The best snorkeling on the Big Island is actually some of the best snorkeling in the world. As we discovered, the snorkeling is plentiful and doesn’t require big fees or a boat, although guided tours are indeed available. First up on our list of snorkel spots is:
THE CAPTAIN COOK MONUMENT: KEALAKEKUA BAY
Way to get to the Best Snorkeling on the Big Island
Tucked away in the secluded Kealakekua Bay, the Captain Cook Monument offers some of the clearest water and largest selection of sea life on Hawaii. The secret is out that Kealakekua Bay offers some of the best snorkeling on the Big Island. You can reach the monument area by kayak, by hiking or by boat. For this trip, we relied on a tried and true favorite, the Fair Wind cruise FairWindCruises originating from Keauhou Bay. We chose the afternoon trip. It is shorter and does not include the breakfast and lunch, but provides about an hour and fifteen minutes of snorkeling time, which is plenty. The morning trip includes two meals, more time snorkeling, and of course costs more. Check traffic conditions before you head out. There is one main highway that runs along the west coast of the island. There was a little bit of construction so we were concerned about the time to get to our destination. We used Waze traffic navigation to avoid some of the delay.
Fair Winds Cruises- Best Snorkeling on the Big Island
The boat ride takes about an hour. We applied the coral safe sunscreen Fair Wind provided before boarding. Land is always in sight and the water is gentle. If you are concerned about being sick you may want to try a patch. I am not a great boater and have always done fine. During the trip to the Bay, the guides offered equipment to anyone who wasn’t fully outfitted. After our first snorkel experience we were so enthused we bought our own masks and snorkels. We took advantage of the fins, since they are hard to pack. The crew also signed up passengers who wanted to SNUBA. It is like SCUBA except the oxygen tank floats in a boat on the surface and swimmers are tethered to the tank with a long tube. The history buffs were regaled with the tales of Captain Cook, the world explorer who met his demise at the hands of the Hawaiians at Kealakekua Bay. Taking a Fairwinds cruise is a great way for first timers to experience some of the best snorkeling on the Big Island.
What to Expect When You Get There
At the entry to the Bay we were greeted by a pod of dolphins about 100 yards away. They said goodbye upon our departure as well. Within 5 minutes of entering the Bay, the crew had the boat anchored (more correctly tethered as they can’t anchor for fear of damaging the reef) and the fun began. Literally dozens of fish of every size and color were visible from the moment our masks hit the water. The coral was beautiful and plentiful. For the first time we saw Trumpet fish so close we could reach out and touch them. (But we didn’t as the reef and its inhabitants are strictly protected). The butterfly fish, triggers, tangs and parrotfish were easy to spot. On this trip, we even saw two small white tip sharks darting in the crevices of the reef. It was easy to see why the locals all volunteer this trip as a must for anyone seeking the best snorkeling on the Big Island.
For our taste, this trip is pure snorkeling Zen. But there is plenty of more raucous fun to offer, with two slides and a high platform for kids or the young at heart. On the trip back, we enjoyed snacks, fresh orange and pineapple slices, and some cold beers. This is the only snorkeling experience we paid for and it is well worth the cost. A bit of logistical advice: rinse off with the fresh water hose and then change into dry clothes on the ride back to shore. Otherwise, you will be driving back in wet salty clothes or you will wait in line for the one restroom at the Fair Winds office to change into dry clothing. Also, bring some cash to tip the crew. They work hard to make your experience enjoyable. For more ideas of things to do in Hawaii check out the following posts.