Captain Cook Monument

Along with Two Step, Captain Monument is considered one of the most beautiful snorkeling spots in Hawaii. Visibility is excellent, the seabed is rich in coral and teeming with fish. It is not unusual to come across green turtles, and dolphins are regular visitors to the bay, even though they generally stay a fair distance from the shore. Although the spot suffers from excessive visitor numbers and access on foot is not easy, it is a spot that any snorkeler visiting Big Island should see.
How to get there?

To reach the spot free of charge, you need to go down a very steep path (a 500-meter descent) with few amenities for visitors, below the main road. It takes 45 minutes to go down, and an hour to go back up again. Walking up in the middle of the day in the hot sun can be difficult, particularly after a snorkeling session. Wear some good shoes and take a lot of water with you. To get to the beginning of the path, take Highway 11 from Kailua-Kona and head south for about 12 miles (20km). Soon after arriving at the Captain Cook monument, turn right at the Napo'opo'o Road sign. The path begins a few hundred yards after the crossroads, on the right. The signpost is hard to spot. There are a few parking spaces on either side of the road near the path. In any case, to escape the heat and the crowds, you should arrive very early.

There are other ways to reach the spot. Excursions leaving from Keauhou Bay, Honokohau Harbor or Kailua-Kona Pier, by canoe or by boat, are organized by many local firms. They are expensive and you will hardly ever (and most likely never) be on your own. Each boat carries over 30 tourists into the bay from 9 in the morning. If you opt to reach the spot by canoe, you should be aware that only three companies are authorized by the National Park to be moored in the bay (more information here).

Water entrance

From the monument, the only option is to take to the water from the concrete platform that runs along the shore. Sit down on the platform and put on your gear, then jump into the water. Getting out of the water is trickier. The best option is generally to climb up the little ladders that the tour guides set up for their clients. Otherwise, climb up on the platform the best you can and take care not to hurt yourself.

Aerial view


The area to explore extends along the shore on either side of the monument. You don’t need to move too far away from the shore since the water soon gets deeper. Make sure you explore the areas to the right and to the left of the monument (when facing the ocean) in turn, with a preference for the area to the left, where the bay’s “hollows” are to be found.

The first five yards from the shore are stony, shallow (↕2-7ft/0,5-2m), full of light, and teeming with fish. This is the ideal place to take close-ups of a longnose butterfly fish or a Hawaiian sergeant major (native to the area), even though the spot can be a little turbulent due to the waves.

If you move away from the shore, you will soon come to the colorful, varied and well-preserved coral beds (↕7-16ft/2-5m), peopled by slate pencil urchins. Parrotfish, triggerfish, wrasses, bluespotted grouper and shoals of yellow tang complete the picture.

Snorkeling Report Captain Cook Monument Big Island Kona Hawaii
Aerial view of Captain Cook Monument

Move towards the deepest areas (↕14-26ft/4-8m), with a deep blue color, to see if you can catch sight of a green sea turtle resting on the seabed or swim along with a shoal of raccoon butterflyfish. If you are lucky, you might get a glimpse of a group of spinner dolphins, although there is less likelihood of this here than in Two Step. When visitor numbers are high, this is also the area where most of the tour guides moor their boats, so watch out for them.

In general visibility is excellent and the sea is calm, with almost no current. Watch out for other snorkelers, who can be numerous in the water in mid-morning. The west coast of Big Island is one of the archipelago’s richest in coral. Don’t touch it and be careful not to break it with your swim fins.

Restaurants & accommodation

The Captain Cook Monument is an unspoilt site, and you will find neither water on sale or restaurants. If you are on an organized excursion, drinks and snacks are generally included in the price (ask your tour guide for details). If you go to the spot under your own steam, make sure you take enough water and food, particularly because you will have to go back up to your car on foot.

Snorkeling Report gives the most precise tips possible about the snorkeling spots and potential dangers, but each one of us is responsible for our own safety in the water. For more information, take a look at the snorkeling safety page. If you want to add extra information or make any corrections to the spot descriptions, please contact us.

Spot’s weather forecasts (°C)

Spot tips

  • Type of spot
  • Level of difficulty
    Intermediary level
  • Maximum depth
    20ft (6m)
  • Water entrance
    A little complicated, from lava rocks
  • Potential Dangers
    Usual precautions
  • Lifeguard
  • Visitor numbers
  • Access costs
    Free or excursion price
  • Restaurants nearby
  • Public toilets & showers

Spot map

Spot photos

Underwater spot photos

Species you may spot while snorkeling Captain Cook Monument

Common name Scientific name Abundance Fishbase Wikipedia
Green sea turtle
Chelonia mydas
Yellow tang
Zebrasoma flavescens
Orange band surgeonfish
Acanthurus olivaceus
Teardrop butterflyfish
Chaetodon unimaculatus
Ornate butterflyfish
Chaetodon ornatissimus
Fourspot butterflyfish
Chaetodon quadrimaculatus
Yellow longnose butterflyfish
Forcipiger flavissimus
Black triggerfish
Melichthys niger
Pinktail triggerfish
Melichthys vidua
Pearl wrasse
Anampses cuvier
Saddle wrasse
Thalassoma duperrey
Pebbled butterflyfish
Chaetodon multicinctus
Red pencil urchin
Heterocentrotus mamillatus
Bluespotted grouper
Cephalopholis argus
Show all species
You encountered a specie at this spot that is not listed here?