Kealakekua Bay is the perfect place to canoe or kayak given the calm water, the abundance of nearby dolphins, and the lure of boating toward the Captain Cook Monument; however, there are a lot of politics around this activity. You are required to obtain a permit (go to and click on Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park) to land your boat at the monument. Only a few permits are given each day, and it seems that the big tour operators have pre-reserved them, leaving the small operators without permits.

Boats and snorkelers crowd Kealakekua Bay, Big Ilsand, Hawaii.

Kealakekua Bay is one of the best snorkel sites in the islands, but boats need a permit to land. Photo © troy mckaskle, licensed Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike.

You are required to obtain a permit to land your boat at the monument.If you drive down to the bay you’ll see many locals renting boats out by the hour. As the day goes on it’s easy to haggle down the price (usually $20-30 per boat). The large tour operators do not like these “rental agencies,” as they aren’t insured and do not take care to malama ‘aina (take care of the environment). But they have cheap boats that are at the bay and don’t require any additional transport besides putting them in the water. All the larger companies rent single and double kayaks by the day (prices vary but are all around the same range of $40), which are newer, better boats than the ones you’d pick up at the bay, and the companies will assist you in putting the kayak on your car.

The larger companies offer the same tour of the bay, which includes four-hour morning or afternoon combination trips of kayaking, snorkeling, looking for dolphins, and paddling to the Captain Cook Monument. The differences between the tours are the quality of the boats and expertise of the tour guides.

The preferred company for the Kealakekua kayak tour, because of its quality of tours and equipment, is Kona Boys (79-7539 Mamalahoa Hwy./Hwy. 11, 808/328-1234, $125 per person). Kona Boys also offers kayak tours to Pawai Bay (near the Old Airport Beach Park with the fantastic snorkeling). In addition, a trip in an old-style canoe leaves from the Kailua dock (1 hour, $50); someone boats you around the bay while giving you the history of the coastline.

Other choices for kayak tours include the capable Aloha Kayak Company (Hwy. 11 between mile markers 113 and 114, 808/322-2868, $109 adults, $59 children).

For a different kind of kayak adventure (and one that might be a little less crowded), try Ocean Safaris (on Keauhou Bay, 808/326-4699, Mon.-Sat., 3.5-hour morning tour, $64). This tour starts in Keauhou Bay and journeys to a sea cave in Kuamoo Bay. You’ll snorkel on the way in an effort to view dolphins and turtles.

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.