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Frank’s Big Island Travel Hints #2: Kona Coast South of Honaunau to Ka’u

By Frank Burgess and brought to you by Tour Guide Hawaii

Frank Burgess stops to take a photo while hiking the Ka'u Desert Trail: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Frank Burgess stops to take a photo while hiking the Ka'u Desert Trail: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Tour Guide Hawaii is proud to announce the release of their new iPhone and iPod Touch App available at iTunes…this App will help you plan your trip to Hawaii, help you decide what you want to see, how you want to see it and help you get there with GPS, interactive maps and on-board driving instructions.  The Tour Guide App presents hours of interesting videos and information about places of historical, cultural and recreational interest, giving you a sense of the people, the natural history and the unique specialness of each destination.  The information is so comprehensive and complete they even tell you where all the public restrooms are!  What else will Tour Guide help you find?  Let’s look at a trip South from Kona along the Hawaii Belt Road towards Hawaii Volcanoes National Park…Tour Guide will not only help you find many amazing sights along the way, it will tell you all about them, what to take and what to expect.

Today’s hints cover the area from Pu’u Honua O Honaunau south to Punalu’u Black Sand Beach.  Driving south on Hwy 11 there isn’t too much to stop and see for several miles, so enjoy the panoramic views. Your Tour Guide download from iTunes will give you more detailed information about this area.

Ho’okena is a lovely gray sand beach about 5 miles off the main hwy. This is a nice beach for swimming, snorkeling and picnicking. There are some trails to hike and decent restrooms. Camping is also available by permit only. Tour Guide has more information about trails to hike, camping, and where to get snorkel gear and camping permits.

Driving a few miles further, headed toward the volcano park, is the turn off for Milolii. Again about 5 miles off the main highway, Milolii is one of the last fishing villages in Hawaii. On the way down the views are spectacular, so keep your camera handy. Tour Guide will give you lots of history about this area, so make sure you listen to it on the way. If you are up for a short hike, park at the Miloli’i County Beach Park and hike the shoreline trail to beautiful, secluded, empty Honomalino Bay.

As with anywhere you travel, make sure to lock your vehicle when you leave it and don’t leave valuables in plain sight.

Tour Guide will show many other great places to explore as you continue driving south. We’ll jump ahead at this point to the southernmost town in the United States, Na’alehu. This quaint plantation town is a throwback to when sugar cane was the main export. Na’alehu boasts being a favorite spot for Mark Twain to rest and enjoy the old Hawaii lifestyle. The Punalu’u Bakery has become famous throughout the state for their sumptuous sweet bread. These are just two great reasons to stop and take in some of the local flavor.

Driving about 10 miles further south, your Tour Guide will recommend the Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, one of the top 44 sites on the Big Island. This beach is not only famous for the jet black sand but also for the Hawaiian Green sea turtles and the Hawksbill sea turtles who reside nearby. Often you can see these magnificent creatures sunning on the black sand and, at certain times of the year, nesting and laying their eggs. All turtles in Hawaii are endangered species so touching them is forbidden and a $20,000 dollar fine is strictly enforced. Get up close for photos but please leave them alone. Tour Guide will give you some of the rich history of this area as well.

Driving south from Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, you will notice the highway begin to ascend toward the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Just after you see the Volcano Park sign, there will be a small parking lot, on the ocean side of the hwy, called the Ka’u Desert Trail Head. A one mile hike on this trail will bring you to the warrior footprints and a petroglyph field. Tour Guide gives the stories and history of this fascinating area.

To see the new iPhone/iPod Touch App, please visit http://www.tourguidehawaii.com/iphone.html.  The best of Tour Guide Hawaii’s free content about traveling to, and exploring, the Big island, can be found here.  For more information on traveling to Hawaii in general and on touring the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.

Copyright 2009
by Frank Burgess; photography copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved.

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Frank’s Big Island Travel Hints #1: Kona south to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

by Frank Burgess, brought to you by Tour Guide Hawaii

Frank Burgess Along the Kilauea Iki Trail: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Frank Burgess Along the Kilauea Iki Trail: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Tour Guide Hawaii is proud to announce the release of their new iPhone and iPod Touch App available at iTunes…this App will help you plan your trip to Hawaii, help you decide what you want to see, how you want to see it and help you get there with GPS, interactive maps and on-board driving instructions.  The Tour Guide App presents hours of interesting videos and information about places of historical, cultural and recreational interest, giving you a sense of the people, the natural history and the unique specialness of each destination.  The information is so comprehensive and complete they even tell you where all the public restrooms are!  What else will Tour Guide help you find?  Let’s look at a trip south from Kona along the Hawaii Belt Road to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park…Tour Guide will not only help you find many amazing sights along the way, it will tell you all about them, what to take and what to expect.

