Tunnels Beach on Kauai: Perfect Snorkeling Paradise
Tunnels beach also known as Makua beach is one of the finest beaches on Kauai. Known for its incredible mountain scenery featured in the movie, South Pacific and great snorkeling conditions, it’s easy to see why it’s one of our favorite Hawaiian beaches.
The Beach at Tunnels
This two mile long, golden sand beach with a crescent moon shaped bay is framed with palm trees and Ironwood trees. Tunnels was named for the lava tubes and caverns under water that you can swim over, between, and into. Tunnels’ lush jungle and spectacular mountain backdrop makes this the perfect beach to spend the day at right through to watching a spectacular sunset.
Best Snorkeling on Kauai
Tunnels beach is the ultimate North Shore beach for snorkeling and scuba diving. While on Kauai, this is always our favorite spot to go snorkeling. Especially, since we always get a chance to swim with hono (sea turtles). The lava tubes create a magical underworld maze of coral formations that you can easily navigate through while experiencing a magnitude of tropical sea life. While here, you will have the opportunity to see thousands of different species of marine life.
The reef at Tunnels creates a barrier from the rough surf conditions and strong currents characteristic of North Shore beaches. Even in the rougher winter months, the shallow, sandy bottom in front of the reef remains calm making a great place to go swimming. Just be sure to enter the water at the sandy spot on the northern part of the reef for easiest entry into the water.
Swimming with Sea Turtles at Tunnels
Sea turtles swim all over Tunnels beach. If you are out in the water swimming or snorkeling, it’s pretty likely you will come across a sea turtle. We swam with three different sea turtles last time we snorkeled at Tunnels. One we saw while we were talking above the water and the other we saw while swimming below. It’s alright to swim with the sea turtles, but be sure to give them their space, don’t prevent them from surfacing to get air, and do not touch them. This is their home and you are a guest.
Inner and Outer Reef
The reef here is so big; it can actually be seen from space. Tunnels is made up of both and inner and outer reef. If you are not a strong swimmer or are just starting out with snorkeling, you should stick close to shore along the inner reef. Stronger swimmers can swim out to the outer reef, if water conditions are safe, for an even bigger abundance of sea life and a steep drop-off of about 50-70 feet.
Surfing at Tunnels Beach
Just past the outer reef, the waves really start to get big, making it a popular location for surfing and kite boarding. However, with the size of the waves and the lava tubes under the water, Tunnels is only recommended for surfing by experienced surfers. This is not the beach to try to learn how to surf.
Lifeguard, Parking, Bathrooms, and Showers
No matter what activity you plan on doing at Tunnels, always check with the lifeguard station before proceeding into the water. Public parking, bathrooms, and showers can all be found at Haena Beach Park located west of Tunnels. Get there early because parking fills up fast. Whenever we leave here, we always have multiple people wanting our parking spot. Don’t park on the highway or you’ll be ticketed.
Pack a Lunch to Enjoy the Day at Tunnels Beach
There aren’t any places to eat at Tunnels Beach. Your best bet to be able to enjoy a full day there and watch the sunset at night is to pack up a lunch, snacks, and drinks. Driving back to Hanalei to get food will result in losing your parking spot.
Have you ever been snorkeling at Tunnels Beach?
All photography by Kimmy Hayes and Drew Evensen © 2014.