While it might lack the idyllic swath of sand, the swaying palm trees, and the lush jungle backdrop of some of Kaua‘i’s more prestigious beaches, Koloa Landing in south Kaua‘i offers some of the best snorkeling on the island. Making entry from an old boat launch that is now only used for outrigger canoes, the water here is usually quite clear (unless heavy rains have fallen recently) and teeming with fascinating marine life. During the winter months conditions are almost always ideal, though summer swells can render it too rough for snorkeling on some days. As always, check conditions – and visibility due to the stream runoff – before you go to the Koloa Landing at Poipu Beach.
Coral Galore at Koloa Landing
Koloa Landing’s appeal is a sheltered coastline littered with large submarine boulders that shelter diverse marine life, as well as some of the best coral heads found in Kaua‘i. The drop-off is relatively quick – the bottom falls away to 30+ feet just a few yards out from shore, due to the boat launch – but not to worry, the best snorkeling is along either coastline and its rocky abutments. Here large boulders provide shelter for teeming reef fish, and anchor sites for small coral heads, with depths of 5-15 feet on the shelf (most snorkelers agree there is more coral to the left of the entry, though the path to the right is equally fun).
Green sea turtles are a common sight here, coming in from the deeper water to feed and rest along the rocks close to shore. Red pencil urchins, with their vibrant and plush looking spines, are another common site as they explore the crevices along the rocky shore. Endemic fish – including species only found in Hawai‘i – are also commonly seen here as they enjoy the protection afforded by the rocks and the quick access to deep water. We have routinely seen brilliantly colored butterfly fish (numerous species), grouper and goatfish on the deeper sandy bottom, tang, surgeonfish, and triggerfish, including the Hawaiian state fish, the Humuhumunukunukuapua`a (“the small fish that sounds like a pig”). Other common sightings include colorful chromis, shy anglerfish, quirky wrasse species like the saddleback, bird, Christmas, and Hawaiian cleaner wrasse (easy to identify by their black bodies and dazzling purple and yellow coloration), and moray eels peering out from their daytime hideaways in the rocks.
To get to the boat launch, take Highway 50 to the Tree Tunnel at Highway 520 where it heads south to Koloa. Take Poipu Road to Lawa`I Road, then take a quick left on Hoonani Road. As the road bends, you will see a dirt parking lot on the right, and a rough dirt road that leads to the boat ramp. Park on Hoonani, or brave the rough dirt road if you trust your vehicle (otherwise, it isn’t too far of a walk). Water shoes are recommended, as the entry is quite slick. Remember, visibility here is severely affected by heavy rains and ocean conditions, so check before you go to Koloa Landing at Poipu Beach.