Visit Kaunaoa Beach (Mauna Kea Beach)
Overview of Kaunaoa Beach also known as Mauna Kea Beach
Known as one of the finest beaches on the Big Island, Kaunaoa Beach (also called Mauna Kea Beach) stretches over a quarter of a mile and offers sandy-bottomed shores, less than 10 feet deep, for perfect and lengthy bouts of playing in clear, turquoise waters.
Fringed with leafy palm trees and fine, white sand, this beach is considered one of the Big Island’s best beaches. It is no wonder that Kaunaoa Bay has consistently ranked among the top five beaches in the U.S. “Perfect” has been used to describe Kaunaoa Bay on several occasions, and one look is enough to see why. This hidden jewel of a beach is considered by many to be the best on the Big Island. Mauna Kea Beach has earned the accolade on The Travel Channel’s “The World’s All-Time Best Beaches” list.
Access to Kaunaoa Beach through the Mauna Kea Resort
Kaunaoa Beach is located within the Mauna Kea Beach Resort, so you’ll need to arrive early and ask the gate attendant for entry. As of March 2022 there is also a parking fee of $21 being charged by the resort for non Hawaii residents. It is a public beach, and if you’re not staying at the hotel, you’ll just need to get a beach access pass or be waved through the resort entrance gate. As you pull up to the gate, you may see a sign letting you know that the beach parking is full. When you reach the parking area, there is another gate where you must pay for parking.
Due to the fact that there are limited parking spots for the non-hotel staying public (around 30 spots), it’s best you arrive early because once the spots are full, you’ll have to wait for someone to leave. If parking is unavailable, Hapuna Beach is just one mile south. However, if you’re determined to visit this beach, you should arrive before 9:00 in the morning. Once you get your parking spot, it’s about a 5-minute walk from the parking area to the beach down a paved path.
Kaunaoa Beach (Mauna Kea Beach) Activities
Kaunaoa Beach’s shore is a great spot to catch the sunshine with a peaceful tide making it great for snorkeling along the lava rock, framed, north and south sides of the bay. You can rent boogie boards from the concession stand at Mauna Kea Resort or buy a snack and even enjoy a tropical drink at their restaurant and beach bar.
The hotel maintains the beach’s public restrooms and showers for all visitors. If you’re interested in art, tour the Mauna Kea Hotel Art Collection of museum quality art pieces curated by Laurance S. Rockefeller displayed throughout their grounds.
If you’re snorkeling, on the southern end of Kaunaoa beach you will see tropical fish inhabiting healthy coral fields. Along the northern side of the beach, follow the rock wall along the edge all the way out to the point for more snorkeling. Here, coral fields running out to the point, flourish from sunlight illuminating the shallows. Past the point, the shallows progress into huge canyons of coral, about 20-30 foot in depth.
We recommend staying in the bay when snorkeling, however, if you decide to round either point, make sure you are ocean aware and comfortable with the oncoming currents. During times of high surf, common in the winter months, a pounding shore break and strong rip currents can make enjoying the ocean hazardous. Be aware of ocean conditions as there are no lifeguards on duty at Kaunaoa Beach (Mauna Kea Beach).
Manta Rays at Mauna Kea Beach Resort
If you think the daytime entertainment was great, check out the evening manta ray show. Numerous boat outfitters head to Mauna Kea’s shores at night where floodlights over the water attract plankton, the manta ray’s food source.
You can watch these gentle giants along a lookout called the “Manta Ray Point” observation deck. A perfect perch to get a jaw-dropping view of the great manta ray. The observation area is located ocean side near “Manta” Restaurant at Mauna Kea Beach Resort.
Kaunaoa Beach (Mauna Kea Beach) Amenities
Limited Parking (Parking fee for non residents $21)
At Mauna Kea Resort
– Beach Bar and Restaurant
– Concession Stand with Beach Rentals
Directions and Map for Kaunaoa Beach (Mauna Kea Beach)
Located about 30 miles north of Kailua Kona, via the (Queen Kaahumanu Hwy #19) past the Waikoloa Resort Area and Hapuna Beach marker. To the left, at mile marker 68 you will see the entrance to the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. The guard gate attendant will request your reason for entry and inform him you are looking to enjoy Mauna Kea Beach. Proceed towards the resort until it ends on the left, pay for parking, then park your vehicle in the designated beach parking. Then walk through the gate and follow the path down to the beach.