Aloha is a Hawaiian word for hello, goodbye and a word they use for love. In the literal translation, “alo” is life and “ha” is breath. So when you say “Aloha”, and someone returns the greeting, you are sharing the breath of life.

The Big Island of Hawaii is the largest land mass in the state. I fact, all the other Hawaiian islands will fit inside the Big Island and only take up about half of it.

Therefore realize it takes 6-7 hours to drive around this island, if you don’t stop anywhere. I always suggest if you are going to drive and see the sights yourself, split the driving into 3 days and pick up your GPS Tour Guide (808-557-0051).  The following series of blog entries details these three day trips.

The first drive day, go to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. From Kona it will take 3 hours of non-stop drive time to reach the entrance. Tour Guide has over 50 sights to see inside the park with tons of great info and photos. The park entrance fee is $10.00 per carload and is good for 7 days, so you can go back and see sights you may have missed the first time if you wish. Bring a cooler with sandwiches and lots of water as there are few places inside the park to buy food. If you prefer a hot lunch, the Volcano House is reasonably priced ($15.00 buffet) and has a spectacular view. The Volcano House is also steeped in history and is not to be missed.

I wear shorts, tee shirt and comfortable walking shoes. BUT, also bring my sweat pants and sweatshirt. At 4200 ft. elevation, temperatures can vary from 80 to 45 degrees and weather conditions can change from sunny to rainy in a matter of minutes, so BE PREPARED. My advice is leave early (7:AM) and expect to get back about dark (6-7 PM). Tour Guide will get you there and back safely and has all the info about hiking, biking, museums and much more.

There are a number of great sights between Kona and the volcano that could be a whole day of sight seeing, all found in your Tour Guide.

When leaving Kona going south, you will enter the coffee country. There are several farms that offer free coffee sampling and tours. Just look for the signs along the highway. Kona Joe’s (visit here and see video) is one of my favorites. They grow their coffee on trellises like fine wine in Napa or Sonoma. Kona Joe’s offers tours, has a coffee bar and gift shop, is immaculately maintained and has breathtaking views of the Kona Coast. For tour times, see their ad in Tour Guide.

Continuing south, brings you to the turn off for Kealakekua Bay (Napo’opo’o Road). At the bottom of this beautiful winding road, turn right to see the Capt. Cook Monument. Tour Guide will give great info about this historic area.

Stay along the coast headed south, on the single lane road for 4 miles, and you will arrive at Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park, also known as the “Place of Refuge”. Tour Guide help will make this magical spot come alive; for even more information, visit here.

To see the new iPhone/iPod Touch App, please visit http://www.tourguidehawaii.com/iphone.html.  The best of Tour Guide Hawaii’s free content about traveling to, and exploring, the Big island, can be found here.  For more information on traveling to Hawaii in general and on touring the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.


Copyright 2009
by Frank Burgess; photography copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved.

by Donnie MacGowan

Donnie MacGowan Snorkeling at Kahalu'u Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Donnie MacGowan Snorkeling at Kahalu'u Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Whether you visit the Big Island for a few days, a couple weeks or a few months, you want to make the most of your time in Paradise. With such a wide variety of natural and commercial attractions, it is natural for the visitor to get a little overwhelmed in the “Option Overload” and not be able to make a balanced and informed decision on what they want to do and how best to spend their time.

Bart Hunt Filming Fish at Kahalu'u Beach: Photo By Donnie MacGowan

Bart Hunt Filming Fish at Kahalu'u Beach: Photo By Donnie MacGowan

Even choosing activities you want to participate in…do you want to snorkel, hike, go on a whale watching tour? We always recommend people do three basic things when they come to Hawaii: get in the air, go to a luau and get in the water. By getting in the air you get a glimpse of how magnificent our island home is, it is the best way to watch the volcano erupt and it allows you to sort of “scout” the island to see where you might want to spend more time. By going to a luau you get an introduction to Hawaiian culture and cuisine–you get a taste of what it means to live in Hawaii. And by getting in the water you experience the magic wonder of our reefs and colorful fish, the calm and renewal from floating in our warm, turquoise waters and the thrill of exploring something new, different and a little wild. We highly recommend you go snorkeling on your visit…but where do you go? Do you want a snorkel beach for beginners, or a place that’s challenging to experience? Are you going simply to get in the water and see the fish or do you want a beach that’s also alive with fun people? Are you looking for an experience that away from crowds, secluded and empty or one that’s exciting, but perhaps a little more tame? Do you want to snorkel near your resort or one that’s at the end of a day of delicious wandering?

