Where to Find Sea Turtles on the Big Island

A friendly turtle at Kahaluʻu Beach Park.

Where to Find Sea Turtles on the Big Island

If you’ve read some of our previous posts, you’ll realise that I have a rather large addiction to sea turtles. It’s a weird addiction to have I must admit. Of course, it’s not my only one, travel and chillies are two more; but don’t worry, in this post I’m only going to talk about sea turtles!

The first time I swam with sea turtles was in Akumal in Mexico and I was hooked straight away! Swimming with those beautiful and peaceful creatures was both magical and incredibly relaxing. I could have spent hours watching them munching on sea grass, gliding slowly through the water on their way to the next rock; and occasionally popping up for air. Swimming with turtles really is an experience to be treasured and although I’ve done it many more times since then, I’ve never tired of it.

An Hawaiian sea turtle (Honu).
An Hawaiian sea turtle (Honu).

Hawaii is a great place to spot Honus (that’s the Hawaiian name for the Green sea turtle); in fact, it’s one of the best places in the world. You’ll encounter them not only on the Big Island but all over the state. But this post is about where to find them on the Big Island, based on our experiences during our recent visit there:

1 – Kahalu’u Beach Park

This was our favourite beach. The beach itself is nothing special, especially compared to some we have in Australia. But that’s not the reason we went there. We wanted to see sea turtles, and we saw a plenty. Lots and lots of them. You could even easily see them frolicking in the water as you stood on the shore!

A turtle munching on the sea grass in Kahalu Beach Park
A turtle munching on the sea grass in Kahalu’u Beach Park.

We stayed in apartment in Kona Magic Sands which was just a five-minute drive from this beach, so we went there every day while in Kona. Every day we saw turtles and not just one but three, four or five of them.

At Kahalu'u Beach Park you can see turtles standing on shore.
At Kahalu’u Beach Park you can even see turtles when standing on the shore.

This beach is also good for beginner snorkelers as the water is quite calm if you stick to the southern side. There is a rock wall there that protects the beach from any large swells. The northern side has some stronger surf, so if you’re not a turtle addict like me and you tire of snorkelling, you can head over there to learn to surf!

Location: 15 minutes south of Kona on Alii Drive.

2 – Carlsmith Beach Park

This place is more like a park than a beach. Instead of sand, there is a beautiful grassy area. To enter the water you either climb down from the rocks or use one of the ladders.

The best place to see the turtles is on the right-hand side of the park. There you’ll find a small sheltered inlet where you’ll feel like you’re swimming in an extra large swimming pool. Bear in mind that two of the sea turtles that live in this park are huge; yes really huge. But don’t be scared, they are super friendly and are so used to people that they almost follow you around. Remember even if they come up to you, don’t touch them!

Carlsmith Beach Park.
Carlsmith Beach Park.

You can also see them while standing on the shore. In fact, as we exited the water, one of these huge turtles appeared from under a rock ledge and did a little show just for us for several minutes. This turtle was doing exactly what our dogs do when they want attention, patting the rock we were standing on with his flipper, just like our dogs paw our legs for cuddles. So cute.

Swimming with huge turtles at Carlsmith Beach Park.
A friendly turtle at Carlsmith Beach Park.
Swimming with huge turtles at Carlsmith Beach Park.
Swimming with huge turtles at Carlsmith Beach Park.
A friendly turtle popping up to say hello.
A friendly turtle popping up to say hello.

The water at this beach park was colder than in any other place we swam at in Hawaii. If like us you are there in winter, you may prefer to wear a rash vest to keep you warm while you swim.

Location: 10 minutes from Hilo going towards the airport on Kalanianaole Avenue. It is located right behind the airport.

3 – Punalu’u Black Sand Beach

This beach is not only the most beautiful black, sandy beach on the Big Island, but it is home to lots of sea turtles. Sometimes, you may even see them basking in the sun. Sadly we didn’t see any out of the water on our visit, but standing on the rocks we could see many swimming out in the surf. The waves were too rough for us to go snorkelling, so we just enjoyed them from the shore.

Beautiful black sand beach.
The beautiful black sand beach.
Popping up for air.
Popping up for air.

