Kealakekua Bay and Captain Cook Monument
Beach Location: In South Kona at 82-6099 Puuhonua Beach Road, Kealakekua, HI 96750
Time to snorkel: Year round
Kid Friendly: Taking a boat, yes. Hiking, no.
Directions and Parking: If you’re taking a boat tour, pack your reef-safe sunscreen, and put the ocean on your right to drive south on Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway. Soon after you see the Tesoro gas station up on the hill, turn right onto Kealakehe Parkway. Drive to the end of the road to Honokohau Harbor, meet your captain, and climb aboard for your ride to Kealakekua Bay! The harbor is located 6 miles south of the Kona Airport.
If you’ll be hiking, drive south along Highway 11 (also known as Hawaii Belt Road and/or Mamalahoa Highway). You’ll pass the Chevron gas station on your left. A few moments later, go right at the fork onto Napo’opo’o Road/Highway 160. Drive the distance of a few blocks, and park on the side of the road, out of the way of any road construction that may be taking place. At this point, you will be about 21 miles south of the Kona Airport.
Once you’re out of the car, look for three tall palm trees on the road’s mauka (mountain) side. These palms are directly across the street from the trailhead. Find the sign for the Ka’awaloa Trail, and head on down to Kealakekua Bay. This trail is not family friendly. You’ll need PLENTY of water, food, heavy duty footwear, long sleeves and pants, sun protection, a swimsuit and snorkel gear, and some lighter clothes. You’ll eventually leave the cutting cane grass behind and emerge into the baking sun and a’a (crumbly lava rock). There are no facilities, and there is no beach at Kealakekua Bay.
The steep, 1.8 mile long trail is divided into eight segments, and each segment is marked with a numbered sign. Getting down can be fun (even with the humidity). Once you hit #8, go right through the walled area to find the monument. The snorkeling in Kealakekua Bay is unparalleled, but going back up the steep trail can be brutal. When you are through snorkeling, and you’re heading back up, TAKE A RIGHT AT THE FORK. The fork is about 100 yards up the trail, and it’s barely noticeable. Right is right is right! If you go the other way, you’ll end up baking in the middle of a lava field, and you’ll have to turn back, which really adds to your efforts. No matter what, GO RIGHT, and also bring more water than you think you’ll need.
If you ask me (and I’m not saying this just because we sell boat tours), unless you’re an avid hiker, this hike will exhaust you and take several hours. If your goal is a nice relaxing vacation, take the easy way to Kealakekua Bay – on a boat! Boat tours are built for family-friendly Kona snorkeling. All food, drinks, snorkel gear, snorkeling instruction, and amenities are provided.
No matter how you get there, you definitely do not want to miss the Kona snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay!