Snorkeling Two Steps is definitely one of our favorite locations in all of the Hawaiian Islands. We have snorkeled here many, many times. We love it because there is sea life in abundance, some healthy coral, and amazing topography to explore in a variety of depths. It is a fairly protected bay with a lava rock shoreline, and seems to have good snorkeling conditions most of the time, but if the wind or swell is big out of the south or west, please come back another time.
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, looking from shore. 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.
This spot, several miles south of Kealakekua Bay on the Kona side of the island, is very popular. The word has gotten around that snorkeling Two Steps is wonderful, and the access is fairly easy and right next to the road where you park. Be sure to get here early because the parking fills up, sometimes by trucks with boat trailers. There are small raft-type boat tours that bring snorkelers here, too.
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 here. Instead, you access the water from lava rocks. The best place to get in the water is where the two steps are. These steps are on the farthest out point of rock, a little left of the center of the lava “beach”. Watch for where other people are entering and exiting. Also there is 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 (picture at right), then move down onto the second step (left picture below), stand up, and swim away (right picture below). Notice in the pictures how the ocean surge comes up and down. Time your entrance when the surge is up so you don't have to lower yourself into the water. There are some sea urchins in holes in these steps, so be careful where you put your hands, and fins or boots that cover your heels are a good idea.
It is important to use that surge to your advantage on your exit after snorkeling Two Steps, too. When it is coming in, use the upward power of it to lift you onto one of the steps. You need to rotate yourself around so that you can sit on the step after the surge passes. But, be aware of the size of the surge coming. Make sure it is not so big that it will hurt you.
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 and the fresh water can sit on top of the sea water in a layer that can blur visibility.
To the right next to the shore is a good area for beginners in 6-10 feet of water. You can see many fish in some fun topography. Unfortunately the majority of the corals in this area were killed by the 2014-2015 bleaching events, though there are a few healthy ones left. Swim up to about 350 feet from the entrance exploring the shallow reef.
If you swim farther away from shore, about 200 feet, it gets up to about 25 feet deep, but there is still a lot of fish life and the corals are in about the same state, though the deeper ones fared better. Toward the right side of the bay, there is a sandy area and on the edge of this you can find where someone has written Aloha in cement blocks in the sand, with one of the blocks being fashioned in the shape of a fish.
Our favorite area for snorkeling Two Steps 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. The corals in this area fared better, except for the Cauliflower. There are nice spur and groove reefs with canyons, walls, and a few small arches 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. The last rocky point is about 700 feet from your entrance.
Way out on the outer edges of the bay, is a resting area for the Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins. Do not approach them. As of October 28, 2021, it is illegal to approach within 50 yards of a Hawaiian Spinner Dolphin. This bay may also have an area that is closed to human activity from 6am-3pm daily, so watch for that future possible restriction. Read more on this page.
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!
Be aware that there is a boat ramp in the corner of the bay between the Two Steps "beach" and the national park. Boats do launch there and make their way out of the bay through the snorkeling area. So, keep your ears and eyes open for any moving fishing or snorkel tour boats while you are snorkeling Two Steps.
This spot is a great place to see many fish in good variety over a reef with some healthy corals. There are also many eels. We always see at least one turtle while snorkeling Two Steps. We have seen octopus here many times so watch for that master of camouflage. We once saw a seahorse here, the only one we have ever seen snorkeling. We also saw a Whitetip Reef Shark sleeping under a ledge in a canyon on the left side of the bay.
1. From Kailua Kona drive south on either Highway 11 (Hawaii Belt Rd) or Ali'i Drive (which becomes Mamalahoa Bypass, then Highway 11) for about 20 miles until you pass the 104 mile marker. When you see the Honaunau Post Office turn right onto Ke Ala O Keawe Road (160).
2. Follow this road 3.5 miles toward the ocean and turn left at the Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park sign.
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. The parking is along the road and the shoreline is steps from the parking. The parking can fill up, so come early for snorkeling Two Steps. There is a pay parking lot across the road from the shoreline that is open some of the time.
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.
There are portable toilets, picnic tables, and some shade.
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