Liz Maus Snorkeling at Hounaunau Bay, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Liz Maus Snorkeling at Hounaunau Bay, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Ranked in order, with the best on top, are our picks of the best snorkeling spots on the Island of Hawaii. We’ve tried to strike a balance in ranking these places since each is a gem in its own right, we’ve had to leave off many that are equally fine for their own reasons and of course, recommending some means that their popularity will increase and hence, they will become more crowded. This list at least provides an excellent starting point for deciding where you want to spend you beach time. When you arrive we ask that you treat these special places, and the people who live near them, with care, respect and aloha.

Two-Step Beach at Hounaunau Bay Has Some of the Finest Snorkeling in the World: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Two-Step Beach at Hounaunau Bay Has Some of the Finest Snorkeling in the World: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Two-Step Beach at Hounaunau Bay: Class Triple-A waters, stuffed with a wide variety of brilliant tropical fish, set in a calm and protected bay, and frequently visited by dolphins, this snorkeling area near the grounds of one of the most important Hawai’ian archeological sites is perhaps the most popular and one of the three top places to snorkel on the island. It earns the top spot because of it’s easy accessibility.

Kealakekua Bay and Captain Cook Monument from Napo'opo'o: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kealakekua Bay and Captain Cook Monument from Napo'opo'o: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kealakekua Bay: Whether you hike or boat to Captain Cook Monument, or enter the bay to snorkel at the end of the road in Napo’opo’o, there is no place on earth that has better snorkeling or more fish than Kealakekua Bay. Frequented by both dolphin and whale, protected, Class Triple A waters and a setting unmatched in beauty anywhere, this the premiere place for kayak-to-snorkel adventures on the island. Arguably, this bay and the Hawaiian settlements that surround it, experienced the most momentous and important historical events yet to unfold in the human history of the state of Hawaii.

Kahalu'u Beach, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kahalu'u Beach, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kahalu’u Beach: Referred to by many visitors as “Snorkel Beach” Kahalu’u is centrally located along Ali’i Drive in Kailua Kona. The welcoming waters are protected by a seawall and are amazingly warm, shallow and crystalline turquoise. The safety and ease of conditions here, many resident turtles and abundant colorful fish and the great facilities make this a perfect place to learn to snorkel, or for the tried and true veteran to “get wet and meet the fish”.

Hookena Beach in South Kona Is a Fabulous Beach Plunked Down in the Middle of Real Old Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Hookena Beach in South Kona Is a Fabulous Beach Plunked Down in the Middle of Real Old Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Ho’okena Beach: Ho’okena Beach is a fabulously beautiful beach park well off the beaten path, plunked down in the honest-to-gosh old Hawaiian village of Ho’okena. This beach has an amazing array of underwater topography populated by perhaps the greatest variety of reef fish n the island; recently rebuilt, this park has fine facilities including a refreshment stand as well as snorkel and kayak rentals. Ho’okena is a true snorkeler’s mecca.

Long, Lonely and Wholly Wonderful Makalawena Beach in Kekahai State Park: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Long, Lonely and Wholly Wonderful Makalawena Beach in Kekahai State Park: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Makalawena Beach: Perhaps the loveliest wilderness beach in Polynesia, Makalawena is the perfect sand crescent, beach backed by palms and iron wood trees with morning-glory-draped sand dunes. A easy mile hike in from Kekaha Kai State Park keeps this beach uncrowded. Snorkeling here is better than perfect. Simply drive to Kekaha Kai State Park and walk the well-marked trail north to the beach.

Bradford MacGowan Photographs a school of Humuhumuele'ele at Kahalu'u Beach: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Bradford MacGowan Photographs a school of Humuhumuele'ele at Kahalu'u Beach: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Before we leave the topic of Best Snorkeling Beaches on the Island of Hawaii, we’d like to impress upon you the need to be proactive in keeping these places special and how to make your experience the best it can be. The open ocean is not your resort pool and deserves immense respect from you–the ocean is the strongest natural force on earth. Never snorkel alone, never turn you back on the ocean. Drink lots and lots of water; no, drink even more. Never snorkel after having consumed alcohol. Ask the lifeguard about conditions, chat with people coming out of the water about what they liked best and what conditions are like.

