There are many wondrous, enigmatic and fascinating attractions on the Big Island of Hawaii, some better known than others, many out of the way and generally off the beaten track. Tour Guide Hawaii has produced an encyclopedic collection of the most up-to-date information, presented as short GPS-cued videos, in an app downloadable to iPhone and iPod Touch that covers the entire Big Island, highlighting the popular and the uncrowded, the famous and the secluded, the adventurous and the relaxing.
Two-Step Beach at Honaunau Bay
Some of the finest, protected snorkeling and shore-diving in the world, and certainly one of the top 5 snorkel spots in the state, Two-Step Beach is located adjacent to the Place of Refuge, Pu’u Honua O Honaunau National Historic Park. Hawaii has about 75% of the coral reefs in the United States; the Kona Coast contains about 57% of that…and Honaunau Bay has some of the most varied and extensive shallow-water coral gardens in Hawaii. If you want to see living coral by snorkeling, this is a great place to do it.
A wonderland of turtles, coral and fish, with frequent morning visits by dolphins, this snorkeling experience shouldn’t be missed. Although no swimming is allowed within the National Park, as a measure of respect of the sacredness of the Refuge site, Two-Step Beach offers a convenient place to enter Honaunau bay.
The name Two-Step Beach is somewhat misleading…there is little sand here. The easiest way to get in the water for beginners is to simply walk down the boat ramp. Water near the ramp is fairly cloudy and chilly (due to near-shore springs), but quickly warms and clears up as one swims past the little point of rocks separating Keoneele Cove from Honaunau Bay proper.
More commonly, people enter by stepping off the short cliff into the water near the center edge of the lava bench. Two-Step beach gets its name from this short hop; there are two ledges that serve as steps down into the ocean. At low tide, it’s a simple matter of stepping down these steps: 1-2-OCEAN! At high tide, one simply steps off the edge and in. Getting out, one simply floats up to the steps, puts ones hands palms down and waits for a convenient, incoming wave to float you up and onto the bottom step—the process is more intuitive and physically easier than it sounds. Resist the temptation to put fingers into small holes and pockets in the rocks to haul yourself out—these are frequently filled with spiny sea urchins. Always lay your hands on the rocks palms down, don’t use fingers.
The best snorkeling is along the cliff edges and the shallows adjacent to the shore, where most of the fish and some of the coral are. That being said, the deeper water hosts amazing coral gardens fairly close to shore. Remember that you cannot get out of the water anywhere within the confines of the Park.
Remember not to harass or approach dolphin or sea turtles; they are federally protected species. A complete discussion of “snorkeling etiquette” and rules for protecting the reef and animals who live there may be found here. Briefly, do not step on or touch coral; do not feed the fish; do not approach turtles within 30 feet and do not approach marine mammals within 100 yards, Dolphins and seals may approach you, but remember, this ain’t Flipper—these are wild animals and sometimes bite. Do not reach out to them or swim towards them or their calves–they will interpret this as aggression and defend themselves vigorously.
Two Step Beach is notorious among locals for the spectacular sunburns visitors get here—whether they underestimate the raw power of the tropical sun and the reflection from the lava, or misguidedly believe you cannot burn on a cloudy day (you can, UV passes right through clouds). Don’t be one of those visitors who winds up with a vacation ruining sunburn. This is of such importance, I have written a special article about sunburn and sunscreen and one about sunglasses; you should read them and follow their suggestions. Finally, please wait to apply sunscreen until you are out of the water; wear a t-shirt and ball cap into the ocean to prevent burn while you are snorkeling. Sunscreen lotions and creams kill the coral and harm the fish.
To reach Two Step Beach, from Highway 11 head west (toward the ocean) on Highway 160 at the junction just south of Mile Marker 104. Drive about 5 miles to the entrance of Pu’u Honua O Honaunau National Historic Park, turning right on a narrow 1-lane road (the only turn off) just before the National Park fee kiosk; follow this lane about 100 yards past the boat ramp at Keoneele Cove.
Parking for Two Step beach is along the shore under the trees, just beyond the boat ramp. If no parking is available here, go back and park in the National Historic Park lot (it costs $5 for park entrance fee—but you get to see the Park after snorkeling, and it’s worth it!)–your vehicle is safer and you can used the civilized restroom of the National Park. Parking, picnic tables, barbecues and portable toilets are available.
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All media copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved.