Monday, April 10, 2017

Hawaii Adventure - Snorkeling and Kayaking on the Kona Coast

Snorkeling and Kayaking on the Kona Coast

Picnic area, in the National Park just South of 2 Step

When you ask people about where to go Snorkeling along the Kona Coast, you will pretty much get the three same places. One of these places is the beach park a mile up the road from where we were staying. That one was closed do to a water problem. The next one (a few miles south) is right next to a park often called “City of Refuge”, probably because the Hawaiian name is too hard. This beach is called “Two Step”. The third place is in an aquatic biological preserve right next to the Captain Cook Monument.

Two-Step Beach.

It is hard to find really large sandy beaches with easy snorkling entries on the Kona Coast. The island is so young (just a few million years !!) that it still has rather sharp and lava-rocky beaches for the most part. Two Step Beach really doesn't have much of a beach, per se. It is really a little coastal access that is tucked behind a headland such that it doesn’t get so much wave action. There also seems to be a little fresh water seeping through the lava there which has created small sandy lagoon. A place you can launch a small boat or wade out and put on your Snorkel gear. You can also walk over to the edge of the lava flow where there is a three foot step down to the water. Then out a bit more and a second step down to deeper water. Thus… Two-Step.

We got a lot of warnings from people (and perhaps outdated tourist hand books) that we should not leave valuables in our car. In fact, stated the book, the existence of broken glass in the parking lot should warn us of past car break-ins. So, how do you protect yourself? There seem to be a couple of reconmendations here. First is to bring all of your valuables with you. Leave your car open. At least leave it unlocked. But then, where do you put your valuables when you go snorkling? Our host in the VRBO we stayed in told us that he had his flip flops stolen from the beach whilst he was swimming. Ok, so the other method is to lock everything in your car and park your car in a well traveled place. This turns out not to be too hard. Most of the places that are good to go (and not too hard to get to) have a lot of people (tourists) coming and going. Makes it hard to break a window and not be filmed by the little old lady in the car driving by. So we must lock our stuff in the car and take the key with us. BUT…. what do you do with the key? Taking the key snorkling isn't very easy. I mean, the keys these days are electronic, you can’t get them wet. And they cost like $250 to replace so you don’t even want to risk getting them wet (plus, no spare). The rental cars these days have the new Keyless Fobs. You just have to have the fob in your pocket and then you can unlock and start the car. However, there is this little emergency physical key that is sort of integrated into the electronic fob. You can pull out that little physical key. For the Ford Journey that we had rented, that physical key can be used to lock and unlock the front door. Except for one little thing. Ford (and I imagine all car makers) have gone out of their way to make it impossible to accidentally lock your fob in the car. If it detects that your fob is in the car, you can’t lock the doors. Not even with the physical key. Dangit. I wonder what the virtues are for these silly Keyless keys, as far as the car rental companies are concerned. They are really expensive and they seem rather easy to damage. If you are out on an adventure, they seem rather obnoxious. I mean, let’s say you are out hiking. You don’t have a spare key. You go down by a creek and you slip and fall in. This would be pretty funny except your key got wet and now you can’t get into your car to drive home. We ended up getting a little water proof case (essentially a good ziplock bag) that we put the key in when we were kayaking or snorkling. But I never felt very secure about the key.

Two-Step beach turns out to be right next to a National Park. We paid the $5 dollars to park there, so we were sure our car would be OK. Looking around there, however, there seemed to be plenty of generally safe free parking on the road out in front of the park.

See Urchin?

My Partner goes for Depth

Snorkling at Two-Step was very nice. Clear water, lots of fish, and some interesting geological features. Just a short way offshore the water dropped down to 30 or 40 feet. It was fun to snorkel around and see how deep we could go. Warning: Those Lumix waterproof cameras really do flood at 10 feet. You stay on the surface or you get a new camera at Costco the next day. (Hey, the new one says it is good down to 50 feet!!). We did get some good pictures though. And we saw a very large Moray eel swimming around. He was at around 20 feet of depth and we followed him around as he inspected various nooks and crannies. It was a very good place to snorkel.  I was wearing a light neopreme jacket, but my partner did not and we were both fine after about a 40 minute swim.

Captain Cook

Most places on the island have Hawaiian names. This means that they have a lot of vowels. In fact, the written language of Hawaiian as represented using English letters requires only 12 symbols. Well, and some accent marks. What this means is that the words are long and have repetitive sounds and to the untrained eye, they all appear to look very similar. That makes it hard to memorize the name of the place your are going. Captain Cook, however…. easy to memorize. There is this big monument (placed there by Australia) to commemorate the place where the “discoverer” of Hawaii was killed. I had a New Zealander explain to me in long detail that Cook was actually a pretty decent guy and we Americans had been lead astray by the negative publicity that surrounded his name. She asked me if I had a positive or negative view of Captain Cook. I told her that I had no opinion of Cook and that I doubted that most Americans had ever heard of him. Now that changed the conversation.

Anyway, on his last visit to the Island (that was a joke), Cook had some trouble with the local population. They were evidently playing with him some and stole one of his ship's boats (you know, the big ones that they could put 30 rowers in and tow a ship). He went ashore with a file of Marines and tried to get the old Chief to come out and visit his ship. He evidently planned to ransom the chief to get the boat back. But in the process the chief and his family got suspicious and when Cook tried to force the issue, he and his men suddenly found themselves surround by hundreds of unarmed but irate locals. The marines fired. The Hawaiians got pissed off, and Cook got stabbed to death. Anyway, the site of his death is a great place to Snorkel.

But not because he died there. Because it is a Marine sanctuary and sort of hard to get to. The area is called Kealakekua. It is a narrow bay with a headland on the North (Captain Cook Point) a flat area on the south (where the ancient heiku (temple)  stands) and a 1000 foot high shear cliff along the entire eastern coast. The area is fairly protected from the weather and very popular with the tourists. There are 3 ways to get to the Cook Monument to go swimming.
You can hike down the old 4 wheel drive road (now closed to traffic). I think it is 2000 feet altitude change  over 2 miles. 
You can take a boat down from Kona or one of the resorts. There were a few boats there loaded up with snorkelers. 

You can Kayak over from the South beach. You can drive to the south side of the bay and there are a couple of kayak rental companies that will take you on an adventure tour.

We chose the kayaks.

My partner and I had visited the south side of Kealakekua earlier in the week whilst out randomly exploring. We had found an interesting Kona coffee coop (where you can buy a pound of coffee for only $50 !!) and a little park down at the end of the road. The park contains a large historic shrine structure called a “TBD”. This structure is made of dry stacked lava rocks arranged to create a 30 foot high 50 foot wide platform where religious observances were conducted. Native Hawaiian people can still worship there but otherwise the structure is Kapu (forbidden. Sacred). Looking North, up the bay, you can see 1000 foot high cliffs to your right, the lighter water of the bay, and a couple of miles away, the white phalus of the Cook monument. The shore all along is made up of broken and somewhat rounded bowling ball size lava rock. Not a great place to enter the water. Most of the bay itself appears to be very deep (continue that 1000 foot cliff into the water) but there are shallows at the north and south sides. 100 yards south from the little park is another park. This one used to be some sort of local shipping quay (probably before the roads were cut). An old concrete quay or peer runs out 50 feet into the water, with a 10 foot tall concrete break water wall at the ocean side. This offers a some protection from the waves at the quay itself. At this park, we saw a couple of trucks with kayak trailers parked. Off in the bay we could see groups of kayakers paddling too and fro. We took a picture of the sign on one of the trucks and called these guys up to schedule our tour.

The Bay, looking North

walking along the south edge of the bay

The beach

I consider this art form to be the Sand Castle equivalent for beaches with just rocks. 

The person answering the phone evidently didn’t know all that much about the actual services she was selling. She was fine with telling us that we could each have our own boat and she warned us that there would not be any food or water provided.

The morning of our tour, there was a high surf advisory on the Kona coast. The bay itself looked fine, and off North we could see boats puttering around the bay in front of the low lying area where the Cook Monument resides.

