Enjoying the Sea and Salt: The Big Island of Hawaii:
Focuses on the many amazing sea-based activities the Big Island has to offer.
The many fabulous beaches, snorkeling sites, kayaking, deep sea fishing and scuba diving adventures of Hawaii are enough to keep anyone busy for a whole summer, if not more, so squeezing in as much as we could in two weeks while doing everything else, took some planning. Before we left for our vacation, we booked a few trips we knew were high on our list.
- Deep Sea Fishing with Capt. Robert Hudson aboard the Camelot. We had gone fishing with him previously and had caught a few large marlins years ago.
- Night Scuba Diving and Snorkeling with the Manta Rays.
- Scuba diving the many reefs around Hawaii during the day.
I have already written about our Manta Ray and daytime diving adventures in a previous post you can read about here. This post will focus on the beaches, snorkeling, deep-sea fishing, and other fun water-based activities on the island.
Promotion Note: I switched to a Pro Shot Tidal Mask after having a epic fail when trying to tighten my other more expensive mask under water to stop leaking. This mask has a great visibility, a double seal and is fog resistant. It is more comfortable than my other previous mask and I haven’t had a leak problem with it yet. Great for snorkeling or scuba diving.
Deep Sea Fishing for Big Game Fish:
Bob was really excited to get back to the big island and go fishing again. He also wanted to share the experience with our son, grandson, son-in-law, and daughter Danielle, so he booked two days of fishing when the kids were still with us. While we girls, headed to Hilo for a hike, they headed to the Harbor to meet Capt. Robert aboard the Camelot for their full day of fishing.
Hawaii is unique because the water depth drops to thousands of feet deep just a few hundred yards off the shore. The depth, the ocean currents, and the unique ecosystems make this area one of the best big game fishing areas in the world. Our last trip resulted in Bob catching and releasing a 600+ lb Blue Marlin, so he was anxious for a repeat and to have one of the kids bring in a big one. However, after hours of trolling up and down the west coast through the captain’s favored fishing grounds, they were skunked and came home empty-handed, tired, and disappointed. Although they all enjoyed being out on the water, they were hoping for better results on their second scheduled charter.
Fishing is just that: fishing. It doesn’t always translate into catching anything. Unfortunately, the second days fishing trip was a repeat of the first. They only caught a few large bait fish but no marlin or other large fish. They did see some pilot whales and lots of dolphins.
Capt. Robert and the crew aboard the Camelot did everything they could to catch fish and provide a great time for our fisherman, but some days the fish just aren’t biting, and we had run into a few of those days. We would highly recommend Capt. Robert Hudson and the Camelot if you plan to go fishing on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Sea, snorkeling and beaches:
The west shore of Hawaii is known for its great beaches and terrific snorkeling. Early in the first week, everyone was anxious to go snorkeling including the younger kids. After a bit of research, we discovered a free snorkeling location about 45 minutes south of where we were staying called Two Step on Honaunau Bay next to the Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park. We parked at the state park and walked back a few hundred yards to the snorkeling area. Two Step is actually a lava rock formation that juts out into the bay on the right side of the park. There is a great entry point into the water which takes two steps – hence the name. You’ll understand once you get there.
Loaded up with our own snorkel gear plus some gear provided by the host in the home we were staying at, we headed down with about half our clan which did include the two youngest kids. Our youngest grandson Ben, who was six at the time, found a few great friends at the small beach located next to the snorkeling area. This was a safe and shallow area for him to play with his boogie board and the other kids his age. We were able to keep a close eye on him as we took turns snorkeling.
The rest of us brought our gear out onto the rocks and found a place to leave our things and hang out while we weren’t in the water. Quickly putting on our gear, Danielle and I went in first to check it out for the rest of the family. What we found was a crystal clear water reef in about 10-15 feet of water loaded with hundreds of fish and sea life. We came back to help the others into the water. Some were holding onto boogie boards as they floated on the surface gazing at the amazing sites below. We were really impressed with our nine-year-old granddaughter, Ella, and how well she did her first time snorkeling. Showing off this skill set proved to be the deciding factor in taking her out on the Night Manta trip.
