Makua's Tunnels Beach: Unveiling Hawaii's Hidden Paradise

The island of Oahu in Hawaii is home to some of the world's most famous beaches, like Waikiki and the North Shore's big wave beaches. But nestled away on the island's west side is a hidden paradise known as Tunnels Beach that offers a tranquil escape from the bigger crowds. As a Hawaii beach connoisseur and travel writer, I was captivated by Tunnels during a recent trip and want to share why it needs to be on your Hawaii bucket list.

HAWAII, Kauai, Tunnels Beach

About Tunnels Beach in Makua, Oahu

Tunnels Beach also referred to as Makua Beach, is located along Oahu's western shoreline in the Makua Valley. It's about an hour's drive from Honolulu, making it more remote and less touristy compared to many other Oahu beaches.

The beach gets its name from the underwater lava tubes that form interesting tunnel-like structures just offshore. When the waves recede, small circular openings can be seen along the rocky coast. These unique lava formations provide the perfect habitat for Hawaii's diverse marine life.

The sandy beach itself is picturesque, with palm trees lining the shore. And since it's more sheltered by an outer reef, the waters are usually calm and crystal clear - ideal for snorkeling and swimming. The scenic backdrop of the valley's cliffsides covered in lush tropical vegetation further adds to the beauty.

The Allure of Tunnels for Beachgoers and Snorkelers

For beach lovers, Tunnels offers a peaceful setting with soft white sands and gentle surf, especially in the summer when the north and west shores pick up more swell. The wide shoreline means it never feels crowded too.

But the real allure is the world-class snorkeling. Just offshore is part of the Kaena Point State Marine Reserve, with an abundance of colorful fish and coral. On a good day, visibility can exceed 100 feet! Some days the schools of fish are so dense it's like swimming in an aquarium.

It's common to spot sea turtles munching on the coral and reef fish like parrotfish, butterflyfish, damselfish, and more. Octopuses like to hide in the tunnels along with eels. With luck, you may even spot dolphins or manta rays gliding by.

The lava tunnels provide a unique snorkeling experience as you can swim through various openings spotting marine life tucked into the nooks and crannies. But use caution as the tunnels can be dangerous if you swim too deep inside.

HAWAII, Kauai, Tunnels Beach

Best Spots for Snorkeling at Tunnels

The most popular entry point is near the center of the beach where a channel leads out towards the many tunnels. But there are great spots all along the rocky coastline with lava tube openings to explore.

Some favorite snorkeling spots include:

  • Keyhole - A large underwater tunnel opening resembling a keyhole shape. Inside are ledges to view garden eels and schools of butterflyfish.
  • Coral Garden - Named for the variety of corals like antler coral growing on the ceiling of a tunnel with Parrotfish, surgeonfish, and pyramid butterflyfish.
  • Triple Tunnels - Three adjacent tunnel openings with vibrant coral and clouds of colorful Anthias.
  • Turtle Cleaning Station - Where turtles come to get cleaned by fish like wrasses.

I recommend swimming out at least 100-200 feet from shore to get the most out of snorkeling here. The outer edge of the reef drops off into deeper waters where bigger fish congregate.

When is the Best Time to Visit Tunnels Beach?

As a year-round beach, Tunnels offers good conditions any time of year. But the best time for snorkeling is during the summer months of June through August. Trade winds are lighter, skies are sunny, and the waters are calmest. Visibility peaks at over 100 feet on many days.

During Hawaii's winter season from December to March, the North and West shores get bigger swells. This stirs up more surf at Tunnels and reduces underwater visibility. But it's still swimmable on calmer days.

Regardless of the season, try to arrive early in the morning if possible. Trade winds can pick up later in the day, creating more surface chop. Mornings are also best for spotting sea turtles coming up to bask in the sun.

Accessing Tunnels Beach in Makua

The beach access lies just past mile marker 18 along the Farrington Highway heading west from Waianae. Turn down Makaha Valley Road near the Makua Cave tunnel and follow it for 2.5 miles until you see the sign for Tunnels Beach.

Parking is very limited - only about 30 spaces in the unpaved lot. On weekends it fills up fast, so arrive early. Or consider parking up the road at one of the neighboring beaches like Keaweula/Kepuhi and walking 10 minutes down to Tunnels.

The path to the beach involves scrambling over uneven lava rock formations, so wear good footwear. Once on the sand, it's easy walking to the snorkel spots. Use extreme caution when swimming or snorkeling as there are no lifeguards.

What to Bring for a Day at Tunnels Beach

A trip to Tunnels Beach deserves proper preparation to fully enjoy it:

  • Snorkel gear - Don't forget your mask, snorkel, fins, and booties to explore the underwater world
  • Reef-safe sunscreen - Protect yourself but avoid harming the coral
  • Water shoes - For safely climbing over the rocky access paths
  • Portable shade - Not much natural shade so bring an umbrella or tent
  • Picnic lunch - Make a day of it by enjoying local foods on the beach
  • Camera - To capture those sea turtle sightings and underwater memories

Make sure to thoroughly rinse your gear and yourself to remove any sunscreen residue before entering the sensitive reef environment. Take out all you bring in to keep this special ecosystem pristine.

HAWAII, Kauai, Tunnels Beach

Stop for Local Grinds After Exploring Tunnels

After a long day of sun and snorkeling, you'll likely be hungry and craving some delicious local "grinds" as they say in Hawaii. Just 5 minutes up Makaha Valley Road is a food truck area with tasty options like:

  • Makaha Grill - Famous for their fresh poke bowls and plate lunches
  • Paradise Crepes - Savory and sweet Hawaiian-style crepes
  • Domodomo - Delicious loco moco, shaved ice, and snacks
  • Saenz Ohana Shave Ice - a traditional Hawaiian treat to cool off

Grab your fill of local flavors before starting the scenic drive back around the west side along the coastline to complete the day.

Why Tunnels Beach is a Must-Visit Oahu Destination

For travelers seeking Oahu's natural wonders off the beaten path, Tunnels Beach is a dream. From world-class snorkeling with an abundance of vibrant sea life to peaceful scenic shorelines, it's a unique Hawaiian escape.

The lack of big crowds and the gorgeous reef environment make it one of my favorite beaches on the island. Just be prepared for the remote location and limited amenities. But that's all part of the adventure when discovering a true hidden paradise like Tunnels!

Add this hidden gem to your Hawaii itinerary for an unforgettable experience discovering stunning beaches and snorkeling. With the right preparations, respect for safety, and appreciation of its fragile environment, Tunnels Beach will create memories to cherish for a lifetime.

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