be easy to see in your polarized glasses. We like to walk to the right end of the beach where we are lined up with the right edge of the reef and get in so that we can snorkel with the prevailing right to left current instead of fighting it.
We often see people snorkeling Tunnels in a small shallow area right in front of the beach near the left edge of the large offshore reef. This area is rocky reef with some fish and algae. It is a good spot for beginners.
For the more experienced snorkelers and strong swimmers, look out in the center of the horseshoe shaped reef from the beach with your polarized sunglasses. Notice the shallow area; this is where the best corals are. There are a number of fish around the large coral heads as well.
As noted above, from the right end of the beach enter and swim out and explore the coral heads and shallows inside the reef (see our Tunnels snorkeling map below). Let the current move you to the left. When you are done, swim back toward the beach. You will need to cross a channel parallel to the beach that is very deep. And on the other side of the channel, toward the left hand side of the beach (looking from shore), there is a rock reef wall parallel to the shore that drops off fairly deep with some interesting caves and tunnels to check out. The water depths while snorkeling Tunnels area range from 3 feet to 50 feet or more.
The visibility while snorkeling Tunnels has never been great in all the times we have snorkeled it, though some areas are better than others.
The current here can be quite strong. It is a result of the water coming over the reef edge leaving the area to get back into the ocean. As you snorkel over the shallow areas in the center of the horseshoe you may find that the current gets stronger. There is also a definite channel that the water leaves from on the left hand side (looking from the beach). Depending on the conditions, this current can be pretty weak, or we have experienced it as fairly strong. So be cautious of the left and right side channels, especially if the waves are up at all.
There are sea cucumbers and urchins inhabiting the outer reef here. Here is a list of what we saw at Tunnels:
These directions are from Princeville on the north shore of the island on Hwy 56 (Kuhio Hwy).
1. Head west on Hwy 56 (Kuhio Hwy), which will become Hwy 560 shortly past Princeville and you will soon pass through the town of Hanalei.
2. Keep driving and just past the 8 mile marker there is a dirt road on
the right (beach) side of the road. It is .6 mile past the 8 mile
marker. After parking you will need to scramble down some tree roots to get to the beach. Also, you will need to walk a little more than a quarter mile to the right on the beach to get to the snorkeling area.
3. If the parking is full on this small road, you can drive a little farther and use the parking lot at Ha’ena Beach Park. It is more than a half mile walk down the beach to Tunnels from there.
4. Since traffic and parking are such an issue on this area of the north shore, consider taking the Experience Kauai Shuttle from the Princeville Shopping Center or the bus stop in front of the Hanalei Post Office. They also pick up at some resorts in the area. Parking for the shuttle is reportedly easier in Hanalei than Princeville. For visitors it costs $4. It runs from 6am to 6pm and the schedule may be found on the bus stops, at some Hanalei and Princeville resorts, or by calling (808) 634-8348. They drop off at Ha'ena Beach Park.
None. But Ha’ena Beach Park down the road has restrooms, showers, picnic tables, shade and camping.