When we immerged out of the water about an hour later, we discovered it was getting crowded. We made our way back to our chairs and enjoyed some snacks and watched as others attempt to get into the water. Some were successful and others were not. I had to help a woman get out of the water at a different spot and loaned her a pair of water shoes to safely traverse the lava rocks.
Here is a list of safety tips when planning a trip to two-step or any other beach in Hawaii:
Be sure to bring or in some cases not bring the following items anytime you head near or on the water:
- Reef-safe suntan lotion only. These reefs are delicate and the wrong suntan lotion can have devasting effects on marine life. However, not wearing any suntan lotion can have painful effects on you. So do both!
- Water shoes to walk from the car and traverse the beach and lava rock plateau.
- Snorkeling gear. There are no rentals here.
- Fresh water and snacks. You’ll use a lot more energy than you expect snorkeling and swimming in the water.
- A change of clothes. There is rest room in the parking area of the park. You’ll be glad to have warm dry clothes to change into.
- A buddy – don’t go it alone. The currents and waves can push you out if you are not careful.
- An inflatable safety vest or flotation device.
- A waterproof camera if you have one. You’ll want pictures to remember this by.
- A bad attitude. Be respectful of the reef and other people.
- Your ego! Don’t try what you can’t do. If you are not a good swimmer or experienced snorkeler, be sure to use flotation devices and stay with your buddy.
- Respect for wild life. Watch out for sea urchins. These creatures’ spines sting and can get embedded into your foot which can be very painful. Our oldest grandson learned this lesson at a different beach.
- Leave when you are done. Let others enjoy this spot as well.
Captain Cooks Cove:
Every Hawaiian guide on snorkeling will reference Capt. Cooks Cove on Kealakekua Bay. So named for the famous Capt. Cook who discovered Hawaii and died there as well. There are a lot of tours and charters for Capt. Cook’s Cove that you can take advantage of. Many leave from Kona making the scenic trip south along the coastline. It is possible to get there by foot but only after a very challenging 2 mile hike down from the highway. Remember, in this case, what goes down has to go back up if you parked on the road above.
We decided to head down to the cove on our own and rent canoes to make our way across the bay to the snorkeling areas in the cove. Danielle and Cindy had visited this area a few years earlier and had done this trip before. We headed down to Bayside Adventures in Kealakekua Bay. The road down is narrow and winding but there is parking along the road and a short walk down to the water. Here you can rent kayaks, snorkel gear and dry sacks for your belongings. We rented three kayaks and after a quick briefing by the rental staff we headed out of the small cove, turned right and through the large bay over to Capt. Cooks cove.
The bay is open to the ocean so we did have to paddle through rolling two foot waves but the kayaks handled it well. My son-in-law was in a single kayak which was not set up right for his 6’ frame and he struggled a bit. I took his kayak back and he went in one of the larger tandem kayaks and was fine during the return trip. So be sure to get the kayak that fits you best.
Once across the bay, we enjoyed taking turns jumping over the sides of the kayaks and snorkeling around the reef structures below. Although not as populated as Two-Step, there was plenty of marine life below and we all had lots of fun. Note: Getting back on the kayak can be challenging so be sure you are physically capable of getting back in the kayak before getting out. There really is no landing site to bring the kayaks up on, so you will be restricted to water access only.
After about an hour of snorkeling we were ready to head back across the bay. We followed the site line to the big banyan tree provided by our rental staff and made it back safely, although definitely tired and hungry. We collected our gear, hiked back to the car and headed back to the house for some lunch and R&R.
There are many other great snorkel spots on the island, but these two are reportedly among the best. I tried another spot at one of the beaches north of the airport, but found it to be a disappointment after Two Step and Capt. Cook’s cove. There are several guides on snorkeling and scuba diving on Hawaii and I encourage you to check them out before you plan your trips.
Sand, Sand, Everywhere, but what color is the sand?
The beaches on the west coast of Hawaii are among the best in the world I have been to and I live in Florida and grew up near Jones Beach, LI. both with spectacular beaches. Hawaii’s big island beaches are typically found in small to medium coves surrounded by land and lava formations.
Depending on the season, the surf can be small and tame or fierce and dangerous. Many of the larger, more popular beaches have lifeguards on duty and restrooms. Others are unattended and require a hike to get to. Do your research first before heading to any of the beaches. Be sure to reference the checklist above to ensure you have a great day.
