Snorkeling Two Steps is always a fantastic experience. We have snorkeled here more times than we can count. It is definitely one of our favorite locations in all of the Hawaiian Islands. We love it because there is sea life and coral in abundance, some amazing topography to explore, and a variety of depths.
Note: This page is a sample from our popular Big Island Snorkeling Guide eBook available here.
But what is it really called? The Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park is on the left side of the bay. This is why people call it Honaunau. The translation of the park name is Place of Refuge, so people call it that too. And most people who snorkel here just call it Two Steps. We like the name Two Steps because it describes the natural rock steps that most people use to get access into the water for some of the most fantastic snorkeling around.
This spot is very popular. The word has gotten around that snorkeling Two Steps is wonderful, and the access is fairly easy. There are also small raft-type boat tours that bring snorkelers here. It is a fairly protected bay and seems to have good snorkeling conditions most of the time, but if the waves are big, please come back another time.
The national historical park has a wonderfully preserved ancient village that was literally a place of refuge for Hawaiians trying to escape a death penalty. The park is well worth walking through.
There is no beach when snorkeling Two Steps. Instead, you access the water from lava rocks. The best place to get in the water is where the two steps are (we think it should actually be called three steps, but no one listens). To find these steps, they are on the furthest out point of rock, a little left of the center of the lava “beach”. Watch for where other people are entering and exiting. Also, the last number of times we have been here, there has been a sign posted about the Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins resting in the bay right near the two steps.
Walking out you will want to wear your flip flops and leave them upside-down out on the rock because the black rock gets very hot in the sun. Entering, you step down into shallow water to the first step, sit down and put on your fins, then slide off onto the next step, and away you go. Notice how the ocean surge comes up and down. Time your exit and entrance with that surge to make things easy. There are some sea urchins in holes in these steps, so be careful where you put your hands, and fins that cover your heels are a good idea.
Once in the water there are a couple of major areas to explore. The visibility is normally pretty good, but not as clear as Captain Cook Monument. This is partly due to some cold fresh water springs that are in this bay.
To the right next to the shore are some enjoyable shallow coral areas, perfect for beginning snorkelers. You will see many fish here, possibly an octopus, and some healthy and diverse coral heads in 6-10 feet of water.
There is a deep sandy area further out, toward the right side of the bay and on the edge of this in a sand patch you can find where someone has written Aloha (see picture below) in cement blocks.
Our favorite snorkeling Two Steps area is to the left from the entry. Some of it is a little deeper, up to 20 feet, but this is where we normally find turtles. There are nice coral reef canyons, walls and channels to explore over here with many fish, some quite large. Stay away from any shallow rock tops when there is surge. We do not swim past the last rocky point as it is too exposed out there.
To exit, wait for a break in the waves, and time your exit as the water is rising. As it raises you up, turn around and sit on the first step. Then remove your fins and get into your shoes quick before you burn your feet!
You will probably see the sign about the Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins that rest in the bay. We have seen them from shore, but haven’t snorkeled with them yet. You are most likely to see them in the mornings. The same goes for the family of turtles that we see most every time we have been in the water. We have also seen day octopus change colors and zip around the corals in the shallow area near shore. We also once saw a seahorse here, the only one we have ever seen snorkeling.
Again, you will see many fish snorkeling Two Steps (Honaunau). This is a list of what we have seen:
1. From Kailua Kona drive south on Hwy 11 (Hawaii Belt Rd) about 20 miles until you pass the 104 mile marker. When you see the Honaunau Post Office turn right onto Hwy 160 (Keala O Keawe Rd).
2. Follow this road 3.5 miles towards the ocean and turn left at the Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park sign (see picture below).
3. Before you actually enter the park, there is a right turn onto a one way road. This road will turn to the right again, and the parking is along the road.
4. If you are down on Kealakekua Bay already, you can take the Pu'uhonua Beach Road south to the big sign for Pu'uhonua O Honaunau. It is a fun road to drive that is just wide enough for one car.
Sometimes the parking can get pretty full, so come early.
There are porta-potties, picnic tables, and some shade.