During the summer months—from May through September—or when the ocean conditions in the winter are very calm, the north shore offers great opportunities for snorkeling. When snorkeling, always remember to only go out when the waves are very small or the ocean is completely calm, and it’s safest with a partner. In addition to a mask and snorkel, dive fins are always a must, as strong currents are prevalent even on the calmest days.
A water camera or GoPro is always a good idea. Snorkel gear rentals are available at the Hanalei Surf Company (808/826-9000, 8am-9pm daily). It offers complete sets for $5 for 24 hours, $12 for three days, $18 for five days, and $20 for seven days. Pedal-N-Paddle (in Ching Young Village, 808/826-9069, 9am-6pm daily) has complete adults’ sets for $5 per day and $20 per week, and kids’ sets for $4 per day and $15 per week. It also has flotation devices and fins or mask- and snorkel-only rentals. The last chance for snorkel rentals would be the Wainiha General Store (5-6607 Kuhio Hwy., 808/826-6251, 11am-6pm daily). It offers complete sets for $9 per day.
The calm water and the long, fringing reef make for great snorkeling at Anini Beach. The water stays shallow shockingly far out and maintains a depth of around four feet. Some of the safest snorkeling on the north side can be experienced at Anini Beach. Snorkelers who head far enough out will see the ledge dropping into the deep sea. To get here, take the second Kalihiwai Road headed north. Keep to the left at the fork in the road (going right leads to the north side of Kalihiwai Beach).
Hideaways Beach is the best snorkeling in Princeville, as long as the waves are small. Snorkelers will usually be treated to a colorful array of tropical fish. Green sea turtles are known to cruise through the water at a leisurely pace. To get here, take the trail shortly before the St. Regis Princeville Resort gatehouse and next to the Pu‘u Poa tennis courts. To reach the other side of the beach, either swim to the right from Hideaways (when conditions allow, of course) or walk the paved trail from the Pali Ke Kua condominiums.
For more Princeville snorkeling, hike down to SeaLodge Beach for seclusion and a pretty lively underwater world. There’s a reef right off the beach here in a cove, which means some pretty fish will be lingering around. There’s no lifeguard here, so don’t go out too far. If you haven’t rented gear yet, you can buy some at the Princeville Foodland.
To get here, drive to the SeaLodge condos at the end of Kamehameha Road in Princeville; parking is in the unmarked stalls toward the top of the parking lot. The trailhead is in front of building A and marked with a sign. Take the dirt trail down past the small stream on the way to the ocean. Once you reach the ocean, keep to your left, where you can walk along the black rocks or on the narrow trail a little up on the dirt. After a minute or so you will see SeaLodge Beach.
If you’re going to check out Waikoko Beach anyway, you can hop in with a snorkel and mask since you’re there. The reef draws in fish and it’s worth a glance, but it’s not the best snorkeling on the north side. This area is rocky, and waves break here quite often. It’s at the north end of Hanalei Bay; to get here, look for the small parking area on the side of the road after the bridge and mile marker 4. If a spot is available, look for the short trail through the trees.
To the End of the Road
To see a rainbow of brightly colored reef fish, hop in the water at Tunnels. With the outer reef, it’s no surprise that fish like to wander in here. Reef fish spend their time not far from shore, and the sea caves to the left are a favorite hangout for bigger fish, along with the outside drop-off. The outer area is for experienced snorkelers and divers only, and should only be accessed when the waves are very small or the ocean is flat. Sea turtles, the occasional reef shark, caves, and fish can be seen. Access borders homes located on two narrow side roads past mile marker 8. The first is just short of 0.5 mile past the marker, and the second is slightly farther and most recognizable by the bent metal post with red paint. It is across from the 149th telephone pole, although at press time the 9 was missing so it looks like pole 14.
Another location known for spectacular snorkeling, Ke‘e offers great underwater views inside the natural pond, where there is usually a crowd of snorkelers. Outside in the open ocean the views get even better, but snorkeling here should only be attempted when the waves are flat in the summer months. Advanced snorkelers find that heading a bit to the left and snorkeling along the reef offers the best views. To get here, drive to the very end of Route 560; the end of the road turns into a parking area at the beginning of the Na Pali Coast.
Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Hawaii.