Bradford MacGowan Snorkeling at Pu'u Honua O Hounaunau: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Bradford MacGowan Snorkeling at Pu'u Honua O Hounaunau: Photo by Donald MacGowan

.Gary Burton and his daughter snorkel at Hounaunau Bay: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Gary Burton and his daughter snorkel at Hounaunau Bay: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Please wear a hat and t-shirt to protect yourself from sunburn while in the water–never apply sunscreen just before entering the water,wait until you are done snorkeling and have rinsed off–sun-cream kills the coral and poisons the water. When in the water, do not stand directly upon the coral to rest, do not touch the coral or the fish; never feed the fish or other marine animals. Do not touch, approach, chase or harass the sea turtles, dolphins or whales–it’s not only dangerous, it’s illegal and will earn you a hefty fine. Always obey posted warnings and the lifeguard; do not swim in windy conditions (dangerous) or murky water (sharks); be aware of currents and rip tides. Jellies ride in with inshore breezes.

Amanda Maus Snorkeling at Kahalu'u Beach: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Amanda Maus Snorkeling at Kahalu'u Beach: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Get out before you feel tired, get out before you feel sunburned, get out before you get thirsty; get out before the wind comes up or the sun goes down; get out before you feel ready–you are more tired than you think. Rinse yourself and your gear off after snorkeling and remember to apply sun-cream liberally and often–you are getting more sun than you think. Always pack out everything you brought with you and dispose of your litter (and that stuff the ignorant slob over there left, as well) appropriately. These beaches get an enormous amount of pressure, try to leave Paradise a little nicer than you found it.

Laurie Maus Using a Boogie Board as a Floatie: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Laurie Maus Using a Boogie Board as a Floatie: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

And for heaven’s sake, plunk-down ten bucks for a disposable underwater camera; in fact, buy two. I promise you will kick yourself from now until you return to Hawaii if you don’t! You will want to show the folks back home your snorkel adventures, which seem to always be the most memorable of any trip to Paradise. Trust me, any money you spend on disposable underwater cameras will be the best return on investment of any part of your Hawaii vacation.

A video introducing the subject of snorkeling, gear, technique and safety can be found here.

Bart Hunt Snorkeling at Kahalu'u Bay: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Bart Hunt Snorkeling at Kahalu'u Bay: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

For more information of traveling to Hawaii in general or exploring the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com . Information about the author can be found here.

Monk seal at Honl's Beach near Kailua Kona: PHoto by Donald B. MacGowan

Monk seal at Honl's Beach near Kailua Kona: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

All media copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan.

by Donnie MacGowan

Donnie MacGowan Snorkeling at Kahalu'u Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Donnie MacGowan Snorkeling at Kahalu'u Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Whether you visit the Big Island for a few days, a couple weeks or a few months, you want to make the most of your time in Paradise.  With such a wide variety of natural and commercial attractions, it is natural for the visitor to get a little overwhelmed in the “Option Overload” and not be able to make a balanced and informed decision on what they want to do and how best to spend their time.

Bart Hunt Filming Fish at Kahalu'u Beach: Photo By Donnie MacGowan

Bart Hunt Filming Fish at Kahalu'u Beach: Photo By Donnie MacGowan

Even choosing activities you want to participate in…do you want to snorkel, hike, go on a whale watching tour?  We always recommend people do three basic things when they come to Hawaii: get in the air, go to a luau and get in the water.  By getting in the air you get a glimpse of how magnificent our island home is, it is the best way to watch the volcano erupt and it allows you to sort of “scout” the island to see where you might want to spend more time.  By going to a luau you get an introduction to Hawaiian culture and cuisine–you get a taste of what it means to live in Hawaii.  And by getting in the water you experience the magic wonder of our reefs and colorful fish, the calm and renewal from floating in our warm, turquoise waters and the thrill of exploring something new, different and a little wild.  We highly recommend you go snorkeling on your visit…but where do you go?  Do you want a snorkel beach for beginners, or a place that;s challenging to experience? Are you going simply to get in the water and see the fish or do you want a beach that’s also alive with fun people?  Are you looking for an experience that away from crowds, secluded and empty or one that’s exciting, but perhaps a little more tame?  Do you want to snorkel near your resort or one that’s at the end of a day of delicious wandering?

Liz Maus Snorkeling at Hounaunau Bay, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Liz Maus Snorkeling at Hounaunau Bay, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Ranked in order, with the best on top, are our picks of the best snorkeling spots on the Island of Hawaii.  We’ve tried to strike a balance in ranking these places since each is a gem in its own right, we’ve had to leave off many that are equally fine for their own reasons and of course, recommending some means that their popularity will increase and hence, they will become more crowded.  This list at least provides an excellent starting point for deciding where you want to spend you beach time.  When you arrive we ask that you treat these special places, and the people who live near them, with care, respect and aloha.

