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Posted on Jan 23, 2014 | 12 comments

Tunnels Beach on Kauai: Perfect Snorkeling Paradise

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.

Tunnels Beach

The famous view of Bali Hai.

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.

Tunnels Beach

The lava tubes and tunnels create perfect snorkeling conditions.

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.

Tunnels Beach

There’s no shortage of sea turtles to swim with at Tunnels Beach.

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.

Tunnels Beach

Best snorkeling on Kauai.

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.

Tunnels Beach

Avocado trees grow in the parking lot at Tunnels Beach.

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.

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About Kimmy Hayes

Kimmy Hayes is the founder and editor-in-chief of AfterGlobe; a site on becoming debt free and traveling the world as a married couple. In 2012, she planned and coordinated her own do-it-yourself destination wedding on the beautiful island of Maui while serving as a moderator for the on-line community, The Knot. She is passionate about traveling to experience new cultures, snorkeling the waters of the world and reading with her toes in the sand.


  1. We missed Tunnels. We heard that it was good snorkeling, but thought that since it was winter it might not be great then. Too bad. When we did decide to check it out, we could not find it. Kauai does not exactly put up big signs. When we did find a sign (looked like some neighbor had put it up) there was no parking. We did not realize we could walk from Haena. Oh well.

    On that trip, our only snorkeling was at Ke’e. There was a great variety of sealife there, but no turtles that we saw. Even away from the coral there were many things just on the sandy bottom. All kinds of fish, crabs, eels and sea cucumber. I was in awe and while snorkeling felt like a teenager again. (Pretty nice at over 60!)

    We couldn’t remember where we had snorkeled during our first trip and wished we could have found it. It was Poipu, I learned from my first-trip-journal once we got home. In Poipu we saw much more color than at Ke’e. Tons of black and yellow fish, especially, though of different species, and some other colors. And there was even a fish with a lanterened antenna! Incredible.

    I hope you continue posting about Kauai.
    Debra Brown recently posted…My PinterestMy Profile

    • We will be, Debra. Lots more information to share on Kauai. There’s actually two Kauai articles scheduled for next week and two scheduled for next month.
      Kimmy Hayes recently posted…A day in Kapaa KauaiMy Profile

  2. SEA TURTLES!!!!!!!! My favorite animals ever! It’s such an experience to be able to share the water with such incredible animals. I’m so happy for you that you got that chance! And look how shallow the reef was, that must have made it even better!
    Rachel recently posted…Lunenburg, Nova ScotiaMy Profile

    • Rachel, sea turtles are amazing. Even more so to get to swim with them. Wait until you see the video footage we got with them.

      Because there are tubes or “tunnels” of lava through that area, it makes for some very shallow snorkeling in some areas going over the tunnels. Between the tunnels is much deeper.
      Kimmy Hayes recently posted…Recipes from the Road: Hawaiian Spam MusubiMy Profile

  3. To be honest we really had no plans to head out towards this area, but what it does do is plant the idea, ha. Plus there are turtles! Honestly who doesn’t love turtles?!
    Steve recently posted…The Difference between RAW and JPEGMy Profile

    • It’s so awesome there! If you need any other info on how to find the turtles, let me know, Nicole.
      Kimmy Hayes recently posted…Kauai Coffee CompanyMy Profile

    • It depends on the surf that day. We were there in October and it was perfect. There’s a lifeguard on site who lets you know what the beach is safe for that day.
      Kimmy Hayes recently posted…A Weekend in Seoul South KoreaMy Profile

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