Manini Beach – The Most Underrated Snorkeling in Kealakekua Bay

South Kona has some of the best snorkeling anywhere in Hawaii. But while most snorkelers flock to more popular spots, Manini Beach flies under the radar.

Yellow fish underwater at Manini Beach seen while snorkeling

There’s no question – South Kona has some of the best snorkeling anywhere in Hawaii.

But while most snorkelers flock to popular spots such as Two Step Beach and Kahalu’u Beach, Manini Beach flies under the radar.

Snorkeling at Manini Beach provides a glimpse into the aquatic lifeforms of Kealakekua Bay. While snorkeling at other places in Kealakekua Bay requires a paid tour or a long hike, Manini Beach is right next to the road and easily accessible.

We went to Manini Beach to hang out in the park, walk along its coastal trail, and snorkel at the most underrated reef in Kealakekua Bay.

So pack up your snorkel, put on your fins, and jump in the water – we’re going on an underwater adventure!

Manini Beach Park Overview

When entering Manini Beach Park, you’ll be greeted by one of its caretakers.

We spoke with Sandy, who explained the rules of the beach park to us. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Manini Beach is open from 6 am – 8 pm every day
  • Large groups of over 10 people are not allowed in the park
  • A maximum of 50 people are allowed in the park at any given time in order to protect the park’s landscape and habitat
  • The use of sunscreen is not allowed in order to protect the reef
  • There are no facilities at the beach except a porta-potty
  • If you want to shower after snorkeling, we recommend going up the road to shower at Kealakekua Bay State Park (that’s what we did)

Sandy was also kind enough to tell us that the best time to find spinner dolphins at Manini Beach is in the morning when they come into Kealakekua Bay – but make sure to stay at least 50 feet away from the dolphins.

The park has a quaint, local vibe to it. It’s large enough for you to spread out and have a picnic, but small enough to notice everyone else in the park – so don’t be afraid to say hi and talk story with your neighbors!

Manini Beach Snorkeling

Scrawled Filefish (Aluterus scriptus) at Manini Beach.

While it doesn’t look like much from the shoreline, Manini Beach is actually one of the best places in South Kona to go snorkeling!

The reef is lively with fish, turtles, and dolphins. Even humpback whales can be seen from the shores of the beach park during whale season.

Group of Yellow Tang fish at Manini Beach in Hawaii
The reef at Manini Beach is teeming with fish! A group of Yellow Tang fish is swimming around this coral reef.

We went snorkeling at Manini Beach on a weekday morning and we had the entire reef to ourselves!

There is a small sandy area in the beach park that is perfect for getting in and out of the water.

Cove at Manini Beach for snorkelers and swimmers
This small sandy cove at Manini Beach serves as an access point for swimmers and snorkelers

The first thing that we noticed when getting in the water was the ocean current – the water was pushing and pulling us in and out of the sandy entryway into the water.

After swimming a little way out, the current didn’t affect our swim unless we got close to the shoreline. So remember to keep your distance from the rocky shore!

Once you start swimming around the reef, you’ll feel the water temperature change back and forth from cold to warm – the cold water comes from underground freshwater springs, while the warm water comes from the ocean.

We recommend swimming to the right side after getting in the water since the visibility tends to be clearer on that side.

Manini Beach has some of the more interesting coral reef structures that we’ve seen. The reef definitely looks like it grew upon explosive, jagged ‘A’ā lava flows.

Coral reef at Manini Beach Hawaii
The rough, jagged rocks create an interesting topology for the coral reef to grow upon.

Like most reefs in South Kona, the crevices of the rocks provide hiding places for wana (sea urchins) to grow. The park’s caretaker Sandy told us to not step on the reef – and the presence of wana served as a reminder of that.

Smooth-spined sea urchin (Echinothrix diadema, center) and banded sea urchin (Echinothrix calamari, top) in the reef at Manini Beach Hawaii.
The large black smooth-spined sea urchin (Echinothrix diadema, center) and smaller banded sea urchin (Echinothrix calamari, top) are found in the reefs of Manini Beach.

Manini Beach Shoreline Trail

Manini Beach Park has a short trail that goes around the shoreline adjacent to the park.

On the short 10-minute walk, you’ll find some cool rock formations along the shoreline and a secluded spot with some chairs to relax away from the park.

We didn’t see anyone during our walk along the trail. However, we can imagine that this would be a good area for whale watching during whale season.

How to Get to Manini Beach

Manini Beach is located on Manini Beach Road – about a 4-minute drive from Kealakekua Bay State Park in Captain Cook.

There is a small gravel parking area next to Manini Beach Park, however, it tends to fill up quickly, especially on weekends.

manini beach parking area
The parking area adjacent to Manini Beach tends to fill up during the day – so get there early if you want to get a good parking spot.

When we went to Manini Beach in the morning on a weekday plenty of parking was available.

Manini Beach – Our Verdict

If you’re looking for a low-key snorkeling spot away from the crowds and easy access in and out of the water, then Manini Beach is the perfect spot.

However, the parking situation at Manini Beach is limited and the park’s capacity is capped at 50 people, so we suggest that you go elsewhere on a weekend or holiday.

One thing to keep in mind is that the conditions at Manini Beach are drastically affected by the weather. We were fortunate enough to go there on a pretty nice day – but we can totally see how this area would get pretty nasty during a swell or a storm.

Trey Lewis is an outdoor enthusiast. Whether its hiking knife-edge ridges or just fishing by the river, Trey isn't afraid to get dirty in search of the next adventure.

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