You can find palm trees and crystal blue waters in many other beach destinations around the world, but the gentle, beautiful turtle is Hawaii’s for the taking. It’s part of what makes Hawaii so unique. The two types found most commonly in Hawaii include the green sea turtle, or honu, and the hawksbill turtle. The green sea turtle is considered threatened, while the hawksbill is actually endangered. Because of their condition, Hawaii’s government has taken great care in ensuring their protection and safety. This and the fact that the turtle is so unique to Hawaii means that catching a glimpse of one is high on tourists’ bucket lists.
With that being said, there’s nothing worse than coming home from a relaxing trip to the islands, only to have to answer with a resounding no when friends and family ask the inevitable question, “Did you see a turtle?” We know that feeling well. Upon returning from Iceland, the number one question we got asked was, “Did you see the Northern lights?” Technically we saw them when we were flying overhead, but no, not actually while we were in Iceland. That’s not what people want to hear and for us, it was a total bummer to give such a reply. Let’s avoid that feeling, right?!
And so, without further ado, here is our list of the top 3 places to find the coveted turtle in Hawaii with minimal effort. We guarantee it! Or your money back 😉
- Brennecke’s Beach, Poipu, Kauai
Popular for bodysurfing and boogie boarding among both tourists and locals, Brennecke’s beach is by far the number one spot on the islands to find a turtle. Right next to Poipu Beach Park, we have spent many days on this beach in our three visits to Kauai and we were never disappointed.
First, let’s be clear. When we say you’ll spot a turtle here, we don’t mean that you might see the faint sighting of a turtle’s head pop out of the sea kilometres from the beach. We mean you will literally be swimming with the turtles. Yes, you read that correctly, turtles with an ‘s.’
On our last visit to Brennecke’s beach in July of this year, there were a total of FIVE turtles within reach of everyone in the water at any given time of the day. Both small and big, the turtles were doing what anyone would do in such gentle, yet wild waves. They were playing, swimming and bodysurfing with not a care in the world. And how.
Tourists were shrieking; some with fear, others with delight. On this busy beach, with boogie boarders riding the waves and kids running from the surf with glee, you have to be VERY careful to dodge not only the people, but the turtles as well. It is unbelievable!
Try as we might to avoid them, we both have had very close encounters with turtles on this beach. This July, playing in the shallow waves, a turtle came so close to me after a wave picked him up that his fin even tapped my foot at one point before I backed away to give him space. The little girls next to me in the water were elated. And I’m not going to lie, what a cool experience to have had!
And of course, let’s not forget that time in 2012 when Tim was happily bodysurfing the swell at Brennecke’s on one of our last visits of that trip. On the right side of the protected bay are a lot of rocks, so when Tim is out there surfing he takes extra caution to avoid the danger of them. At one point however, Tim took a breather to regain his composure after lots of action in the waves and decided to sit on a large rock under the water. Tim figured it was a safe place to rest before the next set of waves came in. Unbeknownst to Tim, the rock was actually a giant Hawaiian sea turtle! This discovery took only a few seconds once he felt “the rock” move, then he immediately jumped off and swam away from the turtle. Not because he was scared, but simply to honour and respect the honu and the wishes of the locals.
- Pua’ena Point Beach Park, Hale’iwa, Oahu
Every vacation to the island of Oahu includes many a visits up to the North Shore. After all, that’s the best, most untouched part of that particular island. Though our favourite North Shore hangouts include Waimea Bay and Sunset Beach, the town of Hale’iwa always warrants a visit. There are a ton of unique, local shops and restaurants, not to mention a great surf spot for beginners and locals alike. More importantly, it is at this popular surfing point that you will undoubtedly notice a turtle or two.
You will find Pua’ena Point Beach Park just two minutes down the road from the retail and rental shop called Surf N Sea at the end of town. Over the years, we have both hit up lessons at this point, catching mostly smaller waves as we go. It’s a fairly shallow spot with rock and sand bottom and a small beach to relax on under the trees. Whether you are relaxing on said beach watching the surf lessons take place or simply catching a wave on your rental board, you are bound to see a turtle’s head pop out of the water. You’ll probably see closer to a few heads. On a sunny day, you’ll even see their backs as they float in the water. Turtles love the waves, what can we say?
- Makena Cove (also known as Secret Beach), Kihei, Maui
Now Secret Beach is a gem for a number of reasons. Firstly, the beach is so discreetly tucked away in and amongst homes in the area that it’s mostly deserted. Secondly, it’s a small sandy cove with black lava rock jutting out of the crystal clear water framed by palm trees. In other words, this beach is incredibly scenic. Finally, Makena Cove is an absolute treasure for observing sea turtles. Because of the beach’s size and features, not many people bother to stay here aside from snapping a quick photo. With less people on the beach, there are less people in the water. This creates a perfect invite for the turtles to come swim in the water. With not much space to swim between the lava rocks, a turtle sighting here is very up close and personal, so get ready!
In a nutshell, these are the 3 GUARANTEED spots to see a turtle in Hawaii with minimal effort. Don’t even get us started on all of the wonderful snorkeling opportunities.
BONUS– Turtle sightings not enough for you? Find the Hawaiian Monk Seal, the cutest, chubbiest sunbather you’ll ever see, on Hawaii’s beaches too! Popular spots include Poipu Beach Park in Kauai. One night while drinking beers on a small beach in the Poipu area, we were literally sharing the sand with a sleeping seal just 5 metres away! Another great spot to find the Hawaiian seals is the Mokes near Lanakai on Oahu. You might even get lucky and spot both a turtle and a monk seal on the same beach along the North Shore of Oahu, they love it there. Just remember to keep your distance. Both of these sea creatures are protected.
Have you seen a turtle or monk seal in Hawaii? Where? Tell us in the comments below 🙂