During my final days in Hawaii, I accidentally stumbled upon what turned out to be one of my favorite experiences in my entire time in Hawaii: snorkeling in Captain Cook, on the Big Island of Hawaii. After long deliberation, Frank and I had decided to spend our last week in Hawaii on the Big Island. As we got settled in our accommodation, we started to make a list of all the places to see and things to do. Among those was visiting the Captain Cook monument, in Kealakekua Bay.
Originally, I intended to visit the bay mainly to see the monument. Yet upon arrival, my plans completely changed. As it turned out, Kealakekua Bay is home to the most incredible underwater life. Of course, I had to share the ins and outs of snorkeling in Captain Cook on here. And naturally, I’m giving you all of my best tips for exploring this relatively unknown spot!
First, though, let me give you a little background on the bay. Kealakekua Bay is well known for being home to the monument erected in memory of Captain Cook, hence the name of the place. James Cook was an 18th-century explorer and cartographer. He made several important voyages, during which he discovered and/or mapped several parts of the world. Among his famous contributions are (parts of) Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii. Since I visited all these places myself, I felt I couldn’t leave Hawaii without visiting the monument.
It is said that Captain Cook was ultimately killed on roughly this spot in the bay. (Or so they say; one of the locals we spoke to claimed he was actually killed on the other side of the water, but it’s the idea that counts.) As he returned to Hawaii in 1779, he got into conflict with the local Hawaiians, which ultimately resulted in his death.
I really enjoyed visiting the monument, taking a moment to consider Captain Cook’s contributions to the world. However, it was the experience that happened next that really made the most impact on me.
Exploring Kealakekua’s underwater world
I’d brought the snorkeling gear to the monument because I had heard it was a place where you can snorkel. I didn’t expect it to be any different from other places in Hawaii, though (which are already pretty incredible!). Still, after seeing the monument, we found a place to sit and I put on the flippers and snorkel mask.
The moment I dipped my head underwater for the first time, I was downright amazed. Everywhere I looked, I saw dozens and dozens of different types of fish swimming through masses of coral. There was so much to see everywhere! It was all full of life, as if someone had invited me into an underwater village.
The underwater world at Kealakekua Bay is truly the most special place I got to explore underwater. Neither my words nor any of the pictures I took can really do it justice, honestly. This is one of those places you really have to see with your own eyes. And luckily, you can! I’m sharing everything you need to know about the place, so you can make the most of your day trip snorkeling in Captain Cook.
What to know before you go
How to get to the monument
If you’ve read some of my other Hawaiian blogs, you might’ve guessed it: you hike! Just as when visiting the island’s Green Sand Beach, for example, it requires a little hike to get there. OK – as you also might know – no hike in the Hawaiian heat is truly ‘little’, haha. Especially not when it’s steep uphill, as this one. However, don’t let that discourage you. It is definitely worth it!
The trail that takes you to the monument and Bay is called the Ka’Awaloa Trail, or simply the Captain Cook Monument Trail. When driving, you can easily type in the name in Google Maps (or possibly any other navigation). It will take you straight to the start of the trail, which is a bit hidden near the side of a road. You can find limited spaces to park your car on the opposite side of the road.
From there, you can start hiking. As the hike takes you down to the bay, the journey to the monument will be relatively easy. It isn’t until you have to make your way back uphill, that the real workout starts. 😉 All in all, it’s a fun hike, with different changes in scenery. In total, you can expect the walk down to take about 45 to 60 minutes, while the way up takes 1h15 to 1h30. Don’t forget your sunscreen, because there is no shade for a big part of the hike.
What to bring for your snorkelling trip
Here’s a list of everything to bring for an unforgettable day snorkeling in Captain Cook:
- Snorkeling gear – a must for this place!
- An underwater camera, if you have one
- All your other swim/beach day items, such as a towel, flip flops and sunglasses
- Plenty of water & some food
- Sneakers or hiking shoes – the hike is no easy feat on flip flops. I wore my Nikes, which were more than fine.
- Reef-safe sunscreen and a hat, since there is no shade for a big part of the hike
Final tips for a great day
- You don’t need to book a tour. As you’ll see when you’re there, a lot of companies offer snorkeling tours to the bay. We went by ourselves and that was very doable. Unless you really love tours, there’s no need to book one. It’ll not only save you money but also allow you to explore the place at your own pace!
- I’d recommend going in the afternoon. Normally, I visit places as early in the day as possible to avoid crowds. However, we ended up arriving at the bay at 2 pm and it weirdly worked! The bay wasn’t too crowded with the tours and there were only a few others in the water (although this may differ per season). Another advantage of going in a little later: the way back won’t be as hot in the late afternoon sun. But still hot, believe me.
- Respect the sea life. Kealakekua Bay is home to many incredible kinds of fish and lots of coral. Enter the water via the jetty to avoid damaging the coral. And of course, don’t leave any rubbish behind.
- Keep an eye out for land animals. The bay is home to many mongooses, so be sure to close your bags well and put away any food you’ve brought. I’ve seen many mongooses inspect bags of unsuspecting tourists and try and take out their contents. Besides the mongoose, you can also spot wild goats in their natural territory!
Hawaii Travel Guide
Planning your trip to Big Island? Don’t forget to check out my complete Hawaii travel guide (it’s free!) 🙂 It’s got everything you want to know for your trip.
More blogposts you’ll love for your trip to Big Island:
- The 7 best things to do & see on Big Island
- Visiting the unique green sand beach in Hawaii (must-do!)
- The ultimate guide to swimming with turtles in Hawaii
- 15 tips for saving money on your trip to Hawaii
- The best spots for snorkeling
Snorkeling in Captain Cook at Kealakekua Bay was truly one of my favorite Hawaiian experiences. I hope you’ve found my experiences and tips useful and that you’ll have a great day exploring this part of the Big Island! If you are planning your trip to Hawaii, continue reading below or check out my favorite Instagram posts from the islands!
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Where do you store your things when you are swimming or snorkeling? That’s my biggest conundrum on any of these outings. Not sure it’s safe to leave my valuables, keys, etc. on the shoreline while snorkeling.
Hi Michelle, that’s a tricky one for sure! I usually am with someone when snorkeling, so we’ll take turns going into the water. When alone, I’ll bring as little as possible and try and see if I can ask someone I think looks trustworthy to look after my stuff for a bit. I’ve been asked the same thing by other solo travelers. I personally prefer this over leaving my stuff completely unattended. Always be careful though and trust your gut. 🙂 Good luck girl! x