Over by the little park with the Quay, there were waves bursting 20 foot high spray into the air on the breakwater. Not very often mind you. A big wave every 5 minutes or so, a half mile away, south down the coast, we can see breakers big enough that the local surfers are out having challenging fun. Our two guides show up. I think that giving kayak tours, twice a day, to a bunch of older tourists might be a great way to earn some money a couple of summers whilst figuring out what you want to do when you grow up. But there must be an age where you decide that it just isn’t fun (or sufficiently profitable) anymore. We had one guide at the fun age and one that must have been just about ready to move on. The young guy came over and checked us out. He asked us if any of us were worried about going out in the rising surf. “Supposed to get worse by the time we come back, but you should not worry”. I was sort of thinking that if I should worry, he would be the person to so inform me. There were 3 other couples joining us for our excursion. I told the guy that my partner and I had signed up for singles and he said that they didn’t do that. I told him his booking agent disagreed. He said he would check with his boss (the older tour guide) too see what was up and if they could accommodate us.

Now, my partner and I had not asked for single boats just to be arbitrary. We have been out (last year in the Galapagos) in the same kind of “Ocean Kayak” that we were going to be using today (we could see them on the trailer). They are sit on top that can take two people. They have a weight limit of 450 pounds. My partner and I are not tiny people. We know that we push that weight limit. Worse, when the boat is loaded like that, it gets very low in the water and the drain holes tend to become “water slosh in” holes. They wont sink or anything, but they become wet and less fun.

The other thing. The other thing is that our kayak club often refers to tandem boats as “Divorce Boats”. Strong willed people who know how to kayak, know where they want to go, and know how to get there, should not be put into the same kayak. There will be blood. In the Galapagos we had this problem where the person in the stern would decide that he wanted to go a little left and the person in the bow would decide that she wanted to go a little right and they would both be steering accordingly and soon tensions would run high. Switching the placement of the bow and stern person did not appear to alleviate the issue. So, we wanted singles kayaks.

The tour lead came over and talked to us. She really didn’t want to put us into single kayaks. She was worried about our ability to kayak the entire distance unaided. We assured here that we kayaked all of the time and could do it. She finally decided that we probably had more experience than she did (I doubt that) and gave us our wish.

Then we sat around on the beach for a while and watched the weather. A couple of waves broke all along the quay where we would be getting into the kayaks. It was clear that that would be the dicey part. Once you got 30 feet away from the quay, it would be easy and safe to stay in the moderate swell and wait for the other boats to load. They called their office. The guy at the desk decided that he had sufficient insurance and that we could go ahead. 

That step down is our entry point

The quay was around 6 feet above the current mean water level. There as a 3 foot step down area, a little entry port if you will, about 6 feet long. The guides ran a boat down there and then held it bow and stern against the quay. Your job was to climb down the remaining 3 feet into the boat. My partner went first. You sort of have to sit on the quay and then just…. jump in. You just have to go for it. Before a big wave comes along and washes you out of your seat. She made it look easy. Plump, down into the boat. Grab the paddle handed to you and get going before a wave comes!! She paddled out until she was hidden by the breakwater. I was next. Man. The boat sure seems a long way down there. So easy to fall out into the water. Of course, it is just water. Boom, down I went, a little less gracefully, but I didn’t flip and I took the paddle and I quickly paddled out to safety. 

My partner and I floated 100 yards off of the quay and waited for the rest of our party. I figured it was going to take a bit longer to get two people into a boat. I didn’t even get to see what they looked like. Out where we were, the weather was great. The sun was shinning, but there were big swells. The kind that my partner doesn't like to turn her back on, having got caught once before by a big breaker in the ocean that way. A couple of minutes later, out comes the first couple. Then the second. Then the third.  We had to watch our drift to stay where there were swells and away from the breakers. It took perhaps 15 minutes, but then the guides came out and we were all ready to go.

Now I began to understand what the guides were really worried about with us in singles. We only had one engine in our boats. Everybody else had two. Now we may have been slightly better paddlers than our fellow adventurers. We could paddle more efficiently and straighter. But I don’t think we were twice as efficient. It was around two miles over to the Monument. Call it a 40 minute paddle. We did not fall behind the group, but my arms were feeling it by the time we stopped to queue up for our run to shore. Getting in to the shore was pretty easy. No surf on this South facing shoreline. Even though it was all rocks, we just had to paddle in to where our guides were ready to steady the boats so we could step out.

This north side of the bay was a settlement from historic times. This is where Cook came to meet the chiefs and do trading and such. It is a flat sandy peninsula that is currently covered with trees. These trees, however, are an invasive exotic, so I don’t know what the area would have looked like to Cook. Presumably exploitable. We walked the 100 feet over to the monument. The story is that the monument was built by Australia to mark the location of Captain Cooks death. It is visited by the Australian navy every few years and maintained. Looks like the Aussies haven’t been over for a while. Needs some cement work down by the ocean.


