About an hour long drive from Honolulu, in the heart of the north shore, lays Turtle Bay resort. On the right hand side of the resort is a small cove called Kuilima Cove. (To the left of the resort main building is Turtle Bay and while pretty great in its own right, is not great for snorkeling.)
Snorkeling and Beach
Kuilima Cove is very sheltered and very calm. It’s the perfect place to bring kids or anyone new to snorkeling and get them used to using their snorkel equipment. The entire cove is protected by a natural barrier of reef and rock. The bottom of the cove is sand and coral flats with some large rock. The water is clear but not as clear as I would have expected after reading some reviews of the spot. (It may have just been my luck with a little bit of weather and surf kicking up, though.)
I wouldn’t say that fish are very plentiful at Kuilima Cove but, there are more than a few. I was able to see parrotfish, yellow fin surgeon fish, box fish, humuhumunukunukuapuaa (not the state fish, anymore), some box fish, Christmas wrasse and even (drum roll, please) a juvenile longhorn cowfish. I have to think that the longhorn cowfish is pretty rare to see in Hawaiian coastal reefs judging by the difficulty I had finding a photo of one online to identify my fish with! Susan Scott, a marine biologist, talks about them in this article and she even mentions how uncommon it is to see a juvenile one because they mostly swim offshore. Bonus find!
All in all, I wasn’t too impressed or comfortable at Kuilima Cove, itself. The beach was crowded. It’s a perfect place to bring kids and word is out because there were plenty of them there. Paradise Helicopters is pretty much right up against the cove and while I’m sure the helicopter tours are awesome, they’re a disturbance to any kind of real relaxing beach time as they land and take-off.
Parking is easy at Kuilima Cove. The lot is on the Turtle Bay resort grounds and both the cove and the lot are maintained by the hotel. Don’t forget, all beaches in Hawaii are open to the public. While you may have to pay for parking at some spots, the beach use is free and open.
The best part of Kuilima Cove is not Kuilima Cove.
Just east of the beach cove (and connected to it, actually, you just have to walk a little bit) was an awesome walk along some great coral and rock. It’s all sharp so you’ll need your beach shoes (no flip flops or you’ll probably die!). I got some great pictures and really enjoyed the walk as I watched crab and tidal pool fish scurry as I approached. Further along, after walking the coral flats it turns into more beach.
Should Kuilima Cove be on your Hawaii to do list?
If you’re on Oahu, only if you have nothing else to do. If you’re on the north shore or staying at Turtle Bay resort…then, sure. Don’t go out of your way to get there, though. There are plenty of great spots to snorkel other than Kuilima, even for kids. Hanauma Bay is one great spot and I even enjoy Ko’Olina Lagoons for easy snorkeling and fish. Even on the north shore and about 10 minutes closer than Kuilima Cove is Shark’s Cove which is much better.