Hawai'i Coral Reef Network

Marine Protected Areas in Hawai'i

Kealakekua Bay, Hawai'i

315 acres, Established 1969


 Located on the western coast of Hawai'i near the village of Captain Cook, Kealakekua Bay is about 30 minutes south of Kailua-Kona. The only access by car is to Napo'opo'o Beach, along the bay's eastern shoreline. Take Hwy. 11 south from Kailua Kona to the Napo'opo'o turn off (about 18 miles), then turn right and proceed 4 miles to the bay. Ka'awaloa Cove, at the bay's northern boundary, can be accessed only by boat, and a number of dive tours operate in the area.

The MLCD extends from the highwater mark seaward to a line from Cook Point to Manini Beach Point. A line from Cook Point to the north end of Napo'opo'o Beach divides the district into Subzone A to the north and Subzone B to the south.

Kealakekua Bay's waters are nearly pristine, and its diversity of marine life is spectacular. The northern coastline is bordered by a sheer cliff (Pali-kapu-o-Keoua). On the pali's face numerous lava tube openings are visible, some of which are ancient Hawaiian burial caves.

Captain James Cook, the British explorer who discovered Hawai'i in 1778, arrived at Kealakekua Bay in January 1779 during his second voyage to the islands. Thought by the natives to be a god, Cook was given royal treatment. But the following month he was killed in a skirmish on the shores of Ka'awaloa Cove following a series of incidents between his crew and the Hawaiians.

In 1878 a 27-foot monument was erected in Cook's honor by his countrymen near the site where he was killed. On the lava flats behind Cook Monument are the ruins of the ancient village of Ka'awaloa.

Within the bay, the Napo'opo'o area is generally shallow with little coral, but diving improves as you swim farther out. The area between the Napo'opo'o landing and the southern tip of Manini Beach Point is the most interesting within this potion of the MLCD. Encrusting coral, caves, crevices and ledges can be found in waters up to about 30 feet deep.

Pali-kapu-o-Keoua, on the northern coast of Kealakekua Bay. A charter boat is moored in Ka'awaloa Cove.

On the bay's northeastern side, the waters below the pall are good for snorkeling during calm water conditions. Abundant coral growth and marine life can be seen in waters of about 5 feet. The bay's best diving is in Ka'awaloa Cove (near Cook Monument) where depths range from about 5 to 120 feet. The diversity of coral and fish is exceptional, and fish are quite tame.

Dolphins are commonly seen inside the bay.

Safety considerations

Conditions in the bay become dangerous during high surf and southern (kona) storms, but Ka'awaloa Cove is almost always calm.

No lifeguards are on duty at Napo'opo'o Beach.


Restrooms, showers at Napo'opo'o Beach Park.


No fishing, possession of fishing gear, taking or injuring of any type of marine life (including eggs) or shells is permitted in Subzone A. Hook-and-line and throw net fishing for finfish is permitted in Subzone B. Any legal fishing method except traps may be used to take akule, opelu and crustaceans in Subzone B. Removal of sand, coral or other geological features, or possessing equipment for that purpose is prohibited throughout the MLCD.

Anchoring of boats is prohibited in Subzone A. In Subzone B anchors may only be dropped onto sand, or in such a way as to avoid damage to coral.

See also: Reefs of Kealakekua BayAdministrative Rules

Last update: 6/12/2002