Two-Step Beach at Hounaunau Bay Has Some of the Finest Snorkeling in the World: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Two-Step Beach at Hounaunau Bay Has Some of the Finest Snorkeling in the World: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Two-Step Beach at Hounaunau Bay: Class Triple-A waters, stuffed with a wide variety of brilliant tropical fish, set in a calm and protected bay, and frequently visited by dolphins, this snorkeling area near the grounds of one of the most important Hawai’ian archeological sites is perhaps the most popular and one of the three top places to snorkel on the island.  It earns the top spot because of it’s easy accessibility.

Kealakekua Bay and Captain Cook Monument from Napo'opo'o: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kealakekua Bay and Captain Cook Monument from Napo'opo'o: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kealakekua Bay: Whether you hike or boat to Captain Cook Monument, or enter the bay to snorkel at the end of the road in Napo’opo’o, there is no place on earth that has better snorkeling or more fish than Kealakekua Bay.  Frequented by both dolphin and whale, protected, Class Triple A waters and a setting unmatched in beauty anywhere, this the premiere place for kayak-to-snorkel adventures on the island.  Arguably, this bay and the Hawaiian settlements that surround it, experienced the most momentous and important historical events yet to unfold in the human history of the state of Hawaii.

Kahalu'u Beach, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kahalu'u Beach, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kahalu’u Beach: Referred to by many visitors as “Snorkel Beach” Kahalu’u is centrally located along Ali’i Drive in Kailua Kona.  The welcoming waters are protected by a seawall and are amazingly warm, shallow and crystalline turquoise.  The safety and ease of conditions here, many resident turtles and abundant colorful fish and the great facilities make this a perfect place to learn to snorkel, or for the tried and true veteran to “get wet and meet the fish”.

Hookena Beach in South Kona Is a Fabulous Beach Plunked Down in the Middle of Real Old Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Hookena Beach in South Kona Is a Fabulous Beach Plunked Down in the Middle of Real Old Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Ho’okena Beach: Ho’okena Beach is a  fabulously beautiful beach park well off the beaten path, plunked down in the honest-to-gosh old Hawaiian village of Ho’okena. This beach has an amazing array of underwater topography populated by perhaps the greatest variety of reef fish n the island;  recently rebuilt, this park has fine facilities including a refreshment stand as well as snorkel and kayak rentals.  Ho’okena is a true snorkeler’s mecca.

Long, Lonely and Wholly Wonderful Makalawena Beach in Kekahai State Park: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Long, Lonely and Wholly Wonderful Makalawena Beach in Kekahai State Park: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Makalawena Beach: Perhaps the loveliest wilderness beach in Polynesia, Makalawena is the perfect sand crescent, beach backed by palms and iron wood trees with morning-glory-draped sand dunes.  A easy mile hike in from Kekaha Kai State Park keeps this beach uncrowded. Snorkeling here is better than perfect.  Simply drive to Kekaha Kai State Park and walk the well-marked trail north to the beach.

Bradford MacGowan Photographs a school of Humuhumuele'ele at Kahalu'u Beach: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Bradford MacGowan Photographs a school of Humuhumuele'ele at Kahalu'u Beach: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Before we leave the topic of Best Snorkeling Beaches on the Island of Hawaii, we’d like to impress upon you the need to be proactive in keeping these places special and how to make your experience the best it can be. The open ocean is not your resort pool and deserves immense respect from you–the ocean is the strongest natural force on earth. Never snorkel alone, never turn you back on the ocean. Drink lots and lots of water; no, drink even more. Never snorkel after having consumed alcohol. Ask the lifeguard about conditions, chat with people coming out of the water about what they liked best and what conditions are like.

Bradford MacGowan Snorkeling at Pu'u Honua O Hounaunau: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Bradford MacGowan Snorkeling at Pu'u Honua O Hounaunau: Photo by Donald MacGowan

.Gary Burton and his daughter snorkel at Hounaunau Bay: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Gary Burton and his daughter snorkel at Hounaunau Bay: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Please wear a hat and t-shirt to protect yourself from sunburn while in the water–never apply sunscreen just before entering the water,wait until you are done snorkeling and have rinsed off–sun-cream kills the coral and poisons the water.  When in the water, do not stand directly upon the coral to rest, do not touch the coral or the fish; never feed the fish or other marine animals.  Do not touch, approach, chase or harass the sea turtles, dolphins or whales–it’s not only dangerous, it’s illegal and will earn you a hefty fine.  Always obey posted warnings and the lifeguard; do not swim in windy conditions (dangerous) or murky water (sharks); be aware of currents and rip tides.

