I love diving the Big Island of Hawaii. It’s easy to get there from the west coast with direct flights from San Francisco and LA, relatively inexpensive, and has some great diving from both shore and on the many commercial charter boats. Needless to say, the 75-80 degree water is always a nice changeup from the cold water diving here in California, and there are lots of beautiful subjects to photograph and see in the rugged lava-covered terrain.
One of the easier shore dives, and one I usually hit on my first day there, is just a few miles from Kailua – 4 miles, to be exact. Referred to as “Mile Marker 4”, the site is found right at the 4 mile marker of Ali’I Drive, just south of Kailua. There’s a parking lot right next to the site which makes it easy to gear up. Park in one of the last spaces before the exit and you’re about 30 yards from the entry point. If it’s a busy day the lot may be full; hit it in the morning or evening and you’ll likely be able to find a spot.
This spot is a local favorite; an easy dive with a large variety of fish and a lot of structure underwater that provides both protection for them and interesting terrain to explore. On my last dive here I saw many different kinds of butterfly fish, triggerfish, tangs, moray eels, and turtles. This is also a dive site where you may be able to dive with dolphins, and possibly some white-tip reef sharks here as well.
One of the highlights of this dive is a large lava tube that you can swim through, and it’s reason enough to make this dive. You’ll find it almost directly offshore from the last condominium with the shore-side in about 10 feet of water. If you take this approach, you’ll drop almost directly down through an opening about six feet wide into a larger chamber in about 25 feet of water, then swim through a long cavern which eventually opens into the reef. On a sunny day, the light shines in through small openings at the top, making a beautiful scene and some beautiful diving (see the video above).
Outside the lava tube, it’s easy to pick your preferred depth and dive parallel to the shoreline, following the lava flow and see beautiful corals, nudibranchs, brittle stars, a few moray eels, and puffers. Keep an eye towards the deeper water for passing eagle rays and perhaps dolphins as well. Once you reach a depth of about 40 feet, the shoreline lava turns into a sandy bottom where you’ll find a couple colonies of Antler Coral which stand about 2-3 feet above the desert-like terrain. As it’s a shallow dive, you will have lots of bottom time here to explore, and it’s also a good dive for newer divers. If conditions are calm, this may also make a nice night dive.
While the diving here is relatively easy, there are a few challenges and things to be aware of. The most hazardous is the entry into the water – the first 20 feet or so from the shoreline into the water is covered with well-rounded rocks and is a bit tricky. Plan and take each step very carefully; once you’re in 3 feet of water or so, I’ve found it easiest to lay flat and snorkel to deeper water.
Due to the entry and shallow depth of the dive, you’ll probably want to pass if the water looks rough or if there are large swells or breaking waves in the area. If you’ve done much shore diving before, you’ll be easily able to evaluate the conditions and safely enter here with just a bit of planning. Take your time getting in and getting out, and you’ll be treated to some beautiful, easy shore dives.
Words and photos by Chris Constantine, California Diver Magazine