After an eventful week seeing volcanoes, waterfalls, and mountain summits, we were ready for a beach day on the beautiful Kona Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. Not even five minutes from our hotel and just 15 minutes south of Kailua-Kona, we found an easy snorkeling beach called Kahulu’u Beach Park. It was a full-service beach with snorkel rental, lifegaurds, snacks, and lockers, and not surprisingly, it was quite crowded. The snorkel area was in a small bay with a breaker a few hundred feet out that kept the waves to a minimum. We noticed a group of volunteers working with people with disabilities ranging from down syndrome to paralysis, helping them into flotation devices and snorkel masks and taking them out to explore the reef. We later realized this was part of an event sponsored by Deep & Beyond, called Snorkel Day, where people of any age and any disability or special need are invited to spend the day at the beach and given the opportunity to experience the freedom of floating in the ocean waters and exploring the underwater world. We put on our fins in the easy sloping entry area where the Snorkel Day volunteers were helping people into floatation devices, and waddled in backwards past the rocks before plunging into the shallow waters. Once we were in, we swam out a little ways and didn’t notice the crowds at all. We were immersed in a world of beautiful coral, sea turtles, eels, and of course, tons of tropical fish flitting about in the calm ocean waters.
While the snorkeling was surprisingly great, the most memorable experience I took away from Kahulu’u Beach Park was watching people with disabilities, who would have never been able to swim or snorkel under normal circumstances. They were able to float in the ocean and explore the underwater world I had grown to love so much for their first time. It was probably something they never expected to be able to do, but with the help of this program, they got to experience one of Hawaii’s most incredible landscapes. I have often thought about how incredibly lucky I am to be able to do all of the things I do, and I wonder about all of the experiences I would have missed, had I been born differently, or had I been in an accident that left me seriously injured. It warmed my heart to see the smiles on the faces of these first-time snorkelers. Hawaii is truly an incredible place for everyone.
Accessibility Note: I highly recommend checking out Deep and Beyond’s schedule for upcoming Snorkel Days and other activities if you are handicapped or have special needs that would normally make snorkeling or swimming in the ocean a challenge. They have a great thing going.
Kua Bay: The Best Beach on the Big Island
A lunch of fresh avocadoes, papaya, and other fruits from the Hilo Farmers Market had us refreshed and ready for more sea, sun, and surf! (See Hilo to Kona: A Day Across the Big Island or Best Food on the Big Island for more on the Hilo Farmers Market). My mom and Andrea had been raving about the best beach they found the day the rest of us went up the Mauna Kea Summit, so we knew we had to check out Kua Bay (Manini’owali Beach) for ourselves. We took HI-19 about 20 minutes north of Kailua-Kona and turned left toward the coast onto a newly paved road when we saw a cinder cone with two humps on our left. We followed the beach access road and parked when we saw lots of cars, then walked the rest of the way to Kua Bay Beach. It was a Friday afternoon and the beach was busy with locals.
Once we could see the beach, we let out involuntary wow‘s and ooh‘s. Kua Bay was more perfect than described. The water was so clear and turquoise that it didn’t look like it could be real. The sand was light and soft on shore and stretched out into the water as far as we could see, without any rocks to stub our toes on. There were pitch black lava formations framing the beach on either side and big white waves broke a ways off shore as people jumped and dove threw them. This was the best beach on the Big Island.
We dropped our stuff under a tree and ran out to meet the waves. They tossed us about as we pushed past the point where the rolling waves turned to white caps, breaking and arcing over our heads. Once past the crash zone, we could bob up and down with each giant wave sending us 5-10 feet high then setting us back down so our toes touched the sand. The water was warm and clear, the waves were big and fun, and the bottom was soft and sandy. What could be better? We spent a couple hours playing in the surf until we realized how hungry we were! We all were looking forward to dinner, because we knew we were returning to some of the juiciest burgers and freshest mojitos on the island. That’s right, it was time for a return trip to Annie’s Island Fresh Burgers!
As we left Kua Bay Beach, I turned around for one last look, and hoped we would be back tomorrow.
Accessibility Note: Kua Bay is incredibly fun in the afternoon when the waves are big, but if you are not a strong swimmer or the waves seem dangerous, do NOT go in! Even strong swimmers can lose control when the waves are too powerful (more to come on that story next time…) Don’t go out very far in the water here unless you know how to swim. Non-swimmers and kids can have lots of fun in the shallow water near shore. Also, mornings are a good time to avoid the crowds and the big waves.
After another delicious dinner at Annie’s, we sat on the lanai of our hotel and watched the sun set. At the end of a perfect Big Island beach day, it was only fitting we see a perfect Big Island sunset.
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