for my friend, Jane Etherington

You dip your face mask under the water and see your daughter, some 15 feet away, waving you over like mad, stirring up bubbles all around her. Even behind her mask and snorkel you can tell she is grinning ear to ear. You glide through the turquoise water spiked with golden shafts of sunlight until you’re beside her. She points, and there, just beyond the rocks, floats a peaceful, gentle, beautiful green sea turtle. You can feel your goosebumps even underwater. 

The sea turtle seems unfazed by your presence. She is hovering there, mostly still. Her flippers have a leopard-like pattern and her green back looks as mottled as the mossy rocks beneath her. She turns her head slightly toward you, and the line of her beak almost looks like a smile, too. Then just like that, she pushes off the rocks and swims toward the depths, her flippers waving like wings. You and your daughter swim up for air, and burst through the surface cackling with delight.

“That was so awesome!” your daughter enthuses, adjusting her goggles. “Did you see that?!” She blows water out her snorkel. “Come on!” And she’s back underwater to keep tabs on her new friend. 

Somehow you know just how she will respond to friends back home who ask her “What was the highlight of your trip to Kauai?” Somehow you know that she will remember this moment forever. 

And you will, too.

Just what is it about sea turtles? 

Sea turtles, or “honu” (hoh-noo) to the locals, top most travelers’ wish lists of wildlife to see in Kauai. Long considered symbols of good luck, the creatures’ kind faces and trudging gait are endearing, and watching them swim is a joy. But it is also their will that amazes us. A newly hatched sea turtle’s chance of eluding predators as it scrambles from its sandy nest to the relative safety of the water is one of the most harrowing starts to life in the animal kingdom. Even if they make it to the sea, hatchlings are a favorite snack of bigger creatures, and only one in 1,000 eggs will survive to adulthood. If a sea turtle does beat the odds, however, they can live up to 80-plus years! In Kauai, honu can often be seen swimming in the surf, hanging around the rocky shores and even napping on the beaches.

So where is the best place to see sea turtles in Kauai?  

There are plenty! The South Shore and the North Shore are filled with ideal locations to view these majestic creatures. The northwestern-most Hawaiian island is a turtle nesting destination so they arrive to lay their eggs here from May through September, but they can be seen in water and on land pretty much year round — if you know where to look. Here is a sampling:

South Shore of Kauai:

Find Kauai Turtles at Poipu BeachBrennecke’s Beach — Just across from Nihi Kai Villas honu can often be seen from the shore as they feed on greens along the lava shelf.

Poipu Beach — Great for kids because even waders can spot sea turtles hanging in the reef shallows while snorkelers can see them swimming in the clearer depths.

Kuhio Shores — Though a little rocky at the entrance to the water, the bay just east of Kuhio Shores is a favorite sea turtle hang out. Honu visit this spot year round to snack on the plants growing among the rocks.

Kipu Kai Beach — This beautiful crescent-shaped beach boasts clear waters ideal for seeing and swimming near sea turtles. Scenes from the movie The Descendants were filmed here.

Koloa Landing — Straight out in front of  Koloa Landing Resort is one of the best places to snorkel with sea turtles in Kauai. Guests can even grab snorkel gear from the resort or get hooked up with a local guide.

Lawai — Swim with Kauai sea turtles in the turquoise waters off Lawai Beach just next to the Beach House restaurant. 

Mahaulepu — This remote, more sparsely populated beach at the end of the Heritage hike offers twinkling blue waters ideal for snorkeling with sea turtles. Paradise. . .  

Spouting Horn — Kauai turtles are often seen congregating just below the lookout to the right of the horn in a little cove filled with rocks and delicious sea grasses.

North Shore of Kauai:

Snorkeling With Kauai Turtles at Tunnels Beach Anini — Sea turtles often swim close to shore, sometimes popping up their heads to check out the scene right there in the shallows. The water is protected by the reef making it swimmable even in winter.

Turtle Cove – A bit of a hike gets you to this hidden gem near Queen’s Bath. Honu love to eat and lounge in the sand here. Given its name, this was once considered the best place to see sea turtles in Kauai.

Ke’e Beach — Where the main highway ends, this gorgeous beach begins. Snorkelers enjoy a vast stretch of ocean perfect for seeking sea turtles.

Tunnels — One of the best snorkeling spots in the Hawaiian Islands, this is a prime spot to make friends with countless fish and the occasional sea turtle. 

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Sea turtles made the Hawaiian islands their home long before people did, but in modern times their count has dropped dramatically. Honu were officially placed on the endangered species list in 1978 and are voraciously protected. Here are some guidelines to help keep them safe for future generations to love on:

  • Always stay at least 10 to 15 feet away from a sea turtle. Do not chase, approach, touch, dance with, high five or ride a turtle. Fines can set you back $100,000. Not worth it — not to mention cruel.
  • If you would like to move closer to a turtle, float or swim as gently as possible.
  • Never attempt to feed a sea turtle — unless of course you are a rock covered in delicious algae. 
  • Avoid loud noises and abrupt movements which will startle these timid guys.
  • Do not pour water over a beached turtle or try to push it back into the ocean. (You’d be surprised what people attempt!)
  • Always give a sea turtle a clear path, taking care not to block their access to land or sea.
  • Avoid following a sea turtle out too far or you could find yourself in dangerous waters. 
  • If you encounter a sea turtle that is stranded, injured or in distress, report it immediately to a lifeguard or to the Department of Fisheries.
  • Use a sunscreen that is friendly to marine life and reefs. Today, Hawaii now sells only environmentally sound sunscreen.

The concierge team at Koloa Landing Resort is ready to help steer you toward all the best places to see sea turtles in Kauai. Visit one of our poolside Activity Huts for snorkel gear and seasonal recommendations.  Click here for more info about our Kauai resort or to book a room for your family’s best sea-turtle-spotting vacation ever.