Location: This beach is on the South-East shore of the island. It is about forty minutes from the Volcanoes National Park and an hour and a half from Kailua-Kona.

4 – Anaeho’omalu Bay

After a long and relaxing lunch at the Lava Lava Beach Club (located on this beach) I decided to go for a walk along the beach. Needless to say, I didn’t have to walk more than a few metres before being distracted by sea turtles swimming right next to shore!

There was at least four sea turtles on the right-hand side of the restaurant. They seemed to attract a bit of a crowd as everyone decided to enjoy their show. Next I went for a walk further to the left of the restaurant. Again I didn’t have to go far, as more turtles had gathered to feed in the rocks close to shore! We were told they are also sometimes seen basking in the sun around that area.

Anaeho’omalu Bay
Anaeho’omalu Bay
Playing in the rocks.
Playing in the rocks.

This is a great place to head to combine turtle watching, a long, lazy lunch and a Coconut Mai Tai or two!

Location: 30 minutes north of Kona, off highway 19.

5 – Honaunau Bay (Two-Steps)

This rocky bay right next door to an ancient Hawaiian place of refuge is one of the best snorkelling spots on the Big Island. Here you’ll find many different species of fish congregating in the extremely clear water close to shore. Sea turtles also like to hang out in the bay and might come and join you as you snorkel. We had the pleasure of seeing one while there, along with two Moray Eels and thousands of fish.

The trick with Honaunau Bay is to get there really early before the crowds arrive. Dolphins are also known to occasionally give snorkelers a bit of a show here.

Location: 20 miles south of Kona.

Honaunau Bay.
Honaunau Bay.
Sea turtles spotting at Honaunau Bay.
Sea turtle spotting at Honaunau Bay.

6 – Kiholo Bay

Kiholo Bay is another spot north of Kailua-Kona where you will likely see sea turtles. You may even find them basking on the lava rocks, enjoying the sunshine.

It’s a bit of a hike to get to this rocky lagoon but it’s worth it. Depending on the sea conditions, you may also be able to snorkel with the turtles. However, sometimes the water is too rough and it’s best to stay onshore. But bring your snorkelling gear just in case.

Location: Kiholo Bay is 30 minutes north of Kona on Highway 19 by car. There are two ways to get to it:

  • Via a trail (dirt road) leaving the parking lot immediately south of mile marker 81. Bring plenty of water as it’s approximately a 20 minute walk.
  • By taking the public access road between mile markers 82 and 83. There you’ll find a narrow gravel road which normally can be driven with a 2WD, except for the last stretch.

Know of any other spots?

The Big Island is really large and I’m sure there are plenty of other great places to see sea turtles. If you know of any that we’ve missed, please leave us a comment below and we’ll check it out on our next trip.

Here’s a handy map with all of the spots we’ve mentioned in this article.

Where do sea turtles nest on the Big Island? 

Sea turtles will only nest on sandy beaches. One such beach where they commonly nest is Punalu’u Black Sand Beach. If visit this beach during nesting season, make sure you give them plenty of space. Do not disturb them while they are nesting and do not visit after dark. Be respectful of these beautiful creatures.

The sign at the entrance of the beach.
Turtle nesting sign

When is turtle nesting season in Hawaii? 

The turtle nesting season is during Hawaii’s summer, from June to October. After the turtles have laid their eggs, the babies will hatch anywhere from 48 to 70 days later.

Can you see sea turtles on the Big Island all year round?

Absolutely! Sea turtles hang around on the Big Island all year. Of course, whether or not you see them on a particular day is often a matter of luck. After all, they are not at our beck and call! But if you visit one or more of the places in this post, you will very likely spot a turtle or two, maybe more! 

Can you touch sea turtles in Hawaii? 

No! They are wild animals and like all wild animals, you should not touch them and you should respect their personal space.

Would sea turtles bite? It’s possible, although unlikely. It’s more likely that they will swim away unless they feel cornered. We’ve always found that the ones in Hawaii were particularly chilled out whereas ones in other parts of the world were more nervous.

You may find that the larger, older turtles are also less concerned with your presence as they’ve seen plenty of humans in their lifetime and no that we are no longer a threat.

But do not take the risk. Let them be and observe them from a distance. If they come towards you, it doesn’t give you the right to touch them. They are just checking you out.

