Last Updated: March 14, 2023
Hawaii is perhaps everyone’s idea of paradise on earth; a tropical island getaway where you can relax and have fun. The aloha spirit pervades when exploring its world-class beaches, magnificent volcanoes, pristine rainforests, and lush landscape alongside the exhilarating adventures that await visitors.
But there’s another reason visitors keep coming back to the Aloha state: Big Island scuba diving! Its Kona district offers some of the best dive sites that amateur and advanced divers would not want to miss.
This article will discuss what you need to know about scuba diving on the Big Island, its top dive spots, the best time to dive, and more.
About Big Island, Hawaii
While every Hawaiian island has its unique beauty, the Big Island is perhaps the most diverse. For one, it is true to its name; it is a big island indeed, comprising more than 60% of Hawaii’s total land mass. In other words, this one would still be the biggest even if you combined the rest of the islands.
Big Island has six districts:
- Hilo – As its capital, Hilo lies on the east and experiences constant rainfall, producing thick vegetation and the most gorgeous orchids.
- Kona – Kona enjoys a sunny climate, with stretches of beaches, coffee farms, and historic sites.
- Kohala – On the northern side is Kohala, known for beaches with huge waves.
- Hamakua Coast – Hamakua Coast has beautiful scenery filled with lush tropical foliage and deep ravines.
- Puna – Puna is on the west side, with surrounding lava fields, rainforests, and a rugged coastline.
- Kau – Kau is rural, remote, and home to the famous Punaluu Black Sand Beach and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
What makes the Big Island incomparable to the rest of the island chain is the presence of multiple climate zones in its region, which has 11 out of 13 climates. Hence, you could be soaking in the sun from one district, viewing the snowcapped slopes of Mauna Kea, and exploring the balmy coastal jungles without leaving the island.
Big Island Diving
There are literally thousands of fish species and marine critters you’ll encounter during your dive explorations on the Big Island; some are exclusive to this vast island. Expect to run into sharks, Hawaiian monk seals, Humpback whales, moray eels, and green sea turtles, just to name a few.
Scuba divers of all skill levels can enjoy a variety of dive tours. Novice divers can explore fantastic spots within 20 feet deep and see the most colorful marine life, majestic rock formations, and living coral reefs. There’s the Atlantis submarine tour in Kona, where visitors ride a real submarine to explore thousands of years old natural coral reefs submerged up to 100 feet. You can also opt for private diving tours and explore Kealakekua Bay and other beaches.
For a wholly different adventure, certified divers can go for a night dive, during which you can mingle with nocturnal sea creatures and navigate idyllic coves. Overall, the diving experience on this mega island is truly one for the books.
Best 8 Dive Sites in Hawaii’s Big Island
Regardless of where you dive, the Big Island offers an extraordinary variety for divers who are looking forward to underwater discoveries that are visually compelling and breathtaking. You are in for some of the most amazing scenery beneath the seas, which features reef channels, caverns, arches, and pinnacles alongside living coral reefs and exciting marine critters.
1. Crescent Beach
This is a great example of a dive spot near the shore filled with life forms you think you’d only see in farther locations. Crescent Beach is right outside the Honokohau Harbor and is known for these bulky critters: tiger sharks. You’ll enjoy diving around them with dolphins, manta rays, eagle rays, barracudas, and many more sea residents. Be sure to bring your underwater camera to capture all the colorful frenzy against a vibrant reef backdrop.
You can get here by heading to the marina on the left by the end of the road. The descent to the reef is gradual until it becomes steep at 80 feet, hitting a sandy bottom.
2. Manta Ray Heaven
Experience a night dive like no other in the company of the dazzling manta rays in Manta Ray Heaven or Garden Eel Cove. These nocturnal creatures are concentrated on the coasts of Kona and Kohala and love to feed on plankton which is abundant at night. With divers bringing their spotlight for underwater illumination, the manta rays are even more drawn to their favorite snack, which is quite delightful to watch.
Big Bertha is the resident reef manta behemoth whose 14-foot wingspan is wider than a dive boat. Despite its size, it is a gentle giant. You’ll enjoy the manta crew with their display of grace and mesmerizing movements as if flying through the sea while observing them from a distance.
3. Puʻuhonua o Honaunau
This is one of two parks established to preserve the remainder of Hawaiian history and culture. The name Puʻuhonua o Honaunau means place of refuge of Honaunau. It used to refer to an ancient village that served as a sanctuary for defeated warriors, kapu (sacred laws) violators, and non-combatants. Several historical elements and structures were recreated in the park, while some, such as the original stone walls, still remain. Thus, when you want to commune with nature and your inner spirit, this is the perfect place: quiet, rural, and relaxed.
The dive site is located in the northern part of the park and is called Two Steps because that’s what it only takes to get to the water. This area is also popular among snorkelers, given its safer and more peaceful conditions. The waters are surprisingly cooler due to the influx of freshwater in the ocean. Underneath, you’ll witness various fascinating species, such as surgeonfish, Moorish idols, butterfly fish, white-tip sharks, and others.
4. Golden Arches
Not the popular fast food restaurant, Golden Arches is a reef dive spot where you can expect to mingle with triggerfish, Moorish idols, angel fish, dolphins, and perhaps a manta ray if it’s your lucky day. A few other rare sightings of the longnose butterfly fish and Whitley’s boxfish have been reported, so pay attention to your surroundings.