Amanda Maus Snorkeling at Kahalu'u Beach: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Amanda Maus Snorkeling at Kahalu'u Beach: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Get out before you feel tired, get out before you feel sunburned, get out before you get thirsty; get out before the wind comes up or the sun goes down; get out before you feel ready–you are more tired than you think.  Rinse yourself and your gear off after snorkeling and remember to apply sun-cream liberally and often–you are getting more sun than you think. Always pack out everything you brought with you and dispose of your litter (and that stuff the ignorant slob over there left, as well) appropriately.  These beaches get an enormous amount of pressure, try to leave Paradise a little nicer than you found it.

Laurie Maus Using a Boogie Board as a Floatie: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Laurie Maus Using a Boogie Board as a Floatie: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

And for heaven’s sake, plunk-down ten bucks for a disposable underwater camera; in fact, buy two.  I promise you will kick yourself from now until you return to Hawaii if you don’t!  You will want to show the folks back home your snorkel adventures, which seem to always be the most memorable of any trip to Paradise. Trust me, any money you spend on disposable underwater cameras will be the best return on investment of any part of your Hawaii vacation.

Bart Hunt Snorkeling at Kahalu'u Bay: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Bart Hunt Snorkeling at Kahalu'u Bay: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

For more information of traveling to Hawaii in general or exploring the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com .  Information about the author can be found here.

Monk seal at Honl's Beach near Kailua Kona: PHoto by Donald B. MacGowan

Monk seal at Honl's Beach near Kailua Kona: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

All media copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan.

By Donnie MacGowan

Coming to my island for a vacation? There are three things I always recommend the first-time visitor do. First, go on an air tour. Secondly–go to a luau. Finally, I advise people of every age to get in the water and go snorkeling. The “one-one-one, experiencing the world through the fishes’ eyes” magic of swimming in those bath-warm lagoons surrounded by clouds of tropical fish is an amazing, restful and restorative pursuit-you will find your mind going back to that experience over and over through the years much more so than many of your other travel experiences. Part I of this series discuses Snorkeling Gear; Part II of this series will discuss Snorkeling Technique and Part III will cover Snorkeling Etiquette; Part IV of the series covers Snorkeling Safety and Part V will cover Big Island Snorkel Spots.
Photo by Donald MacGowan

Bradford MacGowan Snorkeling at Pu'u Honua O Hounaunau: Photo by Donald MacGowan

We’ve covered snorkeling gear and technique…before we go any farther, let’s talk a minute about snorkeling safety.

First and foremost, as with all ocean sports, never turn your back on the ocean. Just as important, never snorkel alone; never get more than 20 feet from your partner. Before getting in the ocean, memorize the color of your partner’s mask and snorkel…this is how you will recognize him from a distance in the water. Listen to advice from the lifeguards, obey posted warnings, always pay attention to the currents, surf conditions and surges over rocks. Chat with people coming out as you are going in…what were conditions like?  What do the recommend?  Where was the cool stuff?

Plan your points of entry and exit before you get wet; try to enter and exit from sandy areas with little of no surf. You and your partner should agree on a plan about where you are getting in and getting out of the water, what part of the bay you are going to explore and how long you plan to be out. Don’t overestimate your abilities, plan conservatively, err on the side of safety. Don’t change this plan once you are in the water, except to make it shorter and more safe.

Don’t confront incoming waves head-on, don’t try to jump over them and don’t turn your back on them; duck under incoming waves before they reach you.  Watch the local kids on boogie boards…see how they duck the waves?  You do that, too.

Never snorkel on windy days. Offshore winds may take you unexpectedly out to sea or make it hard to swim back in and onshore breezes stack extra water, high on the beach, making nasty rip-currents as it flows back into the ocean. Onshore breezes also bring in jelly fish and man-o-war.

If you are caught in a current, don’t panic; don’t swim against the current but rather swim diagonally across it toward shore. Keep going, you’ll make it. No, keep going.  I know you are tired., but you’ll get there if you just…keep…going.

Novices should NEVER enter caves or explore under overhangs.  No, I don’t care, don’t do it.  Be extremely careful when swimming near rock formations, pinnacles, spires or reefs…snagging your swimsuit on the rocks or coral while underwater can quickly evolve from a minor irritation to a life threatening emergency.

Many people like the extra comfort and safety provided by wearing an inflatable snorkeling vest or having a “floatie” such as a polystyrene noodle or a boogie board.  I say do it—don’t be intimidated by those idiots out there with nothing, be swayed by the intelligence of those out there who do have something for extra flotation.  A noodle or boogie board will also allows you a platform to rest on and catch your breath between dives, and helps you navigate any waves more comfortably.

