Makua Beach, also known as Tunnels Beach, located on the north coast of Kauai, is one of the best snorkeling spots on the island. It includes shallow areas protected by a coral quarry and reefs open onto the ocean, and you can explore a range of environments and varied underwater life: a whole medley of fish, green turtles and, if you’re lucky, an encounter with a Hawaiian monk seal, all of which pay regular visits to the site.

Aerial view of Tunnels Beach snorkeling area, Kauai

How to get there?

Makua Beach is about 1 mile (1.6km) before the end of the road (Haena State Park) along the northern coast of Kauai. To get there from Lihu’e first take route 56, then 560 (Kuhio Highway) north. It takes a little over one hour to cover the 40-mile distance. A satnav device may come in handy since it can be hard to locate the access to the beach (see on google maps). It can also be tricky to find a place to park nearby, because of the many no-parking areas near the path to the beach. Once you’ve parked, walk about 100 yards to the beach.

Tunnels Beach Kauai snorkeling map

Water entrance

Once you’ve reached the beach along the access path, walk towards the right for about 100 to 150 yards. You will arrive at a sandy area that is the ideal spot for getting into the water.

Exploration

The area to explore includes the reef that runs parallel with the western part of the beach (to your left when you enter the water) and the spot inside the small lagoon of Haena Point (across from you). Use the aerial view above to locate the different places to explore and also the ones to steer clear of, since there are strong currents in the area.

Snorkeling with Hawaiian monk seal at Ke'e Beach, Kauai

In the reef running along the beach, you successively cross sand and coral areas (↕3-7ft/1-2m), until you reach a reef drop-off where the depth rises sharply (↕7-20ft/2-6m). In the shallower areas, even though the seabeds are poor in quality (hardly any coral), you will see many of the archipelago’s most typical fish, such as the reef triggerfish, parrotfish or shoals of tang busy grazing on the coastal bench. On the reef drop-off, shoals of tireless jacks swim along the reef, while hawkfish take up position on small coral and lie in wait for their prey. But, above all, in this area you might come across Hawaiian monk seals, which are native to the islands, and which come to the area regularly. In between dives, the seals rest on the beach in the middle of the tourists. Respect the observation instructions both in and out of the water (keep a distance between yourself and the animals, don’t try to interact with them): federal and state laws are both extremely strict on this point.

Arc-eye hawkfish at Tunnels Beach

The area inside the small lagoon (↕3-7ft/1-2m) has the same features, with seabeds poor in coral but rich in fish. This area’s suitability for beginners can vary, as it is relatively far from the beach and sometimes subject to strong currents. The spot is sometimes impracticable in winter, when impressive waves roll down on the famous North Shore.

Restaurants & accommodation

There aren’t any restaurants or accommodation close to the beach, which is in a residential area. Stock up on water and food in Hanalei, which you will pass through about 3 miles/5km before arriving at the beach.



Species you may spot while snorkeling Tunnels Beach
COMMON NAME SCIENTIFIC NAME ABUNDANCE FISHBASE WIKIPEDIA
Hawaiian monk seal Monachus schauinslandi  
Lagoon triggerfish Rhinecanthus aculeatus  
Reef triggerfish Rhinecanthus rectangulus  
Bursa triggerfish Sufflamen bursa  
Arc-eye hawkfish Paracirrhites arcatus  
Convict surgeonfish Acanthurus triostegus  
Whitebar surgeonfish Acanthurus leucopareius  
Threadfin butterflyfish Chaetodon auriga  
Bluestripe butterflyfish Chaetodon fremblii  
Millet butterflyfish Chaetodon miliaris  
Moorish idol Zanclus cornutus  
Leopard blenny Exallias brevis  
Manybar goatfish Parupeneus multifasciatus  
Bluefin trevally Caranx melampygus  
Hawaiian cleaner wrasse Labroides phthirophagus  
Yellowfin goatfish Mulloidichthys vanicolensis  
Blacktail snapper Lutjanus fulvus  

 

  • Level required Intermediary
  • Maximum depth20ft/6m
  • Water entranceEasy, from a sandy beach
  • Potential DangersUsual precautions
  • LifeguardNo
  • Visitor numbersMedium
  • Access costsFree
  • Restaurants nearbyNo
  • Public toilets & showersNo

MAP Spot

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.