Return to Hawaii…The Big Island: Beaches and Turtles

Anaehoomalu Bay

'Anaeho'omalu Bay

A visit to any of the Hawaiian Islands involves at least some amount of beach time and this trip was no exception. The Big Island is known for its volcanic black sand beaches, found mostly on the east side of the island. However, the west side has some very nice beaches with great waves and soft sand.

Our first beach experience on our Big Island adventure was at Kekaha Kai State Park. The park is located just 5 miles north of the Kona airport. We got the recommendation for this beach from a local at the rental car place. When we arrived at the beach, we realized almost everyone else thought this was a good place to go because it was very crowded and we had to park quite aways away (it was a weekend so what did we expect anyway?). Even with the crowds, it was a nice place and the water felt good. With some great waves, we tried our hand at body surfing with rather comical results. The surf here was fairly large so we got slammed into the sand more than once!

Greenback Turtle resting in rocks

Greenback Turtle resting in rocks

One of the unique aspects of the Big Island is its population of Greenback Turtles that share the beaches with the people. Greenback Turtles are endangered and protected. If a turtle is spotted, you are instructed to not get closer than 20 feet and to never touch them. Our goal for our next beach experience was to go to a place where we could see turtles. We found a great beach in Waikoloa that was 10 minutes from our villa. Basically, we headed into Waikoloa and spotted a parking lot on the left before heading into the main part of the village. The beach is right in front of the Marriott hotel. We headed to the beach area to the left of the hotel where lava rocks were scattered along the beach and into the water. We found a nice secluded corner of beach in ‘Anaeho’omalu Bay. It didn’t take long before we had our first turtle sighting. We found a small turtle nestled in some lava rock a few feet from the shore.

A little later in the afternoon, Valerie and I broke out our snorkel gear with the hope of swimming with a turtle or two. We put on the snorkel gear and swam around the small bay looking for turtles. Valerie’s first clue that a turtle might be nearby was a sighting of an Angel Fish swimming at breakneck speed away from where we were headed. Not too far from there, we came across a turtle feeding on some moss in a very shallow area close to shore. We just floated along the top of the water watching the turtle until we started getting cold and decided to leave the turtle to his lunch. A few minutes later, as we were drying off on the beach, another turtle crawled out of the ocean onto the beach for a little warming in the sun. It was a nice day on the beach with three turtles spottings!

Greenback Turtle sunbathing

Greenback Turtle sunbathing

Further north, at Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area, we tried our hand at boogie boarding. The sand was nice and the waves weren’t very high, but at least they were manageable for us rookies. We managed to scrape our knees on the sand as we were slammed down by the waves and we later discovered that we’d carried at least half the sand off the beach in our bathing suits!

At one point, I was standing out in the water waiting for a good wave to come by when I looked down and saw what looked like a rock moving by my feet. Turns out it was a large turtle calmly swimming amongst the multitude of boarders. The turtles don’t seem to be bothered by the people that they share the beaches with.

Our last beach experience was at Spencer Beach Park, even further north than Hapuna Beach. This was probably our least favorite beach. It is an ideal beach if have very young children because there is no surf there. The little ones loved getting into the water without the fear of waves knocking them over. This beach also had great places for camping and BBQing and they had awesome private showers for after you’re done at the beach. The sand was nice but just off the beach were rocks where we tried snorkeling. The water wasn’t very clear and we didn’t find much sea life.

Punaluu Beach Park

Punalu'u Beach Park

The best concentration of sea turtles was found was at the Punalu’u Black Sand Beach on the south-east side of the island. This is a classic black sand beach that is more suited for a leisurely stroll than for working on your tan. The “sand” is more of a small gravel that’s not well suited for laying on…unless you’re a turtle. Here we found a group of six turtles basking in the sun as well as several others swimming among the rocks just off-shore.

Many sleeping turtles at Punaluu Beach Park

Many sleeping turtles at Punalu'u Beach Park

Close up of a Greenback Turtle

Close up of a Greenback Turtle


About Mike

I have a passion for adventure travel that began in 1989 with my first overseas trip: climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Having never been to a foreign country, Africa felt like being on another planet; I knew then and there I was hooked on travel. Since that time, I have visited all seven continents and dozens of countries. I’m using the experience I’ve gained in planning my own trips to help my clients plan their own adventures through my adventure travel company ( After working as a firefighter for the US Forest Service in California and Wyoming for three years, I moved to Durango, Colorado where I graduated from Fort Lewis College with a degree in accounting. After graduation I moved to the Denver area where I worked in a Big Eight accounting firm to obtain my CPA license; soon afterward I began a career as an auditor with the Colorado Department of Education. My background in accounting helped me develop detailed-oriented skills that have been extremely useful in researching and planning my own travel over the years. I think this provides a unique asset to my clients in putting together their adventure travel plans. I currently live in Golden, Colorado with my wife Valerie, who shares my love of adventure travel. I’m an active member of the Colorado Mountain Club where I lead trips for club members and have taught ski lessons in their Telemark Ski School. I enjoy skiing, mountain hiking, trail running, photography, and astronomy. I take any opportunity I can get to explore new places, whether it’s on the other side of the world or just down the road.
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