Poke your head out of the water frequently to check that your partner is within 20 feet of you and to keep yourself oriented relative to your entry and exit places. Stay alert–it’s easy to loose track of time, get carried farther than you thought by a current you didn’t even notice, wander out of your comfort zone, lazily paddle away from your partner, accidentally stray into a dangerous zone. I cannot stress this enough–it’s easy to get overtired; get your partner and swim in BEFORE you feel fatigued, thirsty, sunburned; BEFORE the wind comes up or the surf builds. So stay focused, stay oriented, always know where you are, where your partner is.

Safety around fish, marine mammals and sharks is thouroughly discussed here.

Lee Ann MacGruder Snorkels the shallows at Ho'okena Beach: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Lee Ann MacGruder Snorkels the shallows at Ho'okena Beach: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Sunscreen washing off your body pollutes the water and is a major factor in coral death–wear a t-shirt and baseball cap to avoid sunburn while in the water, waiting until you are out of the ocean and rinsed off to apply sunscreen. Sun screen and sunglasses, necessary to combat the deceptively severe tropical sun, are so important that I’ve written a separate articles about sun burn and sunscreen in Hawaii and what sunglasses you should bring to Hawaii. Too many visitors drastically underestimate the strength and ferocity of our sun and wind-up with vacation-ruining sunburns.

Many things in the ocean sting, most commonly sea urchins–avoid them, do not handle or step on them. White vinegar kills sea urchin stings from embedded spines and, regularly applied, helps to dissolve the spine. Other home remedies for sea urchin, jelly fish and other stings include the application of moistened tobacco, hydrogen peroxide or urine (this latter can be hard to self-administer and will quickly let you know who your real friends are). Like wasp stings, most stings from ocean creatures are not medically dangerous, merely a painful nuisance, but it’s best to be prepared with whatever remedy you choose in your beach kit. Some jellyfish stings and all man-o-war stings are potentially life-threatening and need to be treated at the emergency department of the nearest hospital.

This shouldn’t even need mentioning, but of course, if you’ve been drinking–even a little, you should not go snorkeling. Snorkeling is best done between about 9 a.m. and noon, anyway, so sobriety shouldn’t even be an issue. Oh, right; you’re on vacation–I forgot.

Don’t forget to drink lots of water…immersion in salt water is very dehydrating and just swimming around you’ve worked harder–and sweated more–than you realize. Be kind to your skin and rinse yourself and your gear with fresh water immediately after you get out of the ocean and remember to apply sunscreen and wear your sunglasses. Don’t overestimate your skin’s tolerance for beach sun; a nasty sunburn is distressingly easy to acquire and will absolutely ruin your vacation. Now might be a good time to go inside and cool off, rest a bit–you are on vacation, you know?

Photo by Donald MacGowan

Bradford MacGowan Photographs a school of Humuhumuele'ele at Kahalu'u Beach: Photo by Donald MacGowan

That’s a few of the gear technique and safety tips you should bear in mind…remember to heed whatever advice the lifeguards give you–they are seasoned professionals who intimately know their beach; obey posted rules and be wary of riptides and currents. Most of all, spring for a cheap-o $10 disposable underwater camera, get in the water and enjoy…those fish won’t photograph themselves, you know!  Shoot, they;re cheap…buy two!  And take pictures of each other, for Pete’s sake!

A video covering many of these topics is available here.

For more information about visiting and touring Hawaii in general, and exploring the fabulous snorkeling on the Big Island in particular, visit http://www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com – a short video about snorkeling in Hawaii is available here. To see a funny video of my family learning to snorkel in Hawaii, go here. For information about the author, go here.

All media copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan.

This post has been expanded and updated, here.

by Donnie MacGowan

It’s springtime on the Big Island which means monsoon season here in Kona.

A Spring Monsoon Cloudburst in Kailua Kona (it dropped 2.6 inches of rain in 72 minutes, then we returned to brilliant blue sky and sun) : Photo by Donnie MacGowan

A Spring Monsoon Cloudburst in Kailua Kona (it dropped 2.6 inches of rain in 72 minutes, then we returned to brilliant blue sky and sun) : Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Remembering that Kona Side of Hawaii is basically arid to semi-arid, “monsoon” simply means that rather than our usual brilliant weather of sapphire skies and tropical sun, we get a few days of grey skies and drizzle and a tropical cloudburst or two–nothing like the folks over on Hilo Side have to contend with.  But during the monsoon when we get a couple sunny days, we like to break out of the office, hit the road and see our favorite places.