We had brought our snorkle gear and now we began the swimming part of our adventure. The snorkeling right off the shore around the monument is excellent. The water is 5 to 10 feet deep and the reef is teaming with fish. We saw a LOT of the yellow Tang in some wonderful schools. In one bright yellow bunch of Tang we saw a pipe fish of the same color. Don’t know if he was hanging out with them for protection or fun, but they sure all blended together well.


In some places I have been, the reef will extend for hundreds of yards from the beach. Off Guam, the water is 5 to 10 feet deep for that 100 yard extension. That isn’t the case on the Kona shore. You go out just a ways and the water drops down to 500 feet and then off into the depths. Here was the same way. A nice 10 foot deep reef for about 50 feet and then a quick drop down into the darkness. There were a few intermediate depth areas where I dove down and tried out my new 50 foot depth water proof camera. Seemed to work OK. At least it didn’t flood like my Lumix did.



There is supposed to be a video right above this text. If there isn't, blame google.

As I had mentioned, there were a lot of big boats mulling around. Most of these seemed to be chartered snorkel tours. They would pull up and float and their guests would just plop over the side into the water. Many of the snorkelers had a styrofoam pool noodle up under their arms as a swimming aid. I found that funny and alarming. If anything, my problem was that I was floating too much.

Other people in the area told us that they had hiked down from the top of the cliff. That is the trail we had heard about. 

Everyone was having a good time. Lots of people with picnic lunches and such on the rocks under the trees. You know what else was under the trees? Mongoose. There were these little reddish brown mongoose all over the place. I counted at least a dozen. They were the cutest little lurkers you ever saw. Just waiting until you went for a little swim so they could dash in and have their way with your picnic basket. And what was that flash of white? A ferrel cat.

If you see a Mammal in the wild of a pacific island, it is almost certainly a non Native, Exotic, human introduced, invasive. All of them (except the Rats) were brought over on purpose and introduced in order to achieve some purpose that almost certainly backfired. The Rats are Scandinavian Harbor Rats. They were stowaways on every ship in the 1800s and were quick to colonize pretty much anyplace that a ship touched shore around the world. They were not appreciated on Hawaii. They would eat the local birds and such. So some bright soul though to import the Mongoose to hunt and eat the rats. But the rats are nocturnal while the Mongoose are daylight creatures. So that didn’t work so well. The Mongoose will eat everything else, of course. I would think that the cats might have made a dent in the Rat population. The problem with all of this is that the local birds had no predators. So they didn’t know to protect themselves against Anything. So any mammal that comes along will eat the easy to catch local birds before starting on those pesky rats.

We had a nice swim and then dried off on the shore. The guides had brought water and snacks (take that, phone reservation girl) and we had some little discussions on history and such with our guides. Our one guide had some interesting alternate history ideas. She was confident that the Polynesians of antiquity had had close contact with the globe fairing Egyptians. This explained similarities in language between the Egyptians and the island nations. Evidently the advent of the internet had allowed truths like this to come to light. I shall research this claim. However, the point is, you meet the most interesting people when you are out and about.

The trip back to the quay had everyone a little worried. The surf was supposed to be even bigger at our schedule arrival time. However, it seemed that the bigger seas had also slightly change the angle they were traveling and so it wasn’t all that bad on the exit. We just queued up and then came in when we were called. Let me tell you the trick for getting out of these sit on top kayaks. You just need to flip over onto your hands and knees, and then stand up. This is pretty easy to do on a sit on top. Pretty much impossible in the Kayaks I usually paddle which is probably why I didn’t realize I could do that. But the guides were very insistent.

I wish I had an exciting boat flip story to tell you, but everyone made back to beach with dry shirts, if not completely dry pants.

What fun. I strongly recommend this trip. I would not bring anyone that couldn’t manage an hour of paddling, but certainly all of the assorted (older) individuals on our little trip did fine and had a great experience.


  1. Excellent .. Amazing .. I’ll bookmark your blog and take the feeds also…I’m happy to find so many useful info here in the post, we need work out more techniques in this regard, thanks for sharing. best snorkeling destinations