During our stay, we found the famous black beach with turtles on the south shore near Volcano National Park, green sand beaches, and the beautiful white sand beaches along the central and northwest shores of the island. Many of the resorts have their own beaches as well. These beaches are public and can be accessed through the resorts. We took the kids to several of beaches during our stay. My favorite was the Kauna’oa ‘Mauna Kea’ Beach. This beach is next to the Maun Kea beach hotel and has its own parking facilities and great grounds. This is where I tried snorkeling along the rocks on the south side, but found very few fish and challenging currents.
Here is a great guide to the Big Island Beaches that should be helpful.
Enjoy doing different stuff? So do we!
After the kids left, I was looking through the guide and found several interesting and educational places to visit. I discovered the Hawaii Ocean Science & Technology Park just south of the airport and north of Honokohau Harbor. This is a strip of land designated for companies doing bio research to help sustain the biodiversity in the seas around the island. Here among others, we found two companies offering educational tours:
- Kanaloa Octopus Farm: This is a unique conservation octopus research facility. Their goal is to learn how to successfully breed and raise these highly intelligent animals as their numbers are dwindling. After the octopus eggs hatch, the microscopic embryos float in the ocean getting their nutrients from the sea as they grow. This center is trying to figure out the right balance of natural nutrients they need to sustain life through the first 30 critical days of life. The center offers tours of the facility to raise money for their research. People of all ages are welcome to attend one of the hour-long tours and gently play with the two dozen or so Octopus in their tanks. Bob and I went one early afternoon and found it fascinating, wishing we had gone there when the grandkids were around. Warning – Octopus enjoy shiny objects and will grab rings, watches, cameras, etc.
- The Sea Salts of Hawaii was the other technology business we visited and learned all about deep ocean currents and the sea salt and minerals being sustainably sourced at this location. The tour was fascinating and the sea salts are terrific. I bought several on-site and have since ordered several more of their Hawaiian Herb Sea Salt as it seems to make everything, we cook taste better. This is a fun 60+ minute tour with refreshments served after in the gift shop.
The Hawaii Ocean Science & Technology Park is a must-see for kids of all ages. There are several wonderful, fun, and educational places to see here. Again, we wish the kids were with us when we visited these locations. Hopefully, they will return on their own one day.
Food on the Big Island:
If you love seafood then you’ll enjoy the food on Hawaii. Although we cooked many nights we got out for some wonderful dinners and great lunches. There is no shortage of restaurants on the island on either coast, but it does get a bit scarce when you are away from the more populated areas.
Most memorable dining experiences we experienced on the Big island:
- Umeke’s Fish Market, Bar and Grill – featured on DDD, it is known for the Hawaiian Poke’. The Ahi tuna tacos are also amazing. As a fan favorite, we hit this joint three times during our stay. They do have great chicken and beef options for non-seafood lovers. Umekes can be found in the heart of Kona surrounded by several other restaurants that are pretty good as well.
- Roy’s Waikola Bar and Grill is always a favorite of ours. We first visited this restaurant back in the 90s and have been fans ever since. Their menu features land and sea options. Among our favorites are the Thai-Hawaiian Ribs and never to be missed the chocolate Souffle for dessert. Bob and I celebrate an anniversary while we were there and were impressed as usual. They are celebrating their 35th anniversary this year in Kona.
- Throughout Kona village, there are dozens of restaurants to choose from. We visited several of them and never had a bad meal. Our first stop was the Kona Inn in downtown Kona. As our group was coming in on two different planes an hour apart and we couldn’t check in until 3 pm, we decided to meet up at the Kona Inn for lunch and to chill after a long flight. This was the perfect place with good food, a comfortable atmosphere, great views and its ability to handle a large group. The kids were able to head outside and walk along the shore while we waited for the others to join us.
- Papa Kona’s Bar and Grill had great seafood tacos, margaritas, and amazing beachside tables. Bob and I hit this place after the kids left.
- The Hilo Bay Café, mentioned before as well as The Burger Joint in Hilo were both great places for lunch.
- The most fun we had was at the steak dinner at the Kahua Ranch. It offered a unique and beautiful insight into Hawaii’s culture, great food, and a chance to meet other travelers. Reservations are required as seating is limited.
Click to Expand the Pictures below to view the gallery.