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. 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.

Aerial view of Captain Cook Monument snorkeling spot, Hawaii

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).

Captain Cook Monument Big Island snorkeling map

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.

Exploration

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.

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 butterflyfish or a Hawaiian sergeant major (native to the area), even though the spot can be a little turbulent due to the waves.

Snorkeling Captain Cook Monument

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.

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.

Teardrop butterflyfish at Captain Cook Monument

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 the 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.

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  
  • Level required Intermediary
  • Protected areaKealakekua Bay Marine Life Conservation District
  • Maximum depth20ft/6m
  • Water entranceA little complicated, from lava rocks
  • Potential DangersUsual precautions
  • LifeguardNo
  • Visitor numbersHigh
  • Access costsFree or snorkeling tour price
  • Restaurants nearbyNo
  • Public toilets & showersNo

MAP Spot

Sea turtle watching in Hawaii

snorkeling-turtle

Sea turtles are a very familiar sight on many snorkeling spots in Hawaii, including Captain Cook Monument. In order to be a responsible snorkeler, be sure to respect the following rules when observing them:

  1. Do not attempt to touch or ride sea turtles
  2. Stay at a distance (6 to 10ft) from sea turtles
  3. Do not chase a turtle swimming away
  4. Avoid sudden movement and allow sea turtles plenty of space when they come up to the surface to breathe

If you love snorkeling with sea turtle, Two Step is also an excellent snorkeling spot to encounter them on the Big Island.

These spots are accessible to anyone with basic snorkeling skills, and feeling comfortable in the water and with his snorkeling gear. You will enter the water from the shore (beach, pontoon, ladder, rocks) or from a boat. The water height in the sea entrance area is reasonable, but you will not necessarily be within your depth. Moderate currents can occur in the area, even when the sea conditions are good. The distance to swim to reach the most interesting snorkeling areas of the spot does not exceed 200 meters.

This level only apply when the spot experiences optimal sea and/or weather conditions. It is not applicable if the sea and/or weather conditions deteriorate, in particular in the presence of rough sea, rain, strong wind, unusual current, large tides, waves and/or swell. You can find more details about the definition of our snorkeling levels on our snorkeling safety page.