Kealakekua Bay / Captain Cook

Experience Hawaii's Best Snorkel Spot at Kealakekua Bay/Captain Cook
Local Expert's Rating:
4 / 5
The Bottom Line:

Kealakeakua Bay is home to one of Hawaii’s most beautiful coral reefs. This along with the historically significant monument of Captain Cook that sits just one shore has drawn in many guests to either hike, swim, snorkel, or kayak the area. 

- The Local Expert Team

Appearing like a piece of paradise on earth, both underwater and on land, Kealakekau Bay hosts one of the most abundant coral reefs on the island. Situated on the lush, tropical South Kona coast, this bay is one of the premiere snorkeling spots in the entire state of Hawaii. The center of the bay is deep enough that snorkelers will frequently spot a pod of spinner dolphins as they come to and from their resting grounds located in the bay. 

Not only does the beauty of Kealakekua Bay entice many visitors who enjoy seeing all the various marine life thriving in their natural habitat, but it also serves as a significant historic location, since it was the location where Captain James Cook first landed on the island. Captain Cook was unfortunately killed during this third visit to the islands, in what many assume was a conflict that could have easily been avoided if he had greater knowledge of the existing culture of the people. Today, the well-known explorer is remembered by the 27 ft. tall Captain Cook monument that sits on the south Kona coast in the Kealakekua Bay Area. 

The white obelisk Captain Cook monument was built in 1878 and is situated in the western part of the Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park.  Park guests cannot reach the monument by car, but it is possible to hike on foot to see it. Of course, it is also accessible via a snorkeling tour or kayak from the water. Taking this route allows guests to imagine what it might have been like for Captain Cook himself all those many decades ago to come upon the beauty and majesty of a land like no other in noble Hawaii.

The primary activities to enjoy while visiting Kealakekua Bay besides visiting Captain Cook’s memorial are all water-related. This is with good reason as the natural beauty of this area, especially within the bay water itself is simply amazing.  Boat tours, kayaking, scuba diving, hiking, and of course snorkeling are the activities of choice to enjoy when visiting this area. 

Speaking of snorkeling, as mentioned above, Kealakekua Bay happens to be among the best locations within the entire state for this activity. The fish that call the bay home are colorful and swarm in large groups over well-developed, beautifully colored reefs that slope steeply from the shore into deep water, allowing snorkelers to experience a wide array of reefs. 

The Napoopoo area, which is where you as a guest will likely park your car, begins with just shallow corals, but swim out just a few more feet (100 or so) and you will find yourself on Manini Beach Point’s southernmost tip, an area simply encrusted with crevices, ledges, coral and caves, all with waters that get as deep as 30 feet. Admittedly, the most ideal snorkeling location in the entire region is in an area not accessible by car. Instead, you will have to take a boat or kayak there via the water or hike down to end up right in front of Captain Cook outside Kaawaloa Flats. 

The hike down into Kealakekua Bay is a fairly challenging hike, so be warned. It is also not terribly scenic. However, it does give you access to Kaawaloa Flats without having to join a boat tour or rent a kayak, which is its appeal for most guests. From the trailhead, it is a 1.9-mile hike with 1,300 ft elevation. Keep in mind that if you hike down to snorkel, you have to climb back up the way you came. So, be prepared with sunscreen, water, close-toed shoes, and a hat! 

Insider Tips:
-Kealakekua Bay has suffered from its own popularity in recent years, leading the Division of State Parks to issue mandatory permits for those who want to kayak to avoid excessive strain on the coast and corals. Thankfully, no permit is required if you are renting a vessel from a licensed company or going on a guided tour.
-The easiest way to visit Kealakekua Bay for either diving or snorkeling is via boat tour to the area, where you can explore the coral and the on-land monument. 
-Guests should remember that they are in the natural habitat of dolphins when they happen upon them during their snorkeling or kayaking. Therefore, it’s not a good idea to try to force interaction with these animals as this could disturb their natural behaviors.