Kealakekua Bay and Captain Cook Monument from Napo'opo'o: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kealakekua Bay and Captain Cook Monument from Napo'opo'o: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

This time, we decided to take a ride down the Kona Coast and into Ka’u. Our first stop was at picturesque Napo’opo’o, where the Kealakekua State Historic Monument, Hikiau Heiau and the Captain Cook Monument are.

The Captain James Cook Monument at Ka'awaloa Village in Kealakekua: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The Captain James Cook Monument at Ka'awaloa Village in Kealakekua: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

As well as immensely important historically (this is where Cook first met the Hawaiians, as well as the place where he died), dolphin, whales and some of the best snorkeling in the Pacific are here.

Next, we drove along the shoreline, past ancient battlefields, tiny beaches, awesome sea arches and historic churches to the National Historic Monument at Pu’u Honua O Hounaunau, the Place of Refuge.

Sacred Iki nd Hale Keawe at Pu'u Honua O Hounaunau, Big Island: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Sacred Iki and Hale Keawe at Pu'u Honua O Hounaunau, Big Island: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

This ancient site is enormously important historically and culturally and is very sacred to the native Hawaiians. Adjacent to the Monument is Two Step Beach which, like Kealakekua Bay, hosts unbelievably wonderful snorkeling. In addition to the great Ali’i of Hawaii, James Cook, Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson spent time here.

Two Step Beach at Hounaunau Bay--Some of the Best Snorkeling in the Pacific: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Two Step Beach at Hounaunau Bay--Some of the Best Snorkeling in the Pacific: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Driving South through the coffee country of Kona Mauka, we decided to drive down to Ho’okena Beach and do some snorkeling.

Ho'okena Beach In The Morning: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Ho'okena Beach In The Morning: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Recent changes to the beach include more parking, a kayak and snorkel gear rental and snack shop as well as full time caretaker and security…the camping may be a bit more regulated these days, but the beach is much cleaner and safer–it is a joy to visit again after it got so run-down a few years back.

Morning Campers at Ho'okena Beach Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Morning Campers at Ho'okena Beach Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Driving through Kona macadamia nut country across the old lava flows from Mauna Loa, we decided to check out the town of Miloli’i and hike into Honomalino Beach.

An Idyllic Morning at Miloli'i: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

An Idyllic Morning at Miloli'i: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Miloli’i calls itself the “Last Fishing Village in Hawaii” and is a tight-knit enclave of native Hawaiians. The town is beautiful, if obviously impoverished, and the locals, if treated with respect, are friendly and engaging. Be wary…they can also be a bit frisky, so leave no valuables in your car when you hike out to Honomalino Beach, about 20 minutes south along the spectacular coastline.

A Small House on Honomalino Beach: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

A Small House on Honomalino Beach: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

From Miloli’i, our wanderlust drew us down to South Point–the southern most point in the United States, and a region of deep mystery, spirituality and fascination. Near the Ka Lae Heiau, one of the most sacred in all Polynesia, we found some rare (perhaps modern) kite petroglyphs in the Queen’s Pond.

Kite Petroglyphs at South Point...Are These Modern? : Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kite Petroglyphs at South Point...Are These Modern? : Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Crossing the tip of South Point, we drove to the Kaulana Boat Ramp and hiked into Mahana Beach–South Point’s famed Green Sand Beach.

Bathers at Mahana Green Sand Beach at South Point, Hawaii: Photo by Donad B. MacGowan

Bathers at Mahana Green Sand Beach at South Point, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

It’s always a treat to visit and a fascinating experience–beautiful, secluded, mysterious.

Mahana Green Sand Beach in the Afternoon: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Mahana Green Sand Beach in the Afternoon: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

We drove back to the Highway past the Ka Lae Wind Farm, then down through Waiohinu and Na’alehu. Waiohinu is where Mark Twain stayed as he wrote his “Letters From Hawaii”, and the monkey pod tree he sat under is still by the roadside.

Coastline of Ka'u from near Na'alehu, Big Island: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Coastline of Ka'u from near Na'alehu, Big Island: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Finally, we wound up at Punalu’u Black Sand Beach to visit the amazing sea turtles and watch the sunset.

Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle Ambles Off into the Punalu'u Sunset: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle Ambles Off into the Punalu'u Sunset: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Returning to Kailua Kona in the waning light, we arrived back in town just in time for seafood buffet dinner at the King Kamehameha Beach Resort. Could there be a more perfect day?

Kailua Kona in the Evening Light from Kailua Harbour: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Kailua Kona in the Evening Light from Kailua Harbour: Photo by Donald MacGowan

For more information on touring Hawaii in general and the Big Island in particular, please visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.

Copyright 2009 Donald B. MacGowan.  All photos copyright 2009 Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved.