There doesn’t seem to be anything more romantic, adventurous, or special than swimming with dolphins – without a scuba instructor or dive cage. And the Big Island is known for just that.
While each side of the island has spots known to locals as great for swimming with dolphins, one of the most beloved place to hop in the water with both bottle nose and the smaller spinner dolphins is Ho`okena Beach Park in South Kona. Brimming with rich cultural history, the beach is known to have been one of the last traditional fishing villages in Hawaii. It’s also wonderful for kayaking, swimming, snorkeling, and for camping.
To put it simply, Ho`okena is a special place. To reach the beach visitors must descend down a steep and windy paved road, that is a little over a mile long – you wouldn’t want to walk up or down this hill. A panoramic ocean and coastline view is a treat on the way down and makes picture taking enticing, although the blind turns and steep hills make that idea quite unsafe.
At the bottom you veer left and reach the beach, made of fine grayish blackish sand that is wonderful for children to make sand castles out of. The beach is about medium sized, with showers and restrooms available. You’ll also see a stack of kayaks for rent.
Anyway, Ho`okena is known for the dolphins that frequent the usually calm waters, and it’s quite often that they hand out all day long. Otherwise, seeing dolphins in the morning is almost a guarantee any day of the week. Often calm waters thanks to mellow winds are a blessing at Ho`okena, and make swimming a little way out in the ocean with the dolphins quite easy – for good swimmers that is.
When you spot the dolphins, head out a bit, but make sure to not be aggressive and try not to get directly in their way. It’s a good idea to try not to charge right into the pod of dolphins, but to linger nearby and if they’re comfortable they will get closer. What’s awesome about swimming with dolphins is that you don’t have to be right smack in the middle of them for satisfactions, just being even 10 yards from them is a magical experience like nothing else.
Close your eyes and put your head underwater, and you can hear them. Look at them while treading water and watch them jump and spin and play with each other. Bring a water camera and you will most likely be able to get some cool shots. If you decide to swim with them, you most likely won’t be the only person doing so. Ho`okena is known for dolphin swimming and while the group swimming out won’t be huge, there will probably be a few other people. To get to Ho`okena, head south out of Kona and you’ll see the sign on the right.
I swam with the Ho`okena dolphins a few weeks ago, and a “mermaid” even joined us.