Diving the Kona Coast, Hawaii - Part 2
Dive boats always welcome snorkelers, who sometimes even outnumber the divers. With its calm conditions and year-round accessibility, the Big Island makes a prime place to learn to scuba, and many dive shops offer certification courses and open-water checkout dives by referral.
Coral, Caves, and Canyons
Among the choice dive spots, Pu'uhonua O Honaunau (City of Refuge) is a protected historical park 20 miles south of Kailua-Kona. The sheltered Honaunau Bay adjacent to the park offers a shallow snorkeling spot close to shore; divers usually head farther out to a 100-foot drop-off. However you experience it, this spot is a beauty, perhaps the best on the island. There's also an ancient Hawaiian temple nearby to explore after diving. Parking can get tight on the weekends, so go early. Snorkelers here are likely to see Moorish idols, the ubiquitous yellow tang, and several species of surgeonfish sporting razor-sharp natural scalpels on their tails.
Snorkelers of any ability can explore Kealakekua Bay, part of a Marine Life Conservation District 12 miles south of Kona. Hordes of tropical fish swarm the shallows, and a large moray eel keeps a permanent residence just beyond the dock. You can hike down a steep mountain road and jump off the old concrete pier, hop on one of the big snorkel boats in town, or rent a kayak and paddle from Napo'opo'o Beach across the bay to the Captain Cook Monument (the spot where British explorer James Cook was killed in a scuffle with native Hawaiians in 1779). This shallow, clear lagoon is perfect for beginners but also offers splendid fish-watching for more experienced divers.
At Kahaluu Beach, only four miles south of Kailua-Kona, you can walk right into the shallow bay, which is protected from the surf by an ancient breakwater. Turtles and the coy Picasso triggerfish like this spot as much as snorkelers do. Schools of Achilles tang, with their velvety brownish black bodies, nibble on coral heads among articulated butterflyfish and scribbled filefish.
Turtle Pinnacle, one mile north of the Kona pier, deserves the name. Green sea turtles abound, and they aren't shy. If you look around, you may find a turtle cleaning station, with tangs and sergeant majors picking parasites off the turtles.
If you motor out on a dive charter a couple of hours south of Kailua-Kona, you'll be diving among the underwater lava formations for which the Kona Coast is famous. Along the way, you may spot a hammerhead shark finning lazily through the water or a school of dolphins hitching a ride on the boat's wake. Three Room Caves is a series of lava chambers with steep canyons cut by sand channels. Not for novices, Au Au Canyon, between two steep lava walls, is a deep dive that starts at 120 feet. Huge boulders, fields of coral, and black sand channels between lava canyons make a stunning backdrop. Plankton eaters, including pyramid and pennant butterflyfish, damselfish, and fairy basslets, hang out on the walls of these drop-off zones. Diving the Kona Coast can certainly be one of the most memorable diving adventures to be had anywhere on Earth!
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