Situated off the Kona coast, the name refers to the lava rock arches that house stony corals and diverse marine life. It is a boat dive, but divers from beginners to advanced are welcome to explore this site, with decent visibility and water currents varying from mild to strong.
5. Black Water Dive
Another night dive experience that is not for the faint-hearted, Black Water Dive should be on your bucket list. It is for seasoned divers, given the special conditions of pitch darkness and greater depths.
The otherworldly environment offers a unique sense of calm. Nonetheless, it is reasonable to be overcome with fear at first since you are navigating in the dark, heavily relying on your torch beams to guide you. The heightened sounds underwater even add to the spookiness and thrill. But your fears vanish quickly once you finally get in and realize how serene and beautiful it is underneath at night.
Don’t skip the photo opportunity to shoot macros of surreal life forms you can brag about to your friends back home.
6. Mile Marker 4
Although most dives spots in the Hawaiian islands are best accessed by boat, Mile Marker 4 provides a shore diving option. However, it can be challenging. For starters, you’ll need to walk on rocks ranging from fist-size to large ones, so wearing booties is recommended. You will be greeted with reef fish, such as the yellow tang white descending the gentle slopes. It becomes sandy as the reef drops, with eels, pufferfish, and sea turtles swimming along reef channels and sections.
Mile Marker 4 also features a sand canyon with a relatively spacious cavern where Tahitian snappers abound. The reef is shallow at around 40 feet, allowing more underwater time and freediving opportunities.
A tiny white sand beach town on the Kona coast, Puako Bay diving features a lava shelf where you’ll find sea urchin-covered boulders and a tunnel carpeted with corals. As you exit this tunnel, there is a 30-foot-deep crevasse that drops further into the sandy bottom, filled with different shells, augers, and marlin spikes. You can also encounter larger species, such as the 200-pound ulua and huge eels.
Shore diving in this spot is best done in the morning; otherwise, you’ll have to contend with strong winds and violent waters if you go much later. Sturdy footwear is also recommended, given the rocky tide pools.
8. Kealakekua Bay
Spectacular coral reefs best describe the dive spots at Kealakekua Bay, the largest Marine Life Conservation District. Aside from coral-encrusted caves, there are ledges and crevices at 30 feet deep. Underneath the center of the bay, you may witness a pod of wild dolphins in their resting grounds.
On the other side of the bay, you have Ka’awaloa cove, which is more protected. It has depths ranging from 5 to 120 feet and boasts diverse species of coral and fish.
Related: Best Places to Scuba Dive in Kauai
Diving Conditions and Best Time to Dive the Big Island
Big Island dive spots are generally accessible by boat, except for the western coast being too far for boat dive operators to reach. Instead, a liveaboard yacht is utilized for this purpose.
Shore dives are available for several dive spots with a maximum of 3-foot swells.
Surface waters are mildly cool and calmer due to the Mauna Loa volcano blocking strong winds from totally blowing over the Kona coast.
Diving is possible any time of the year with 100 feet of visibility for the most part. But if you want lesser crowds, you can time your visit from September to January. Note that in these months, waters will be murkier and colder; hence, I recommend a 3 to 5-mm wetsuit.
Top Hawaii’s Big Island Dive Shops
Several dive centers cater to the needs of divers on the Big Island regardless of skill level. Here are the best ones.
#1. Big Island Divers
For nearly 40 years, Big Island Divers is a highly-rated dive center that has been offering full-service diving trips to all types of divers as well as snorkeling packages. The company also has PADI-certified instructors for those interested to learn scuba diving, among other specialty courses.
#2. Kona Diving Company
Kona Diving Company is a family-owned business providing organized dive tours to Kona’s world-class sites and private charters. It also sells dive essentials and conducts PADI certification courses.
#3. Kona Honu Divers
Whether it’s finding the right regulator or joining a dive tour, Kona Honu Divers has it and more. This store has licensed divemasters and instructors to guide your dive trips and make them fun and memorable.
#4. Jack’s Diving Locker
Planning your first night dive on the Big Island? Jack’s Diving Locker has it in their vast menu of dive experiences for customers. Its custom-built dive boats will give you a safe and pleasant time en route to your destination.
The shop also has a suite of dive-related merch, supplies, equipment, training courses, and other aqua essentials.
#5. Hilo Ocean Adventures
Hilo Ocean Adventures is one of the leading dive centers on the Big Island. It is heavy on creating a community-style experience with its enjoyable dive tours and related services.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Scuba Diving on the Big Island of Hawaii Good?
Yes. The marine life and endemic species in this territory are in great abundance. It also has amazing underwater topography of coral belts, sea caves, and submerged lava tubes.
When is the Best Time of Year to Dive in Kona?
Typically summertime. For fewer crowds: September to January. For whale-watching: November to March.
Are There Sea Turtles in Kona?
Absolutely. Sea turtles are referred to by early Hawaiians as Honu and are often found in shallow waters or hanging around the shoreline.
Do you Have to be Certified to Scuba Dive in Kona?
Beginners don’t have to be certified as long as they do intro dives facilitated by a certified diver.
Is Big Island as Nice as Maui?
Both islands have their strong points. If you want to go on more outdoor adventures and volcano-viewing, head to the Big Island.
My unbounded love for the oceans and everything it has to offer motivated me to pursue my passion and become a professional scuba diving instructor.
I keep reading, exploring, and learning more about scuba diving and the underwater world all the time, so I’m excited to share my knowledge with fellow scuba enthusiasts and hopefully contribute a little to your development as a diver. I want people to fall in love with the oceans with as much passion as I have. Read more about me here.