Lisa Owen

One of the best experiences in my travels has been the chance to swim with Green Sea Turtles on Hawaii’s Big Island. And I found a way to do it without paying inflated tour prices. The Big Island – known also as Hawai’i – is the most southern of the Hawaiian Islands and as its name indicates – also the biggest in terms of land size. There are two main towns on the Big Island – Kona and Hilo. Kona is the more touristy, resort town of the two, and I chose to get a little off the beaten path and stayed in Hilo.

Hilo’s Beach Parks

The Big Island is ringed by beach parks that are frequented by Green Sea Turtles – and these were one of the best places I went to during my trip to Hilo. On a recommendation from a local guide I met during a volcano hike, I headed out to the Richardson Ocean Park. The park has a black sand beach that is popular with tourists, but it’s also great for snorkelling on calm days.

Beach park 

Unfortunately, the day my friend and I went wasn’t calm but we did see a few green sea turtles swimming around in a small sheltered area. Undeterred, we headed down to a beach we’d driven by earlier – and it proved to be the best decision. Carlsmith Beach Park has beautiful clear blue waters and is slightly sheltered from the ocean.

Snorkelling beach park

If you head around to the southern end of the park, you’ll come across shallow clear waters and then you see the turtles just near the ladder into the water. This is where you have the chance to swim with the turtles. I’m guessing the turtles have been fed by tourists because they were very happy to swim around us and kept coming in where most of the people were.

Swimming with turtles

I was sure to keep as far away as I could from the turtles and not touch them as per the signs – but that often became hard as he kept swimming around me. Being up so close to these sea creatures was a wonderful experience – I’ve never been up that close to a turtle in the wild.


Carlsmith Beach Park also has a large grassed area on the beachfront to sit and relax so bring down a towel or rug, some snacks and drinks and plan to spend a few hours here. There are a number of other beach parks along the Hilo and Kona coast. Some offer protected and shallow calm waters, while others are right on the oceanfront and can have large waves at times.

If you’re heading to Kona and enjoy snorkelling, it’s also recommended to visit the marine preserve Kealakekua Bay or the Kahalu’u Ocean Park for a spot of snorkelling. If you’re a history buff, you might also be interested to know Kealakekua Bay is the site of Captain Cook’s death. Several tour operators also offer night snorkelling and diving trips with manta-rays from Kona. The manta-rays glow blue at night when light is shined towards them. Tours start from £78 and are run year round.

Hilo’s Waterfalls

Another must-do on the Big Island is checking out the local waterfalls. The most popular waterfall is Rainbow Falls – only a couple of kilometres from the Hilo town centre. The waterfall is named Rainbow Falls as a rainbow can be seen at the falls on sunny days between around 9am and 11am. Entry is free.

Rainbow falls

About 30 minutes north of Hilo is Akaka Falls. It’s a scenic drive out to the falls via the coast. If you park in the falls carpark the cost is $US5 (£3.75) per vehicle however, you can park just outside the gate for free. Cost of entry to the falls is $US1 (£0.75) per person. It’s an easy paved walk to Akaka Falls, which plunge 130 metres down a rockface. In the same area is the smaller Kahuna Falls. You can do the loop walk is less than half an hour.

Akaka Falls 

Unfortunately, you can’t get close to the falls due to barriers but both falls are worth a quick photo stop. Other activities on the Big Island include horseriding to waterfalls and swimming with dolphins at the Hilton Waikoloa.

Things You Should Know:

  • The best way to see the sights on the Hilo side of the island is by car. All major car rental agencies are represented at the airport. Hitchhiking may also be possible over short distances – particularly between the beach parks.
  • You don’t need to pay for a tour to snorkel to see Hawaii’s Green Sea Turtles. Get your own snorkel and head down to one of Hilo’s beach parks but respect their space and give them a wide berth where possible.
  • Turtles bite! Don’t go too close to the turtles if possible as they may try a take a nibble of your leg or fingers!
  • If you’re planning on visiting Richardson Beach Park, try and get there early. The beach park is on many tourist bus stops and gets crowded by mid-morning.


Lisa Owen is a pint-sized Australian following her dreams to travel to as many places as she can, and loves to share her photography, travel hacks, hiking adventures, and food discoveries along the way. At last count, she has travelled to more than 40 countries in between working in public relations and discovering hidden gems in Australia's great outdoors. Instagram: @_thelittleadventurer Facebook: The Little Adventurer Australia  

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the PDS available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.