Perhaps the greatest draw to Hawai’i is the ocean, and no vacation would be complete without plenty of time spent in the clear turquoise waters. From surfing or paddleboarding to snorkeling or lounging on the beach, here are our favorite options for relaxation, exercise, and exhilaration.
Surfing was literally the “Sport of Kings” in Hawaii, reserved only for the ali’i (royalty). Today, surfing can be tried by almost anyone with proper instruction and guidance. There are a handful of spots on the Big Island that cater to beginners and intermediate-level riders, including Pine Trees Beach (Kohanaiki) and Kahalu’u Beach. Experienced instructors who are CPR-certified will take first-timers to safe breaks during lessons that last one to two hours.
• From dolphin swims to manta dives and sea cave explorations, boat tours around the Big Island provide incredible experiences: swimming with dolphins, diving with manta rays, or exploring sea caves. Countless blowholes and unique lava formations are found along the Kona coast and are only accessible by sea.
• Options for land-based exploration include Kahalu’u Beach Park, one of the best places on the Big Island to snorkel and experience amazing sea life just below the surface. A small sheltered cove that is almost completely surrounded by a partially submerged rock wall keeps the larger waves out while still allowing gentle ocean currents to flow in freely, bringing fresh nutrients that allow marine life to feed and multiply. The shallow water (less than 10 feet deep at high tide) allows sunlight to penetrate to the bottom of the sea floor and feed the coral. The bottom of the cove is made of a base layer of lava, coral, and patches of sand—the perfect environment for tropical fish, sea turtles, and more.
Paddling and Kayaking
• Stand-up Paddleboarding (SUP) has its roots in Hawai’i and has become a favorite sport of locals and visitors alike. Unlike traditional surfing where the rider sits on the board until a wave approaches, the rider on a SUP board maintains an upright stance while using a long paddle to propel themselves through the water.
• Though originally used for sea travel, outrigger canoe paddling is popular throughout the islands as both a recreational and a competitive sport. Visitors can rent one-man, two-man, or six-man canoes and local canoe clubs will often take guests out on the water during their regular practices.
• Popular throughout the islands, ocean kayaking is a great way to explore the Kona coast and discover its many hidden caves and beaches.
• SUP boards, outrigger canoes, and ocean kayaks can be rented through local providers at the Kona Pier and Anaeho’omalu Bay (A-bay) at Waikoloa Resort. Both locations feature ample parking and easy, sheltered bay access, so getting in and out of the water is a breeze.
The Big Island features some of the most picturesque and varied beach landscapes in of the Hawaiian islands. White, black, and green sand beaches can be found along the coast—both calm resort beaches and off-the-beaten path beaches that are rugged and rewarding.
• One of only four green sand beaches in the world, Papakolea Green Sand Beach is located near the southern tip of the Big Island and provides hiking, scenic bay views, and swimming.
• Just 30 miles south of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Panalu’u Black Sand Beach is famous for its black sand and honu (Hawaiian green sea turtles) basking on the shore.
• Along the Kohala Coast, options abound including Hapuna Beach, the largest white sand beach on the Big Island, located adjacent to the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel.
• Kua Bay, adjacent to Kukio Golf and Beach Club and the nearby Four Seasons Resort Hualālai, is a favorite of both visitors and locals alike with its white sand, crystal waters, exciting shore break, and easy road access.
• Makalawena Beach is beautiful, pristine, and remote. Located within the Kekaha Kai State Park at mile marker 90, Makalawena is 20-30 minute coastal hike north along the Ala Kahakai Trail (King’s Trail) lavafield. The isolated beach, sand dunes, jungle, and turquoise waters are not to be missed.