Snorkeling in Hawaii

Text & Images by | Texto y Fotos por MARIE BONNET

When you think of Hawaii and the Pacific Ocean, you’re most likely to picture gigantic waves and world-renowned surfing – and surfers. But there’s a different side to this exotic island. One that is perhaps less sought after, but just as amazing – at least for people like me who aren’t even capable of standing on a surfboard: Hawaii’s underwater world. On the west coast of the archipelago, softer coast lines, quiet waters and turquoise blue coves offer the perfect set up for memorable snorkeling and diving experiences.

You’ll find great snorkeling spots in every Hawaiian island, but if I had to pick one, I would go for Big Island where the variety of fauna and the coast lines are just mind blowing.

The rough volcanic coast of Hilo on the East side, with its sharp black lava rocks and tormented waters, is an unexpected prelude to the peaceful spectacle of Kona: crystalline and gentle white sandy beaches: the ideal place to put on your mask and observe the myriad of colorful fish in an idyllic setting.

Kona is also known for the huge manta rays that come out at night to swim along the coast, and there are many dive and snorkeling options to check out this veritable spectacle. Attracted by plankton glowing on our torches’ lights, they approach us by the dozens, gracefully “flying” around with their gigantic wings. Pure magic! A bit scary too. Even though they are completely harmless, they’ll knock you down just by swinging their wings as they fight their way towards big clouds of plankton. This is a unique experience, definitely recommended to any snorkeler/diver.

South of Kona is the unexpected snorkel paradise in the national park of Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau. No white sand beach there but only black rocks. It’s worth adventuring off the rough path of lava crust towards the water and hurting your feet a bit to see the spectacle of millions of little yellow fish swimming around you in 200 ft visibility water due to the absence of sand and residue. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a few turtles as well.                                                                        

Sea turtles are just everywhere in Hawaii, and it’s not unusual to swim along one of those big creatures while snorkeling. Black Rock Beach near Kaanapali Beach, in Maui, is known to be a great snorkeling spot, and, sure enough, amongst plenty of other big and colorful fish there, you’re almost certain to cross paths with giant turtles – I’ve spotted a few every time I’ve been there.

A big funny friend came out of nowhere to join us on our swim. Not bothered by human presence, she stayed next to me near the surface, swimming peacefully until I was done with my photo shoot session.

Another great spot in Maui to see bright fish, in high concentration, mingling with turtles is Kapalua Beach. The beach forms a small, calm cove that is protected from the wind and heavy currents.

My final recommendation would be the beach of Poipu in Kauai. This “double” beach offers a unique sanctuary of bright and stunning fish. So many that you think you’re swimming inside the most crowded fish tank in an aquarium. My favorite ones are the pufferfish that inflate like a ball when they feel threatened. Very shallow and right by the shore, this is also a great spot for kids.

The options for good snorkeling out there are endless. In other words, it doesn’t matter which Island you visit: you won’t be disappointed when putting your head underwater, and you will most likely want to come back!

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