See our snorkelling guidelines below for an ethical way to snorkel with sea turtles. 

Are sea turtles protected in Hawaii?

Yes, they are! Turtles are protected by the state of Hawaii and by federal laws, so if you don’t want to get a fine, please follow the following rules. Hawaiian people love their turtles, they respect them and they care for them. So let’s respect them too. That way we can enjoy them for much longer.

Some guidelines to follow when swimming with sea turtles

  • I can’t stress this enough but please, please don’t touch the turtles. Not only it is illegal to touch them in Hawaii, but at the end of the day although they are friendly, they are still wild animals and you need to respect that.
  • Stay at least two to three meters (six to ten feet) away from them. Yes sometimes that’s hard to do if they follow you around but at least try.
  • Do not feed them! They have their own diet and what you eat is not what they eat! You’ll end up making them sick.
  • Do not chase them; they will decide if they want to come near you or not. Hawaiian turtles are some of the friendliest turtles around but even they tire of too much attention. Just keep your distance and let them go about their business.
  • Do not swim above a turtle. Turtles need to come up for air occasionally. If you swim right above them it prevents them from being able to do that.
  • If you see a turtle basking in the sun, do not disturb it. Would you like it if someone came and bothered you while you slept? Probably not; and neither do they!

To make sure you have all the snorkelling gear you need, see our detailed snorkelling packing list.

Use Reef Friendly Sunscreen

Regardless of whether you’re swimming with turtles, please use a reef friendly sunscreen to avoid harming the coral and other marine life. These sunscreens exclude chemicals that are known to be damaging to the marine environment.

Accommodation on the Big Island

As most of these spots are on the west side of the island, you may want to stay on that side. Kailua-Kona is a great area to stay in. Here’s some of the best reviewed accommodation there on booking.com.

Top reviewed: Ocean Hale and Knigge Farms  – An awesome apartment with an ocean view.

Best value: Kanaloa at Kona by Castle Resorts & Hotels – well-equipped apartments, most with ocean views.

Best location:  Kona Coast Resorts at Keauhou Gardens or Holualoa Inn

Alternatively, you can use HotelsCombined to search across all of the major accommodations sites to find a great deal. We use it all the time.

Read More

To read about our week on the Big Island click here.

Find out about our favourite snorkelling spots in the Hawaiian Islands here.

Find out What to Pack For Your Next Snorkelling Adventure click here.

Where to find turtles on the big island Where to find turtles on the big island

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9 Comments

  • Lara Dunning

    I love swimming with sea turtles too. The first time I did was in the British Virgin Islands. I haven’t been to the Big Island yet, but I want to go. Saving this for when the time comes!

    August 13, 2017 at 2:11 pm
    • Cindy Collins

      Thanks Lara, I’d love to visit the British Virgin Islands too. I bet the snorkelling was amazing there?

      August 13, 2017 at 6:06 pm
  • Chloe

    Awesome and super detailed guide. I would love to see a sea turtle too. In my bucketlist now!

    August 13, 2017 at 6:50 pm
  • Long Nguyen

    In Kahalu’u Beach Park, how far is from the beach and you can see turtle? Should you use a travel service like travel boat on a boat trip with other travellers or you just swim to the right place? I have children and the turtle information here is quite interesting to think of a trip there

    August 13, 2017 at 7:37 pm
    • Cindy Collins

      Hi Long, in Kahalu’u Beach Park you do not need to take a boat. We saw turtles standing on the beach the first time we went! But if you go snorkelling off the beach you will more than likely see one of two if not more. The kids would love it!

      August 13, 2017 at 7:43 pm
  • Rashmi and Chalukya

    We are yet to try out this adventure. The turtles sound like amicable creatures and swimming with them would be fun. Your pictures of turtles are awe-inspiring.

    August 14, 2017 at 3:16 am
    • Cindy Collins

      Thanks Rashmi, yes the turtles were super friendly. Glad you enjoyed the photos.

      August 14, 2017 at 6:08 pm
  • knycx.journeying

    Wow the sea turtles are so big and it must be exciting meeting them in the wild! Thanks for the information and great picture of capturing the sea turtles! @ knycx.journeying

    August 14, 2017 at 1:47 pm

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