Kuilima Cove, also known as Turtle Bay, is a small, shallow bay, sheltered from the waves, is ideal for beginners. Although the sea bed is not very interesting (sand, rock and a little isolated coral), it is relatively easy to see green turtles and a good variety of fish in a few feet of water.

Snorkeling with Hawaiian green sea turtle at Turtle Bay Resort, Oahu

How to get there?

Kuilima Cove is on the northern coast of the island of Oahu, the famous “North Shore”, internationally famous for its surfing spots. Access is free from the beach of the Turtle Bay Resort, a large hotel complex with two golf courses, among other things. From Honolulu international airport, it takes a little over an hour (40mi/60km) to reach the spot by taking the H1 west, the H2, and then the Kamehameha Highway, following the signs to Haleiwa/North Shore. After reaching the coast at Haleiwa, continue east, pass Pupukea and carry on for about 6 miles (10km) as far as the Turtle Bay Resort entrance on your left. The hotel has free parking and public access for visitors (follow the signs). Arrive early, since it fills up quickly. From there, it’s a minute’s walk to the beach, which is to the right of the main building.

Turtle Bay Resort Oahu snorkeling map

Water entrance

You enter the water from the sandy beach of the hotel. You should opt for the area to the right as you are looking out to sea, near the bar of black rocks, where the water is calmest. Watch out for the many sea urchins living in the rock crevices.

Exploration

The snorkeling area covers the interior of the small cove facing you (↕3-10ft/1-3m). It is bordered to the right by a bar of black rocks and to the left by a line of red buoys, setting off the area of relatively strong currents. From the beach, you are less than 150 yards from the end of the cove, where the waves break against the partially emerged rocks.

Coral at Turtle Bay Resort, Oahu

In the rocky areas (↕2-5ft/0.5-1.5m), particularly along the bar of rocks to your right, you will come across several species of butterflyfish, parrotfish and fantail filefish swimming through the groups of coral. In the deepest and sandiest areas, at the centre of the cove (↕7-10ft/2-3m), you should have no trouble seeing the large green sea turtles.

Snorkeling Turtle Bay Resort, Oahu

When the sea is turbulent, visibility can be relatively poor due to swirling particles, but does not affect safety (keep your distance from the line of buoys).

Several signs have been set up on the beach with safety instructions. Make sure you read them before entering the water. Although the beach is partly occupied by the hotel complex, it is not lifeguarded.

Restaurants & accommodation

Kuilima Cove is part of the Turtle Bay Resort hotel complex, with high-priced restaurants and accommodation facilities. The area to explore is quite small, so we don’t recommend staying the whole day on the site. An hour or two is enough.

Species you may spot while snorkeling Turtle Bay
COMMON NAME SCIENTIFIC NAME ABUNDANCE FISHBASE WIKIPEDIA
Green sea turtle Chelonia mydas  
Convict surgeonfish Acanthurus triostegus  
Yellow tang Zebrasoma flavescens  
Fourspot butterflyfish Chaetodon quadrimaculatus  
Millet butterflyfish Chaetodon miliaris  
Bluestripe butterflyfish Chaetodon fremblii  
Bluefin trevally Caranx melampygus  
Saddle wrasse Thalassoma duperrey  
Moorish idol Zanclus cornutus  
Barred filefish Cantherhines dumerilii  
Fantail filefish Pervagor spilosoma  

 

  • Level required Beginner
  • Maximum depth8ft/2.5m
  • Water entranceEasy, from a sandy beach
  • Potential DangersUsual precautions
  • LifeguardNo
  • Visitor numbersMedium
  • Access costsFree
  • Restaurants nearbyYes, moderately expensive
  • Public toilets & showersYes

MAP Spot

Sea turtle watching in Hawaii

snorkeling-turtle

Sea turtles are a very familiar sight on many snorkeling spots in Hawaii, including Turtle Bay. 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

These snorkeling spots are accessible to beginners and kids. You will enter the water gradually from a beach, or in a less than 3ft. deep area. The sea is generally calm, shallow, with almost no waves or currents. These spots are usually located in marked and/or monitored swimming areas. It is not necessary to swim long distances to discover the sea life.

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.