Snorkeling Hapuna Beach is decent at either end around the rocky points, though the visibility is often low. It is one of the most beautiful beaches on the Big Island, and has been listed as one of the world’s best beaches. Every time we are here it is busy. It is on the Kohala Coast north of Kona and Waikoloa. The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort is situated on the north end of the beach.
Note: This page is a sample from our popular Big Island Snorkeling Guide eBook available here.
It has wonderful golden sand and is about a third of a mile long and over 200 feet wide. This beach is also more exposed than others nearby, so the waves can get big which can make the snorkeling dangerous. These things combined with a relatively long swim make this location for more advanced snorkelers. Like most places in Kohala, conditions are usually best for snorkeling in the mornings.
Hapuna Beach is a State Recreation Area and has a lot of facilities including camping cabins and a simple restaurant. There is a short walk from the parking lot to the beach. To reach the right end of the beach you will need to walk half the length of the beach or more.
This nice sandy beach makes the water entrance super easy. Just walk to the end of the beach you intend to snorkel and walk in barefoot. Get your fins on once you can float. Do not snorkel if the surf is up; leave this location to the boogie boarders and head elsewhere.
You can snorkel either end of the beach. They both have a pretty long swim to get to interesting snorkeling, but you will see more close to shore on the right end. The reefs on both ends are on the very exposed rocky points, so watch for currents, surge and waves. The visibility is low here because of kicked up sand, but also a fresh water layer that sits on surface.
Snorkeling Hapuna Beach from the left end requires a swim of over 1000 feet to see much of interest. Swim next to the rocks on the way out over a sandy bottom in a few feet of water. We did not see anything but a couple of fish until we got a few hundred feet past the first small rocky point. After a 1000 foot swim, you reach the second small rocky point and you can start to see some sea life. Past that rocky point is a small bay that is worth exploring for the fish life, a few corals, and some topography. There are also some rocks sticking out of the water a couple hundred feet from shore that have life around them. The depths on the outside of these rocks are up to 30 feet. There is a more prominent rocky point jutting out a bit farther into the water past those rocks, and there is reef extending out from it that gets deep fairly quickly. We would not swim farther left past this point. It is over 1600 feet from shore, so a round trip snorkel length would be well over a half mile. Unfortunately, the visibility was not very good on this side either. These waters are unprotected, so keep a careful watch on the weather, waves and currents. You are out of sight of the lifeguards once you go around the first point. Again, turn back long before you feel tired.
After entering the water near the right end of the beach, swim along the rocky point. We usually see quite a few fish in this area. There is a tiny sandy beach before you get to the larger rocky point. Explore the area around the large rocky point out to where it drops off to sand again. There are a few corals still alive here and a decent amount of fish. There are a lot of urchins too. Snorkeling Hapuna Beach from the right end is better for seeing turtles in our experience. The water visibility is usually low. The depths range from a few feet near the beach to 25 feet or so around the point. Watch for currents when you pass the point and turn back to the beach before you are tired. If you swim all the way around the first large rocky point and back to the beach, it is a 2000 foot swim. There is a smaller rocky point past the large one you can check out too, but only if it is calm enough. This will add 600 feet round trip to your swim.
We saw a decent amount of fish here and quite a few urchins, but there is not a lot of coral.
1. From Kailua Kona, take Highway 19 (Queen Kaahumanu Highway) north out of Kona. Follow it through the Waikoloa resort area, past the Puako Road turnoff and mile marker 70.
2. Watch for the big “Hapuna Beach” sign and turn onto Hapuna Beach Road on the left near the 69 mile marker. On weekends plan on coming early to get parking. There is a non-resident parking fee of $5 per vehicle. The parking lot gate opens at 7 a.m. and closes at 8 p.m.
The park has all the facilities you could want: showers, restrooms, drinking water, picnic tables, picnic pavilions, lifeguards, camping cabins you can rent, and even a nice little beach restaurant (the Paradise Grill) - with reasonable prices. There is plenty of shade, and lots of trees behind the beach.
Know Your Hawaii Fishes