2018 UPDATE: Kapoho Tide Pools
The Kapoho Tide Pools have been dramatically affected by the 2018 Volcanic Eruption. Sadly this area has been covered by the active lava flow originating from Fissure 8 and is closed to the public. The coral and much of the sea life in this small ecosystem has been destroyed by an active ocean entry of lava that continues to change the face of this 2 mile area of the Big Island. Black sand beaches, small off shore islands, and an ever evolving coastline is currently being formed by the Kilauea Eruption and only time will tell what this area will become.
Kapoho Tide Pools and the Waiopae Marine Life Conservation District
Snorkeling at the Kapoho Tide Pools is a highlight of any visit to the eastern Hilo side of the Big Island. Located in the Waiopae Marine Life Conservation District, we often hear from visitors that this is one of their best snorkeling experiences on the island, and it’s certainly one of our favorites.
The name Kapoho means “the depression” in the Hawaiian language, a reference to the shape of the tide pools. The physical characteristics of the Kapoho Tide Pools are similar to a barrier reef where a shallow basalt ridge on the ocean side of the tide pools causes shore break, protecting the pools from the stronger currents.
The pools still get excellent water circulation by northeast trade wind-generated surges nourishing the abundant coral and marine life. There is diverse coral growth in the tide pools supporting a bountiful array of marine life. This makes the environment a nursery for fishes, and consequently, the area should be treated with care as a protected marine conservation area.
Snorkeling at the Kapoho Tide Pools
An expansive labyrinth of protected tide pools and lava rock causeways set the stage for snorkeling at Kapoho. There are abundant interconnecting tide pools that extend up to 200 yards offshore. Many of the pools are large and deep enough to provide room for swimmers and snorkelers.
A unique feature is that some of the pools contain warm geothermal brackish water, some estimated to reach up to 90 degrees F. Several beach homes along the shore contain some of these tide pools within the boundaries of their property line as dipping pools or hot tubs, take notice and avoid trespassing on private property.
The tide pools are made up of pahoehoe lava (referring to the smoother surface of the flows). Because of the lava rocks surrounding the tide pools, we strongly recommend wearing water shoes at all times as you may have to walk between some of the pools. Please make sure you do not damage the coral on your entry or exit.
The pools’ underwater surfaces are full of colorful marine life and coral growth. Snorkelers will enjoy the interior tide pools, especially on a clear day when the sun’s rays illuminate the shallows. Visibility becomes slightly murkier towards the ocean. The maximum depth is about 4 meters and not recommended for scuba diving.
Because of how the tidal shift affects the water levels and currents in the pools, it’s important to time your visit with the tide and be mindful of changing water conditions. If there is a substantial current, it can make traversing the tide pools difficult and somewhat treacherous, so the suggested time to swim at Kapoho is during the slack period of the tide. Slack water, also known as ‘the stand of the tide’, is the period when the direction of the tide changes and the water is relatively still, with no significant movement either way. This happens about half way between high and low tide and occurs for a couple of hours. Another tip in timing your visit to the tide pools is to make sure it is a clear day and that the sun is higher in the sky to reduce shadows and increase visibility in the pools.
History of Kapoho and the Power of Kilauea
Kapoho, Hawaii, near the Kapoho Tide Pools, was an independent community in the Puna district on the Big Island, located near the easternmost end of Kilauea’s east rift zone. In 1960 Kīlauea Volcano erupted destroying nearly 100 homes and businesses as well as, a hot spring resort. The Cape Kumukahi Lighthouse east of the town was spared and continues in operation.
On January 12, 1960, residents of Kapoho experienced over 1,000 small earthquakes shaking the area. HVO seismologists used a portable seismograph to pinpoint the source of the swarm as an area just north of Kapoho village, 25 miles down the east rift zone from Kilauea’s summit. The size and frequency of the earthquakes increased sharply after midnight on January 13. By daybreak, the ground was severely fissured through town, and the roughly 300 residents evacuated.
The eruption started in the evening above Kapoho. Although the main drift of lava flowed into the ocean, a slow-moving subsidiary inched towards the town of Kapoho. Deterring the lava flow with rock barricades and attempting to harden the lava by cooling it with water, proved futile and on January 28 it entered Kapoho and buried the town. The flows from this eruption entered the ocean just north of the tide pools and the Kapoho area has since been rebuilt as a community of private homes and vacation rentals.
From Hilo take Hwy 11 south, turn left on Hwy 130, left again on Hwy 132, then right on Hwy 137. From Hwy 137 (Kapoho-Kalapana Rd), turn left on Kapoho Kai Drive and follow the road until you see a sign for beach parking. Park and walk the rest of the way along Waiopae Rd to the tide pools.
The only facility is a porta-potty. For those looking for nearby facilities travel south around 1.5 miles on Hwy 137 for access to Ahalanui Park.
7 AM-7 PM
14-4984 Waiopae Rd
Pāhoa, HI 96778