Mauna Kea Beach Snorkeling

by Grant
Mauna Kea Beach Snorkeling

On the Travel Channel’s “World’s All Time Best Beaches” list

Two words: Absolutely Beautiful.  This out-of-the-way cove is considered by many to be the most picturesque and relaxing beach on the Big Island.  Mauna Kea Beach is on The Travel Channel’s “The World’s All Time Best Beaches” list.

Actually, the beach’s real name is Kaunaoa Bay.  Mauna Kea Beach is a nickname since this perfect white sandy cove is overlooked by the world-class Mauna Kea Beach Hotel.  Most of the bay is sand-bottomed and less than 10 feet deep making for easy and safe snorkeling.

You’ll probably want to spend as much time on the shore as in the water.  There are no other hotels nearby and the property surrounding this beach is always well kept.  Kaunaoa Bay is so beautiful, you’ll love laying out on the bright white sand after your morning dip. 

The calm water makes Mauna Kea Beach snorkeling a great activity for children as well as adults.  Speaking of kids, since the beach is never crowded, you’ll have an easy time keeping an eye on yours.

Insider Tip: Walk all the way to the right-hand side of the beach (North, the side nearest the hotel) before entering the water.  You’re going to want to snorkel out on the coral flats near the point.  On your swim, stay along the rocky ledge.  Unlike the center of the bay which is sand, the rocks and coral along the ledge provide food and shelter for reef fish.  Almost all the sea life in the bay will be found along this ledge.  Keep your eyes peeled as soon as you get your mask on.  You’ll start seeing the smaller species of fish in about waist deep water.  

Mauna Kea Beach marine life

Parrot fish, turtles, jacks, peacock bass, flag tails, butterfly fish, surgeon fish, goat fish, and tang abound.  You won’t need to go far, although the further towards the point you swim the larger and more variety of fish you’ll see.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot to tell you about one of the coolest things about Kaunaoa Bay:  After sunset, the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel shines floodlights into the water to attract plankton.  Plankton?!… How boring… Why would a hotel want to attract plankton?!  Well my friend, in case you didn’t know, plankton is the favorite food of Kauanoa Bay’s most famous evening visitors: Manta Rays!

Manta rays come into the bay at night to feed on the denser population of plankton basking in the hotel lights.  The hotel has even set up a lookout, aptly named Manta Ray Point, so you can watch them glide below you.  As with all sea creatures they come and go as they please so there’s no guarantee that they’ll be there.  Although they are there more often than not.

Mauna Kea Beach facilities

There are showers and restrooms at the bottom of the path that leads from the parking lot to the beach.  If you forgot to bring a cooler with your beach goodies, you can always have drinks at the Mauna Kea Beach Resort’s beach-side bar or grab a bite to eat at one of their restaurants.

Insider Tip: Very important!  Beach access parking is provided by the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel.  There’s only about 25 or so parking spaces available for non-guests which keeps the crowds to a bare minimum.  Be sure to get there before 9:00am.  Once all the parking passes are issued, you’ll have to wait for someone to leave the beach before you can enter to park.  Believe me, once they have their toes in the sand, the last thing on their mind is going to be leaving.

How do I get to Mauna Kea Beach?

Driving time to Kaunaoa Bay from Kona Airport is approximately 40 minutes.

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