Tunnels Beach on Kauai, What to Expect

Tunnels Beach is one of the most beautiful places to snorkel, dive and surf in the world. It is a family-friendly place, where young children can enjoy swimming in the shallow areas of the beach while expert surfers can catch the wave of a lifetime. 

What’s in a Name: Tunnels Beach is also known as “Makua” which means “guardian” in Hawaiian. From above, the reef looks like a half-moon shaped hand protecting the bay, with long fingers formed by lava tubes that create deep-water caverns. It is a unique diving site, great for spotting sea turtles, colorful fish and big coral formations.  

Directions and Parking: To access the beach, you can ride the Kauai North Shore Shuttle or park at Ha’ena Beach Park. Ha’ena translates to “red hot.”The park is sheltered from the wind by Mount Makana. In Hawaiian, “Makana” means “gift” — it was the Bali Hai in the movie South Pacific

Facilities and Shade: There are plenty of shaded areas, grass, and trees in the park, a freshwater stream runs from the mountain to the ocean on the south end. There is a lifeguard tower in the center grassy area next to nice outdoor showers, water fountains, clean bathrooms, picnic grounds, trash cans and recycle bins. 

Food: There are a couple food trucks selling snacks and a fresh coconut stand in the parking lot.

Water Sports: Expert-only surfing, with high advisory surf levels during the winter months. On the far west side of the beach, after a lengthy paddle, there are perfect barrel waves for expert surfing. That is the site featured in the movie Soul Surfer, which portrayed the young life of the island’s beloved heroine and inspirational pro surfer Bethany Hamilton, @bethanyhamilton.

Snorkeling at Tunnels is a one in a lifetime experience. The reef starts at the water’s edge and it stretches 1/8-mile into the ocean. There is an abundant sea life with turtles and tropical fish.  Out on the larger reef there are dangerous currents, snorkeling there is recommended only for very strong swimmers and experienced snorkelers. Remember never go swimming alone. Most sunblocks have chemicals that kill the reef. The reef is a living organism unto itself, so try wearing a rash guard or other protective clothing while you snorkel (there are many brands of reef-safe sunscreen if you must) and don’t step on the reef, because it’s extremely sensitive and dies easily. Check out this Tunnels snorkeling map.

Makua Beach is a great spot for fishing, shell collecting or simply enjoying the “Mana” (spiritual energy) of the place. If you are lucky you may see a monk seal resting on the shore. The monk seal is the worlds most endangered mammal, with a dwindling population of one thousand. If you see one, you are advised to admire it from afar and let it rest because if the seal goes back into the ocean tired, it can get eaten by a predator.

Historical Opportunity:  Kauai is the legendary home of the Menehune, a mythical race of very small people. Across the beach park parking lot, there is a large dry cave named “Maniniholo” after the legendary head fisherman of the Menehune. The legend says the Menehune fishermen dug the cave out to catch an “akua” (evil spirit) who was stealing their fish. You can walk around and explore the interior of the cave that used to be larger before a tsunami hit the island in 1957 and partially filled it with sand.

Annual Events:  Na Pali Race – Summer 

Photos: Andrea Gaytan
Mary Winnick

Mary Winnick

Mary Winnick is a writer, editor and web project manager based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She operates on two simple assumptions: Everyone has a story to tell. And a story well-told will always find an audience. Her work is characterized by exceptional clarity, depth and insight – no matter the topic covered. Haiken writes for AFAR, Forbes, Via, Yoga Journal and many other national magazines and websites. To view other articles on Hawaii by Mary click here.
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