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Hawaii (Big) Island
Article Source: Copyright © 2012 by Fodor’s Travel, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved.
Snorkelers will find tons of coral and the fish who feed off it in this large network of tide pools at the end of Kapoho-Kai Road. This is a great place for getting close-up looks at Hawaii's interesting marine life and reef fish. Some of the pools have been turned into private swimming pools in this residential area; those closest to the ocean are open to all. The pools are usually very calm, and some are volcanically heated and are divine. It's best to come during the week, as the pools can get crowded on the weekend. Note: there is no real sandy beach here. Take the road to the end, then turn left and park. Amenities: none. Best for: snorkeling.
This is where King Kamehameha spent his final days—his Ahuena Heiau sits next to the sand. Fronting Courtyard's King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel and next to Kailua Pier, this little crescent of white sand is the only beach in downtown Kailua-Kona. Protected by the harbor, the water here is almost always calm and the beach is clean making this a perfect spot for kids. For adults it's a great place for a swim, some stand-up paddleboarding, or just a lazy beach day, although it can get crowded in the afternoon. Though surrounded by an active pier, the water is surprisingly clear. Snorkeling can be good north of the beach, and snorkeling and kayaking equipment can be rented nearby. A little family of sea turtles likes to hang out next to the seawall, so keep an eye out. Park at the hotel for $15 a day. Amenities: food and drink; showers; toilets; water sports. Best for: snorkeling; swimming.
This salt-and-pepper beach is a combination of white and black sand mixed with lava and coral pebbles. It's one of the Big Island's most popular swimming and snorkeling sites, thanks to the fringing reef that helps keep the waters calm. But outside the reef there are very strong rip currents, so caution is advised. Some snorkelers hand-feed the unusually tame reef fish here, but we advise against it: the fish can become dependent and lose their natural survival instincts. Experienced surfers find good waves beyond the reef, and scuba divers like the shore dives—shallow ones inside the breakwater, deeper ones outside. This beach is very busy, and, consequently, littered. Snorkel equipment and boards are available for rent across the street. Hawaiian craft vendors set up on the beach but are inobtrusive. Kahaluu was a favorite of King Kalakaua, whose summer cottage is on the grounds of the neighboring Outrigger Keauhou Beach Resort. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; parking (no fee); shower; toilets; water sports. Best for: snorkeling; swimming.
The 2½-mi road down to this quiet, out-of-the-way beach is narrow and steep, but the views are awsome and you feel like you're venturing off the beaten path. The area is rich in cultural history, and remnants of the old steamship pier are still intact. This beach is frequented mostly by locals, so is usually only crowded on weekends. Backed by steep embankments, the dark sand is a clean, soft mix of lava and white sand. The bay is usually calm, with a small surf, good for swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, and diving. The ocean floor can be a little rocky, and caution is advised during high surf. Trails along the shoreline make for good exploring. South of Kealakekua Bay on Highway 11 you'll see a sign for Ho'okena Beach Park. Amenities: food and drink; parking (no fee); showers; toilets; water sports. Best for: snorkeling; sunset; swimming.
One of the most consistent places on the east side to catch a wave, Honolii is popular with the local surf crowd. The beach is a mix of black sand, coral, and sea glass, with plenty of rocks. A shady grassy area is great for picnics while you watch the surfers. The presence of surfers is not an indication that an area is safe for swimmers. Winter surf is very rough. A pond just to the north is good for swimming, but it's deep and there is a drop-off. There's limited parking on the narrow roadside. Walk down the stairs and veer left over the rocks. Amenities: lifeguards; toilets. Best for: surfing.
One of Hawaii's finest white-sand beaches, Hapuna is a half-mi-long stretch of perfect white sand. The turquoise water is calm in summer with just enough rolling waves to make bodysurfing and body boarding fun. Watch for the undertow; in winter the water can be rough. There is some excellent snorkeling around the jagged rocks that border the beach on either side, but watch for strong currents when the surf is high. Come here for awesome sunsets—it's one of the best places on the island to see the "green flash" as the sun dips below the horizon. The north end of the beach fronts the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel. You can rent water-sports equipment here, or stop by the food concession and have lunch at the shaded picnic tables. There is ample parking, although the lot can fill up by midday, and the beach can be crowded on holidays. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; parking (no fee); showers; toilets; water sports. Best for: sunset; swimming; surfing; walking.
Also known as "A-bay," this expansive stretch of white sand mixed with black lava grains fronts the Waikoloa Beach Marriott and is a perfect spot for swimming, windsurfing, snorkeling, and diving. Although damaged by the 2011 tsunami (about 50% of the beach is gone) it's still a vital and popular beach. The bay is well protected, so even when surf is rough on the rest of the island, it's fairly calm here. Snorkel gear, kayaks, and boogie boards are available for rent at the north end, and the vendors are friendly and helpful. Snorkel cruises and glass-bottom boat tours also depart from this bay. Behind the beach are two ancient Hawaiian fishponds, Kuualii and Kahapapa, that served the Hawaiian royalty in the old days. A walking trail follows the coastline to the Hilton Waikoloa Village next door, passing by tide pools, ponds, and a turtle sanctuary where you will often see sea turtles sunbathing on the sand. Footwear is recommended for the trail. Amenities: food and drink; parking (no fee); showers; toilets; water sports. Best for: snorkeling; swimming; walking.
There's nothing like swimming in this natural, geothermally heated pool next to the ocean with palm trees swaying overhead. Popular with locals, this 3-acre beach park has a ½-acre pond of fresh spring water mixed with seawater that's heated by volcanic steam. There's no sand, but there is smooth rocky access to the ocean as well as the pool. The pool has had ongoing bacterial contamination problems that are typical of some ocean tidal pools in Hawaii. Those with skin-lesion problems, or chronic conditions like psoriasis, may want to avoid the water here. Others should have no problem. Check with the lifeguard on duty, and heed all posted signs. The parking lot fills up quickly. Amenities: lifeguards; parking (no fee); showers; toilets. Best for: swimming.