Pu’uhonua o Honaunau is also known as the Place of Refuge and may be one of the more sacred places in the Hawaii Islands. It is also where many of the snorkel tours head when visitors are looking for some of the best snorkel reefs of the Kona Coast. Today the Place of Refuge is an US National Park Service Historical Site. More information about the park itself can be obtained at: www.nps.gov/puho. This review provides information about snorkeling the bay where Pu’uhonua o Hanaunau is located. Of all of the places we’ve snorkeled off the shorelines in Hawaii, this is one of the best. We also saw a number of scuba divers in this area during our day there. You can snorkel from inside the national park, but be aware that you cannot leave any personal articles on the beach shore. This makes the trip from your car to the water a bit of a hassle since you can’t walk with your swim fins on...and the road will surely be too hot to walk across in bare feet.
Instead, many stay outside of the park area, taking the one-way single lane road down along the boat launch ramp and adjoining "beach." I use quotes here because it is hardly a beach, as in sandy shoreline. Instead you will find a rough lava terrain that will provide some relatively flat areas to lay out and a somewhat easy place to enter the water to swim with the turtles and fish.
Immediately to the right of the boat launch, you will probably see people entering and exiting at the area known to locals as "two step" which is as it implies...step off into the water that has been created by a natural rock formation. Be careful, as there is a lot of green moss and algae here, making it a very slippery surface especially as the waves crash the shoreline.
As you prepare your gear to get into the water, the excitement will quicken as you will be able to see just below the water’s surface several fish, especially if the bright yellow tangs are within eyesight. Even without being in the water with your mask and snorkel on, you will be able to see through the first two or three feet of water to the reef below. The water is crystal clear and for the most part, the bay water smooth and easily navigated even by beginners. Truly, the worst of it is getting in and getting out!
Once in the water, we really enjoyed the snorkeling. The area to the right has beautiful coral formations that are rich in color and rather well developed. In the middle of the bay area, the reef was largely the spiny, craggily type of coral...very different in appearance, but also rich with sea life. The area on the far left side of the bay is very shallow and allows for wonderful up close views and photos of fish and urchins.
I got out of the water probably an hour before David was done snorkeling. He was blessed by the presence of a couple of green turtles who had come to eat the green moss on "two step" making it difficult for swimmers to enter and exit. Some tried getting out in another area where the lava was simply too abrasive, causing scrapes and cuts to their knees and shinbones. If you are going to swim or snorkel in beach areas with a lot of lava type rocks, you really need to be careful to protect your exposed skin. I tore up my palms getting out myself. Now I understand why I’ve seen some people wearing gloves while swimming in Hawaii.
If you are interested in swimming or sunbathing here at the Place of Refuge, you will want to get here early. From Kailua-Kona, allow yourself about an hour’s drive. The parking is only along the roadway, with enough space for maybe as many as 20 cars. After that, you will be forced to park at the National Park where it will cost $10 to enter...and then you’ll have a fair amount of walking to get to "two step" to put out your stuff and get into the water.