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There are countless touristy boat charter trips that will take you snorkeling Kealakekua Bay from Kalua- Kona. But a fun (and much cheaper, as in FREE) way to access the area is by foot. You’ll not only get some great snorkeling in, but also a scenic day hike in and out of the area, plus some fascinating history when you visit the Captain Cook Monument at the base of the bay.

Getting there

We took Hwy 11/Mamalahoa Hwy from Kona, and turned at Napo’opo Road. Within the first 10th of a mile, park along the narrow road shoulder. To find the trail head, count five telephone poles from the start of the road. There are three tall palm trees at the beginning of the trail.

Captain Cook Monument access trail

The Captain Cook Monument trail

The hike down to the bay takes you through tall grasses initially, then lava flow trails overlooking expansive ocean views, before reaching the valley. There’s a 1300 ft elevation change over the 1.8-mile trail, which took us about an hour from the parking area to the bay. We’d suggest allowing 1.5hrs for the return though, since it is a steady climb the whole way. Bring water, much of the trail is exposed to sun and heat.

The Captain Cook Monument in Kealakekua Bay

Captain Cook monument history

The Captain Cook Monument in the bay marks Captain Cook’s January 17, 1779 arrival to Kealakekua Bay, and the controversy of his visit – first welcomed by 1000 canoes and 9000 people on shore, and celebrated by local chiefs. But within a month the generosity decreased, petty theft occurred, and suspicion replaced polite curiosity on both sides. It would all come to a fiery battle of misunderstanding that saw a chief’s body guard killed, and later Captain Cook stabbed and clubbed to death. But the disagreement didn’t end there. With Cook’s death stunning both sides, the Hawaiians dismembered the body, an honored practice reserved for high chiefs, and the English demanded the body parts back in a gruesome rampage that torched homes and slaughtered Hawaiians. Eventually some bits and pieces were returned, but the Hawaiians kept the bones which held the most mana (spiritual energy). They are placed beneath the monument. Something to ponder while you swim and snorkel the warm aqua-blue waters of Kealakekua Bay, feeling more like a visitor dropped into a tropical fish tank as colorful tropical fish swim amidst you and the coral reef below. The area is actually an underwater State Park.

Snorkeling kealakekua Bay

Accessing the water in Kealakekua Bay is relatively easy off the rocks beside the Captain Cook Monument. Surf booties or sandals are recommended though since there can be some nasty sea urchins with spiny thorns hiding in the crevices. Access can also get a little crowded with boat groups resting ashore.

Boaters and snorkelers out in Kealakekua Bay
Snorkeling Kealakekua Bay is like swimming in a tropical fish tank!
A snorkel, diving googles and fins are ideal, but some good old basic swim googles from Walmart will do the trick!

You can pick up a snorkel, mask and fins at the local Walmart in Kona, or just use swim goggles if you prefer to pack light. Swim shoes are helpful for accessing the shore area, where spiny red and black sea urchins can sometimes be found.

when to visit the captain cook monument & kealakekua Bay

Be prepared for lots of charter boats in the area, with paying guests snorkeling Kealakekua Bay, and numerous groups floating about with noodles. It’s also a popular spot for dive boats, and you’re likely to see a few double pontoon, water slide and BBQ off the back equipped vessels, hosting guests there for a good time, not a long time. Spinner dolphins are also known to frequent the area, further adding to its attraction. Once you get used to the fact you’re unlikely to be enjoying it in solitude, you can still find peace and tranquility beneath the surface. Since charters typically visit mid-day and afternoon, a morning hike and swim, mid-week and outside school holidays, is a good way to experience fewer crowds.

I’ve written about many of the beaches on the Kona side previously, which we revisited on our rest days when not hiking. Last year we rented twin scooters and visited eight. Link here to get a run down on some magic places to spend a restful beach day: Touring Hawaii’s Big Island Kona Coast Beaches by Scooter

Planning guides

Great for planning, and you’ll want to pack it along for the trip – check out Lonely Planet’s Hawaii the Big Island. Or search out all of the Hawaii guidebook options on chapters.indigo.ca or on Amazon. If you prefer immediate access in e-book format you can get that through Chapters/Indigo as well, or at ebooks.com Be sure to have a look at get your guide for activities and tours that can be booked in advance for considerable savings.

Accommodations

And if you’re looking for accommodations in the Kona area, check out this map guide below to search out VRBO and Booking.com options. I’ve marked where we stayed in Kailua for reference. It was a short drive from the airport, offered great sunsets and was very central for all of our day trips. Of course if you feel the need to exhaust all options, you could also run a search on Hotels.com or Expedia. While listings can start to overlap, sometimes there are some unique properties which pop up. And all of these guys have become competitive on price and cancellation policies. It’s best to shop around.

Enjoy your hiking and beach days on Hawaii’s Big Island. Aloha!

One resource we found extremely valuable was Lonely Planet’s Hawaii the Big Island. Be aware it was written in 2017 though, prior to some volcanic activity since then in the southern regions. We’ve updated you here with our experiences since then.

We’ve combed the internet for some great items for travelers in this post – 8 useful, 4 cool and 2 inspirational, plus 2 more that you don’t really need – but will truly want!

Looking for a cheap flight to Kona? Be sure to check out CheapOair.com or CheapOair.ca if you’re searching from Canada. They make it easy to compare flight deals across airlines. Their When to Buy Flights Tool is handy for planning. They also have options for searching out car rental deals and accommodations. We used Alamo this particular trip, but have also had a good experience with National. Honestly, it pays to shop around for the particular dates you’re wanting to book and type of vehicle. Trip Advisor and Expedia are other dashboard search options you might want to check as well, if you like to keep all of your booking information in one tidy place.

Save up to 40% on hotel booking

I love what BookingCredits.com is doing in the accommodation space. Most hotel booking sites have access to rates not available to the public, but are required by the hotel to sell them at a the retail price. When you book your stay, they will pocket the difference between what you paid, and their commission — as profit. With BookingCredits.com instead of pocketing all the margin as profit, they give the majority of that back to you. Booking Credits was founded by former travel industry experts including the President of Delta Vacations and Senior executives from Expedia. There’s no membership required, and the credit goes back as cash on your credit card within 60 days of your booking. A simple, but cool concept! Do an accommodation search HERE and check them out.

Be sure to grab yourself a rash guard shirt if you plan to spend some time bobbing around on the surface looking at all the fish. While any old shirt will do the trick to protect your hide against the sun, a nice surfers rash guard makes you look the part, plus it will be useful when you go body surging or boogie boarding another day! Hurley makes some nice ones, and just browsing their site for swimwear and surf gear will put you in a beach holiday mode immediately!

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