Tunnels Beach (Makua) – A Kauai Snorkeling and Diving Paradise

Tunnels Beach, also known as Makua Beach, is one of Kauai’s most exciting spots for swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving. What makes it so great is its large lagoon and its massive hook-shaped reef that provides protection from the surf. The reef here is so big, it can actually be seen from space. According to divers, it’s called “Tunnels Beach” because of all the tunnels and arches in the reef. But surfers often say it’s from the tubular or tunnel-shaped waves that are frequently found at this beach.

Snorkelers love to explore the inner reef with its crevices and cavities that often have fish and other sea life. Divers prefer the outer reef because of its tunnels and caverns. Surfers and body boarders obviously love this beach for those perfect tunnel shaped waves, but Tunnels is also a favorite spot for windsurfers.

The reefs here provide enough protection that Tunnels Beach is usually calm enough for first time snorkelers – and it’s probably the only beach on Kauai’s north shore that is. The exception to this is in the winter months when the sea becomes very rough and dangerous.

Getting the Most Out of Tunnels Beach

Here are a few quick tips to help make your visit to Tunnels Beach more enjoyable.

  • Check the surf reports before heading out. If you’re planning a winter visit, only go at low tide and when the sea is calm.
  • The reef at Tunnels Beach can be a lot of fun when you swim though all the coral formations and tunnels, which can seem almost like a maze at times.
  • It rains pretty often on Kauai’s north shore, so if it starts raining just take shelter under the ironwood trees and wait for it to pass. Most showers only last for a few minutes.
  • Occasionally you’ll see monk a seal sleeping on the beach. Give it some space and don’t bother it – seals usually don’t trust people. It’s probably resting up before journeying out to sea.

Tunnels Beach Safety Tips

Most of the time Tunnels Beach is pretty safe to swim in. Sometimes it can be obvious when it’s not safe to swim, like in the wintertime when you might see huge waves crossing the reef. But there are other times when the water between the two main reef sections may look peaceful, yet is too dangerous to swim in. Watch out for high surf on the outer part of the reef and fast flowing water in the channel between the reefs. These are signs of very strong currents that could carry you right through the open channel in the reef and out into the open ocean. On days like these, just enjoy relaxing or playing on the beach.

Tunnels Beach Snorkeling Tips

These tips are written with snorkelers in mind, but most of them also apply to swimming.

  • The wide sand beach offers the easiest entrance into the water. Don’t attempt to enter the shallow areas where there are rocks and reef that come all the way up to the beach edge.
  • Tunnels Beach always has a slight rip current flowing west, even when the weather’s nice. Stay aware of where you at all times too make sure you don’t drift too far out.
  • If you’re a beginner at snorkeling, then you should stay close to shore and follow the inner reef.
  • The inner reef may not be as fun as the outer reef, but it does have lots of caverns, channels and tunnels (of course).
  • Only experienced snorkelers should swim to the outer reef and even that depends on the water conditions.
  • The outer reef is by far the most interesting. In some places it has a steep drop-off of about 50-70 feet with an abundance of sea life. From time to time you may see turtles, parrot fish, cornet fish, rockmover wrasses, pearl wrasses and sometimes even reef sharks.

Directions to Tunnels Beach

Drive west of Princeville on 560 and go 1.1 miles west of the Hanalei Colony Resort. Parking is very difficult here, but that can actually be a good thing – Tunnels Beach usually isn’t very crowded because of it. Don’t park on the highway or you’ll be ticketed. To park, drive past the 8 mile marker where there are two dirt roads you can park on. Parking is legal on all country roads. Look for the first one at about 0.4 miles past the 8 mile marker and the second road at nearly 0.6 miles past the marker.

Make sure you arrive early if you want a good spot. If all the good spots are taken, then you’ll have to go back to Alealea Street, which is before the 8 mile marker. You’ll have to park close to the sand and walk about a half-mile to the beach. Or, better yet, you can also park at Haena Beach Park - click for details. You should also know that there are no facilities available at Tunnels Beach.

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4 Responses to “Tunnels Beach (Makua) – A Kauai Snorkeling and Diving Paradise”

  1. Chad & Melanie Simmons Said,

    Aloha! We were married back in April in Kapa’a, and Kauai will always have a special place in our hearts, to say the least. The island is just stunning - we couldn’t get enough of it, and are already planning a return trip! If you are on the east side of the island, the sunrises are stunning and don’t forget to eat breakfast at Eggberts - amazing people, incredible food! The Eggs Benedict are particularly scrumptious! We loved our visit and our wedding, and cannot wait to go back! ;)

  2. Denise Wendle Said,

    We were there at Tunnels Beach and others on the north shore in the summer. So amazing. Every day a new beach to discover. It was really a great place for beginner snorkelers walking in from the shore. I just walked into the water and put a mask on and bent over and I could see colorful yellow fish and some others without even putting on the fins. You have to be careful not to hit the coral that comes right up to the beach. You want to be mindful of the natural environment.
    It was EXTREMELY hard to find this beach, though, since there are no signs and it is hidden by thick bushy trees. We looked for this beach several days. Your mile markers and things will be a great help to others. Wish we had that when we were there.

  3. Gary & Suzanne Ogg Said,

    The beach is hard to find even with seemingly good directions. Seak out locals for assistance. Tunnels is an experiance you will keep with you for a lifetime. Turtle sitings are very common. Fish are abundant and are colorful. A hint on attracting fish if you are not prepared to attract them. Take a rock under water (stick your mask under the surface) & beat it on another rock and enjoy.

  4. Jeff Said,

    Please please please DON’T bring fish food to the reef. This can seriously damage the fragile reef ecosystem. You will be the outcast and could possibly be fined by the park service.