I remember my first trip to Hawaii, a repositioning cruise from Vancouver, Canada. I researched every port of call thoroughly to book my port excursions in advance. The one I looked forward to the most was a snorkeling excursion to swim with dolphins at Kealakekua Bay. I was never a big fan of keeping marine mammals in a tank and selling an excursion to swim with them. So, the idea of being able to view dolphins in their natural habitat thrilled me. Having read some snorkeling reviews on the Big Island, I knew this was the best snorkeling spot in Kona. Unfortunately, before I arrived in Kona, the boat broke down, and they canceled my Kealakekua Bay snorkeling tour.
However, three years later, I finally enjoyed this Kona excursion to see the Captain Cook Monument in Kealakekua Bay. While most tour operators sell these boat tours as a dolphin snorkel, there is no guarantee of dolphin sightings. After all, these are wild creatures. This was much the same scenario as my night snorkel with the giant manta rays.
My excursion was three and a half hours long, of which I spent about one and a half hours in the water. For this excursion, I needed to wear a bathing suit under my shorts and t-shirt. I also carried a small waterproof backpack with a microfiber towel and bottled water. For photography, I had a regular DSLR camera and a GoPro for capturing the underwater shots.
Since Hawaii has banned sunscreen containing the coral-harming chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, I needed a reef-safe sunscreen. It’s important to note it’s scorching in Hawaii, and water washes away that sunscreen pretty fast. So, I also use a Rashguard t-shirt whenever I snorkel to prevent burns on my shoulders and areas that bob out of the water. Rashguard clothing is terrific at preventing burns and costs very little money.
Getting To Kealakekua Bay
The boat ride was exhilarating, and I enjoyed the rugged Kona coastline’s views and the exotic blue waters calling my name. On route to the snorkeling spot, I was thrilled to spot a giant hawksbill turtle. Unfortunately, the turtle didn’t feel the same about us, even though we were a long-distance away. Upon seeing our boat, it darted beneath the water and disappeared in a flash.
Other Areas To Explore In Hawaii:
● A visitors guide to Akaka Falls, Big Island’s spectacular free-falling waterfall.
● Cruise the Hawaiian Islands from Vancouver, Canada.
Arrived at our snorkel spot, I was happy to see the cove was quite sheltered and the waters reasonably calm. Although Kona snorkel tours are a popular activity, there were few boats in the area, the day of my excursion.
A strenuous hike is available to access the beach if you’re adventurous and prefer not to book an excursion. But, the hike is steep, overgrown, and best attempted by an experienced hiker. While the walk down can take 45 mins to an hour, the hike back is much longer due to the incline trail. Once you arrive at the ocean, water access is very challenging within scraping yourself on the rocks.
Captain Cook Monument
The Captain Cook Monument overlooks the bay and marks the spot where he lost his life in 1779. Cook was a British explorer who discovered the Hawaiian Islands in January 1779. The native people initially welcomed Cook by feeding him and his crew and furnished them with gifts. A few weeks later, tensions arose, with Cook firing the first shot at the Hawaiian people. This event resulted in his death aboard his ship a few days later.
In 1874, a monument was erected in the approximate location of Captain James Cook’s death. The white 27-foot spire is a striking contrast against the lush green landscape. During the Kona snorkeling excursion, I could not access the land and only viewed the monument from my vessel.
Kealakekua Bay Snorkel Experience
During the boat ride, I was given flippers, a mask, and a snorkel. Alternatively, you can bring your own gear. The crew gave snorkeling tips and instructions to those relatively new to snorkeling or feeling a bit nervous.
Kealakekua Bay is a marine sanctuary consisting of over 300-acres of pristine waters, coral gardens, and numerous tropical fish species. The protected bay is the perfect place for beginner snorkels in Hawaii. While I have snorkeled many times, I always prefer to swim in waters where I’m not battling a strong current. Since I would be in the water for over an hour, I took a complimentary pool noodle, which allowed me to relax and bob on the surface.
Each Hawaiian island has plenty of great snorkeling places, from Oahu’s Hanauma Bay to Maui’s Molokini Crater. But on the Big Island, the snorkeling hot spot is Kealakekua Bay.
At first glance, Kealakekua Bay didn’t look like an excellent place to snorkel. However, once I put my face under the surface, the underwater world appeared before my eyes, like turning on a light bulb. I snorkeled near the Captain Cook monument, and the water there was crystal clear. The coral gardens weren’t as colorful as those I had seen in the Caribbean, but they were certainly alive and teeming with life. Swimming along the edge of the coral, I spotted butterflyfish, yellow tangs, angelfish, and tons of urchins.
Snorkeling With Spinner Dolphins
During my snorkel, pods of spinner dolphins joined us in Kealakekua Bay. I couldn’t contain my excitement, as this is what I came to see. As instructed, we kept our distance from the dolphins and allowed them to play in the emerald green waters.
As the name suggests, spinner dolphins leap out of the ocean and spin in the air. It’s a marine version of a pirouette and quite a treat to watch the acrobatic displays of playfulness. As I was getting out of the water, a group of kayakers showed up to enjoy the aerial ballet too.
Out of nowhere, a single swimmer with large flippers began chasing the dolphins. My boat crew knew her by name and said she was a local. I watched in disgust as she continued to harass these marine mammals for their entire time they were in the bay. This act was certainly not what I expected from a local and not a good example to show travelers to Hawaii. As soon as the dolphins vanished, she also disappeared.
Ride Back To the Harbor
While the outgoing boat ride was fast, the trip back to the harbor was much more leisurely. It gave me time to dry off and have a much-needed snack. My particular excursion included soft drinks, juice, bottled water, snacks, and fresh fruit. During the cruise back, the captain maneuvered the vessel closer to the shore to view some exciting sea caves formed by old lava flows. At one area, the water was so clear that I could see the bright yellow tangs against the ocean floor’s sandy bottom.
Arriving back at the harbor, I was thrilled to complete this anticipated excursion finally, and one I intend to do again. The unforgettable snorkel adventure to Kealakekua Bay is a must for anyone visiting Kona, Hawaii. Maybe next time, I’ll go kayaking to Kealakekua Bay.
Happy travels ~ Karen