In a quiet corner located at the end of South Kihei road lies one of the best beaches and places to snorkel with sea turtles on Maui. Keawakapu Beach offers a beautiful 0.7-mile white sand beach, excellent snorkeling on both ends of the beach created by the lava fingers, plenty of space for physical activities, lounging on the sand or to watch a spectacular Maui sunset.
The Best Beach to Snorkel With Sea Turtles
I started my Tuesday snorkeling adventure off early with the goal of finally snorkeling with turtles on Maui. Although seeing marine animals is never guaranteed on any snorkeling trip, I was extremely optimistic because I had heard that green sea turtles are frequently spotted in this location. I got to the beach around 9 AM to secure a nice shady parking spot (I prefer to park at the main entrance closer to the end of Kihei because it’s less crowded and more easily accessible) and to “claim” my area on the beach for the morning. After making my way down the small flight of stairs and to the beach, I turned left towards Wailea. After I passed by a little tide pool, I chose a spot on the beautiful white sand, right in front of the coastal area where the lava rocks stick out of the water. There I set up my umbrella, set down my cooler filled with snacks and drinks, and got my mask and fins ready to snorkel with sea turtles. Pro tip: The rocky areas are actually the best places to snorkel with sea turtles at Keawakapu Beach because reef fish and other marine animals thrive in places where they have natural protection from predators (coral), where the water is warm, and the food supply is plentiful.
I Got to Snorkel With Sea Turtles!
My snorkeling adventure was absolutely fantastic! Entering the ocean was easy thanks to the sandy shoreline. Once below the surface, I immediately stumbled upon four giant green sea turtles grazing on the seaweed near the coral reef. They couldn’t have been more than a couple of feet from shore. Understanding the need to respect wildlife, I remained at least 10 feet from the turtles. This ensured my safety and also didn’t stress out the animals. From there I was able to see them perfectly well and they weren’t spooked by my presence. The intricate pattern on the shells of the turtles was beautiful, and I was amazed by how small their heads, flippers, and tails were compared to their huge bodies 😉 Did you know that some turtles can weigh up to 350 lbs?!
Exploring the Reef System
After watching the turtles, I decided to explore the peninsula to see what other animals I could find. There I saw many Hawaiian reef fish including: goatfish, needlefish, convict tangs, rudderfish, jacks and more. I was even lucky enough to stumble upon a school of red shallow-water goatfish, known commonly in Hawaii as “Kumu”. This was special because these fish are uniquely endemic to Hawaii, meaning that they can not be found anywhere else in the world! In fact, spotting them is actually incredibly rare because they often hide in caves and feed at night. Later I discovered they were once regarded as a favorite fish for native Hawaiians’ to eat. Maui has incredibly strict rules when it comes to fishing and ocean safety. In order to take or catch a Kumu, they need to be at least 12 inches in size and are limited to one fish per person, per day. In addition, breaking these rules can have extreme consequences such as fines of up to 10,000 dollars and even jail time. I prefer to observe the animals anyway, as they are stunning fish.
Getting to Keawakapu, South Entrance
Keawakapu is located at the end of South Kihei road towards the beginning of Wailea. There are two ways to access this beach; the first is the main park entrance and the other is by the Mana Kai Resort public beach access. To get to the main entrance, follow South Kihei Road until you reach the slight fork in the road. Take a right onto the narrow asphalt road, then continue straight until you see the entrance to the parking lot at the end of the road. Parking stalls at the main entrance are limited, so it is recommended that you arrive early in order to secure a good spot at Keawakapu Beach. There is also an option to park outside of the lot if there are no stalls available inside the gate. To do so, take the roundabout and park on the right-hand side shoulder of the road on the dirt underneath the trees (you will need to walk in).
Getting to Keawakapu, North Entrance
The other way to access Keawakapu Beach is by entering the Mana Kai Resort entrance. As soon as you turn right into the resort entrance, continue a little way down and take a hard left into the gravel parking lot labeled ‘public parking’. There is a public beach access path that leads down to the beach from there. One thing to note is that this area is more populated due to the number of people staying at the resort. If you are looking for more a less crowded place to snorkel with sea turtles on Maui, I would recommend accessing Keawakapu Beach through the main entrance. There you will find a shower, port-a-potty, trash/ recycle cans, and handicap stalls for easier beach accessibility.
The Best Day of Snorkeling on Maui
This was an incredibly satisfying snorkel adventure. The main reason being that I did not have to swim far to snorkel with sea turtles and fish, the water was pretty clear, and the waves were relatively small. The depth of the ocean was also no more than 15 feet, and the snorkeling fins I rented helped me to navigate around the coral/lava rock formations easily. There were a lot of sea urchins in the area, which are very painful if touched so I made sure to stay a few feet from the coral and rocks at all times and never put my feet down.
Overall I had a fantastic day, getting to snorkel with sea turtles at Keawakapu Beach. I got to see incredible marine life, lounged out and enjoyed the sun and the spectacular white sand beach. I especially enjoyed the stunning views of the ocean, West Maui mountains, and the neighboring islands across the ocean. If you are looking for a fantastic place to snorkel with sea turtles in Maui, I highly recommend Keawakapu Beach 🙂