Kahalu’u Bay: Big Island Snorkeling at its Best
Not only is Kahalu’u Bay one of the best places on the Big Island for snorkeling, perhaps rivaling top statewide spots to see tropical fish and sea life, but the bay and its surrounding areas hold significant historical and cultural value to the coastline of Ali’i Drive.
While Kahalu’u Beach Park may not be your stereotypical Hawai’i long strand white beach, the salt and pepper sand throughout the park is plentiful, perfect for laying out a towel or beach chairs between snorkeling sessions.
Fish in the bay area of Kahalu’u are abundant and friendly as low water levels and an abundance of coral reef provide the most pristine conditions for snorkeling in the Kona waters.
The space is divided into three main sections. Towards the south end of the bay, water entry is easily accessible near the life guard tower. This is the popular, more protected area of the beach, perfect for exploring reef ecosystems and snorkeling through the bay. On the north end of the beach, the coastline provides easy access to the more open sea area, perfect for surfing or other water recreation. Between the two areas, picnic tables and designated barbecue spots are setup. A low rock wall separates walk-in access to the water, however, just a handful of yards to the south, you can easily hop in.
A covered pavilion sits on the south end of the park, perfect for shady picnics, parties, and barbecues. The area sits right near the main entrance into the bay for snorkeling. Restroom facilities are easy to access on both ends of the park, as well as outdoor showers.
Around several portions of the park, educational signs are posted to identify and explain the cultural significance of the different features in the area. For example, several heiau are identified in the park, including Ku’emanu Heiau, which was once a site for ceremonies to bring on good surfing conditions.
A few hundred yards in from the Ku’emanu Heiau stood the ‘Ohi’amukumuku Heiau. Some say that it was used in state worship as an area to offer human victims.
Towards the south end of the beach, another culturally significant site sits on a small flat of pahoehoe. This spot was once known as the bathing pool for volcano goddess Pele’s sister, Poho o Kapo.
In 1953, the County of Hawai’i struck an agreement with the then-land owner Bishop Estates to maintain the beach. Thirteen years later, the land was turned over to the County and dedicated as a permanent West Hawai’i beach park.
One of Kahalu’u Bay’s unique features is the Kahalu’u Bay Education Center, which aims to provide visitors to the beach park information and education towards reef protection.
Established in 2011 by the Kohala Center, KBEC hosts its mobile education center at the beach park daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
KBEC provides visitors with a free bay orientation and offers snorkel gear rentals (snorkel package $13.50/day; view board and fins, $9.50/day; mask, snorkel and fin separates $5.25 each per day). Money raised through the snorkel rentals provides the education center with funds that support educational programs and bay protection.
Along with KBEC, the beach park has a mobile-eatery, called the Kahalu’u Snack Wagon, which is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Shave ice and ice cold refreshments are not to be missed.
A parking lot at the south end of the beach is large and can fit plenty of vehicles The popular spots fills up quickly, so come on a busy weekend and you may find yourself parking on the road and walking your way in. On the north end, a very limited, almost non-existent parking lot, sits near the restroom facilities. Don’t count on parking here, because the lot will fill quickly on nearly any day.
Getting to Kahalu’u Beach Park:
Kahalu’u Beach Park is about 14 miles from Kona International Airport. From the airport, travel south on Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway. Turn right onto La’aloa Avenue, where you’ll travel about a mile before hitting Ali’i Drive. Make a left onto Ali’i Drive and you’ll find Kahalu’u Beach Park to your right.