For some of the best snorkeling in Hawaii you need look no further than the Big Island, and in particular the Kona coast. Brilliant coral reefs, deep underwater crevices and lava tubes, an incredible variety of fish, sea urchins, green sea turtles and other interesting creatures lie just below the surface. With our calm, crystal-clear blue ocean waters, the most rewarding Hawaii snorkeling adventures are right here on the Big Island.
The ocean that surrounds the Big Island has a stunning clarity. Water clarity is impacted by the presence of sediment and organic particles in the water. The Big Island's coastal reefs help limit water turbidity, and lack of nutrients limits the growth of algae and phytoplankton (microscopic plants) commonly found in the coastal waters of mainland beaches. The result is a visibility unparalleled throughout much of the world.
Even if you've never snorkeled, the calm water off the west coast of the Big Island makes this a great place to learn. Snorkeling in Hawaii can be as simple as renting a mask, fins and snorkel from any of the local rental shops. Keep it in your car and go whenever the mood suits you. We like to bring our snorkel gear along anytime we're near the shore, just in case.
Hawaii snorkeling often means swimming in areas where coral is prominent. Keep in mind that coral is a fragile, living organism (actually an animal) that is a critical component of the ocean ecosystem.
When swimming in and around coral, make every effort to avoid stepping on, touching or drifting into it. If you need to stand up to clear your mask, try to do it in an area where you won't risk stepping on and damaging the coral.
Oils from your skin and certain sunscreens can kill the coral polyps. Most of today's popular sunscreens are not reef friendly. Anytime you are snorkeling in Hawaii, try to use a sunscreen that is biodegradable and mineral-based or even labeled "reef safe."
Many of the bays along the Kona-Kohala coast are frequented by dolphins, particularly in the early part of the day. If you are lucky, you might find yourself snorkeling with them.
If you are snorkeling for the first time, breathing with your face in the water can be a strange sensation! Before heading out, stand in shallow water near the shore and breathe normally through your snorkel with mask on. Gradually place your face in the water and continue breathing normally. Continue as long as necessary until you can breathe without gasping for air.
Before putting on the mask, wipe the inside of the lens with an anti-fogging solution, available at any dive shop. Or if unavailable, wiping with your own saliva works too. Then submerge the mask to fill it with water, wait a few seconds and pour the water out. Press the mask lightly to your face, breathing in through your nose to create suction. Pull the strap over the back of your head. Avoid resting the mask on your forehead, as this will cloud the lens.
Stay alert and use caution whenever snorkeling on the Big Island, as currents and conditions can change quickly. Also a good idea to invest in a cheap pair of water shoes to get around on the rocks. If you prefer to go with a guide, several companies offer boat tours.
If you're on the Big Island, you owe it to yourself to experience what is arguably the best snorkeling in Hawaii. Enjoy!