Tunnels Beach

Tunnels/Makua Beach on Kaui’s North Shore: Swoony Scenery, World-Class Snorkeling
Local Expert's Rating:
4.5 / 5
The Bottom Line:

Considered by some to be the finest snorkeling site on Kauai, Tunnels Beach—also known by the Hawaiian name of Makua Beach—is a popular but somewhat off-the-beaten-path destination on the island’s North Shore. An expansive offshore reef here provides wonderful looks at tropical fish, coral banks, and (often enough) sea turtles, while the undeveloped beach, backed by rugged green mountains, is simply gorgeous. 

- The HawaiianIslands.com Local Expert Team

Tunnels, or Makua, Beach ranks among the very best snorkeling spots on Kauai. Indeed, more than a few underwater connoisseurs would likely put it right on top. It’s also a truly beautiful beachfront on Kauai’s North Shore, set between Hanalei to the east and Haena State Park to the west. Even if you don’t get into the water, the white sands and rugged, jungly backdrop provide a stunning place for a beach stroll and sunset savoring. That said, you really ought to consider getting into the water!

The trick with Tunnels Beach is access, which can definitely be a little tricky. There’s parking alongside roads off Highway 560 just past mile marker 8 by the beachfront, but you’ll have the best luck if you arrive earlier in the morning. These pull offs fill up pretty quickly. Be sure you’re abiding by signage showing where parking’s not allowed and where private roads don’t provide beach access. 

If you can’t find available parking near mile marker 8, you’ll have to head to Haena State Park and its parking lot, then walk eastward along the beach—a bit more than a half-mile stroll—to get to Tunnels.

Edging Maniniholo Bay, Tunnels Beach serves up stunning scenery: from the jagged green horns of Mount Makana (aka “Bali Ha’i” from the 1958 film version of South Pacific) out to the ocean. The lovely pale beach stretches between ironwood stands and other lush coastal vegetation and the surf. The beach gets its “Tunnels” tag from underwater lava tubes along this shore.

The horseshoe-shaped reef—the real star of Tunnels Beach—is easily seen from the strand. Snorkeling is possible just off the beach in calm waters, but stronger swimmers will want to head out to the center of the arcing reef for the best submarine views. Impressive coral heads draw throngs of fish, including groupers, parrotfish, wrasse, surgeonfish, butterflyfish, and tangs. It’s not at all uncommon to see sea turtles winging their way over the reef as well. 

There can be a stiff current farther out on the reef and in the channels edging it, so be aware. Snorkeling is mainly a summertime deal here, as it is along much of the North Shore of Kauai. The strong waves and surging currents of winter aren’t very conducive to snorkeling.

There’s a reef break here coveted by surfers, so you may get to watch some wave riders in action while you’re taking a break from spying on sea life. 

Tunnels Beach comes lifeguarded but doesn’t offer anything in the way of services or facilities. But for picnic tables, restrooms, and more, you need only look a short way west to Haena Beach Park.

Tunnels Beach is an all-out stunner, both above and below the water! It’s definitely worth the extra effort to reach one of Kauai’s most magnificent stretches of coast.

Insider Tips:
-Don’t park right along Highway 560 to access Tunnels Beach: that’s a good recipe for a parking ticket or perhaps a towtruck visit.
-Despite the lack of services at Tunnels Beach, there are often vendors selling coconuts here.