In the shadow of verdant mountains, and shaded by palm and ironwood trees, Makua Beach has golden sand and baby blue waters. The post-card-perfect setting was featured in the 1958 movie South Pacific, but it’s the labyrinthine underwater reef, snaked with caves, that lends the beach its nickname and draws visitors today: Tunnels Beach is one of Kauai’s best snorkeling spots. Best of all, it’s frequently uncrowded.
Protected within a small cupped North Shore bay, two layers of reef offer different experiences. The smaller inshore reef boasts calmer waters and frequent sea turtle sightings, while the expansive offshore reef is a well-utilized scuba dive site with more varied terrain—some sections drop to 70 feet. The ocean-facing edge of the outer reef is popular with expert surfers. Both reefs are home to colorful wrasse, moray eels, butterfly fish and Hawaii’s state fish, the hard-to-pronounce Humuhumunukunukuapua`a. If you’re lucky, you may even see an endangered Hawaiian monk seal hauled out on the shore.
Makua (Tunnels) Beach is 5.5 miles west of Hanalei on a narrow section Highway 560. Several private Kauai tours take visitors to Makua, but it is not a common stop on package tours. If you’re driving yourself, parking is easiest in Ha’ena State Park, which has restrooms, showers, lifeguards and occasionally food trucks. It occupies the western shores of the same bay, a little over a half-mile away.
Tunnels is one of the few beaches where snorkeling may be possible during choppy winter months, but check conditions with Ha’ena lifeguards that day.