Big Island Hawaii
You will find that snorkeling Beach 69 is more accessible and much less crowded than Hapuna Beach just down the road. The snorkeling here is decent. There are some fish, a few corals, some fun topography, and sometimes turtles. There is a parking fee and a short walk to the beach from the lot.
Note: This page is a sample from our popular Big Island Snorkeling Guide eBook available here.
This pretty little sandy beach has nice trees for shade all along the shore and it has a very secluded, rugged feel to it that we really enjoy. The slope of the beach is very gradual, the bay is more protected and calm, and the snorkeling is a shorter swim from shore than at Hapuna Beach. But when the tide is up there is not much beach for hanging out on.
It is known locally as Beach 69 because that was the number of the telephone pole at the turn, but that pole is now gone. It is also known as the Waialea Bay Section of the Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area, and it is north of Kona and Waikoloa on the Kohala Coast.
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The beach is about a quarter mile long and mostly sandy. When snorkeling Beach 69 choose the area you want to explore, walk to the sandy area closest to it, and get in the water. You will be able to get in without shoes, but watch for a few rocks mixed in with the sand and the kiawe tree thorns that are on the beach.
Where to Snorkel
There are three areas for snorkeling Beach 69, the two ends, and the center area. You could swim all three in one snorkel, but the area between the right end and the center of the bay is sandy, so it is just a swim with not much to see. Every time we have snorkeled here there has been low visibility.
Snorkeling Beach 69 – Right End
For snorkeling Beach 69 from the right end, swim along the rocky point. A little ways around the point you will start swimming over rocks instead of sand. You can hug the shoreline for about 800 feet until it drops off to sand again. You can also explore out from the shoreline about 800 feet before it drops off to sand again.
There is a little bit of rocky topography, in small spurs and grooves, to check out in this area, though there are not many live corals. The water depths are excellent for snorkeling, up to 15 feet or so. We saw a good amount and nice variety of fish. We also saw a couple of turtles early in the morning too.
We have noticed a fresh water layer that blurs the visibility at the surface and the sand gets kicked up making it low that way too. Head back to the beach after you have explored the area, or if you choose, you can swim over to the center snorkeling area. The bottom is sand for just over 300 feet between the two areas.
Snorkeling Sunburns Suck!
Check out the snorkeling rash guards and reef safe sunscreen we use to protect ourselves and to protect fish and coral from sunscreen chemicals.
Snorkeling Waialea Bay – Center
The largest area for snorkeling Beach 69 is the center zone. The reef is about 650 feet wide, and extends another 650 feet offshore in places. You don’t want to enter over the rocks, instead enter to the right of the rocks (looking from the beach). The reef starts straight out from the trail from the parking lot, behind the rocky point.
Explore out that right side following the reef, until it gets too deep or turns into sand again. Then just follow the edge of the reef back toward shore, and to the left, staying offshore of the rocks that break the surface. The reef is not really alive here, but there is some fun topography on the outer edge of the reef and a few fish. If you head toward the long rock sticking out of the water that runs perpendicular to the beach, it is fun to snorkel all around (the rock the person is standing on in the picture below). This is our favorite area for snorkeling beach 69, even though visibility is normally a bit low.
The end of the rock is about 400 feet offshore and the reef drops off another 100 feet or so past that. The depths are up to about 10 feet and there is some fun spur and groove topography with a few healthy corals and many fish. There are also areas that are rocky with fish too. The bottom turns into sand again about 100 feet to the left of the long rock. Whether entering or exiting on the left side, find that sandy area, and watch for rocks in the sand.
You could choose to swim over to the left end from here. If you swim over from the offshore end of the rock you will be over some 15 foot deep reef. If you swim over closer to shore you are over sand.
Snorkeling Beach 69 – Left End
The last snorkeling Beach 69 area is along the left end rocky point wall. You can walk down the beach and enter from the left end. Swim along the rocky point. There are sometimes fun immature fish to see in the shallows near shore. Once you get farther out there are more fish in more variety.
Once you pass the point, about 600 feet from shore, the reef becomes shallow and less interesting, so don’t bother swimming past the point very far. It is also quite exposed and waves might make it rougher out there. There is some reef off the point to the right, 15 feet or so deep, which you will see if you swim over from the long middle rock point, or you can explore it a little before heading back to shore. As with all the snorkeling Beach 69 areas, the visibility is not great.
What We Saw Snorkeling Waialea Bay
This is a good place to see a nice variety of fish. Some areas have a lot of fish and some areas don’t have very many. You will not see a lot of live coral snorkeling Beach 69, but there is some topography to enjoy.
- Butterflyfish: Forceps, Milletseed, Ornate, Oval, Raccoon, Threadfin
- Chromis: Blackfin, Oval – tiny
- Coris, Yellowtail
- Damselfish, Brighteye
- Dascyllus, Hawaiian
- Emperor, Bigeye
- Filefish, Barred
- Goatfish: Blue, Doublebar, Manybar, Yellowfin – schools, Yellowstripe
- Gregory, Hawaiian
- Grouper, Peacock
- Hawkfish: Arc-eye, Blackside, Stocky
- Jack, Rainbow Runner
- Moorish Idol
- Parrotfish: Bullethead, Palenose, Redlip, Regal, Stareye
- Porcupinefish, Spotted
- Queenfish, Doublespotted
- Sergeant: Blackspot, Hawaiian, Indo-Pacific
- Snapper: Blacktail, Bluestripe
- Soldierfish, Bigscale
- Surgeonfish: Goldring, Eyestripe, Orangeband, Ringtail, Whitebar – schools
- Tang: Convict, Lavender – large school, Sailfin, Yellow – school
- Toby, Hawaiian Whitespotted
- Triggerfish: Black, Humuhumunukunukuapua’a, Lei, Picasso, Pinktail
- Trevally: Bigeye – school, Bluefin
- Unicornfish: Orangespine, Paletail
- Wrasse: Bird, Hawaiian Cleaner, Ringtail, Saddle
- Blue Rice
- Sandpaper Rice
- Sea Cucumber, Teated
- Sea Star, Crown of Thorns
- Tube Worm, Christmas Tree
- Urchin: Banded, Black Rock-boring, Blue-black, Collector, Pale Rock-boring, Red Slate Pencil
- Zoanthid, Pillow
Have You Seen These Guided Snorkel Travel Adventures?
See all of the snorkeling trips to: Coral Triangle – Caribbean and Mexico – Pacific Islands – Red Sea
1. From Kailua Kona, take Highway 19 (Queen Kaahumanu Highway) north out of Kona.
2. Follow it through the Waikoloa resort area and once you pass the Mauna Lani Resort on your left, watch for the Puako sign and Puako Road on your left and turn there. If you come to the 70 mile marker on Highway 19, you’ve gone too far.
3. Once on Puako Road, turn right on the next access road, Old Puako Road.
4. The second left on Old Puako Road is the gated short paved road and parking lot for Waialea Bay (Beach 69). There is a large sign that says “Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area – Waialea Bay Section.”
5. Or, if you are coming from Hapuna Beach, you can follow Old Puako Road south and turn right on the next gated paved road with the sign mentioned above.
6. The gate opens at 7 am and closes at 7:30 pm. There is a $5 parking fee for non-residents that can be paid at a machine in the lot.
7. Walk to the west from the parking lot and you will reach the beach in about 400 feet.
There are showers and restrooms, water, picnic tables, trash cans, and plenty of shade.