The Big Island: Two Step Beach

In Travel Guides, United States
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Situated next to the historical Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Park, Honaunau Bay, or Two Step Beach, is a popular destination for tourists and locals, alike. Whether you are a snorkeler, stand up paddle boarder, scuba diver, freediver, or sunbather, Two Step is definitely an attraction not to miss during your visit on the Big Island of Hawaii in the United States.

Snorkeling at Two Step

Two steps that lead into Honaunau Bay

Two steps that lead into Honaunau Bay

Commonly referred to as “Two Step,” this beach is all lava rock and no sand, so make sure to bring your “slippahs,” unless you have tough feet, to walk out to the water’s entrance. How do you get into the water? By the natural two steps that the water carved out on the rocks, of course (hence, it’s name)! The trick to entering and exiting the water is to go with the flow of the waves, but be careful because the steps can be very, very slippery. Typically, people will sit on the first step to put on their fins, and they will either skip the second step and just jump on in, or they will shimmy to the second step and let the water take them out. Pick whatever is comfortable for you, but also be wary of the tiny sea urchins that live in the cracks and crevices of the rocks. When you’re ready to get out of the water, get close enough to the “steps” and be ready to push yourself up when a swell comes in. No worries if you have a little difficulty getting up, there’s plenty of aloha spirit around, and people are more than happy to give you a hand.

Two Step is known for it’s pristine snorkeling and relatively calm waters. Ocean-goers will be able to see all different types of marine life, such as honu (turtles), fish, eel, live coral, and if you arrive early enough you may be able to swim with the dolphins! Just remember to keep a safe distance and observe the sea life—don’t chase them, feed them, or try to touch them. The best part of it all is that you don’t have to swim out too far to see all the action! The best snorkeling is only a few feet away upon entering the water along the rocks and coral. If you venture out a little farther you will find a man-made sign comprised of cement blocks along the bottom that reads “ALOHA,” this is a perfect photo opportunity from the surface, or if you can swim down to 7 meters (22 feet), you can take a selfie!

A Freediver’s Church

Freediver headed to church

Freedivers headed to church

Honaunau Bay can reach depths of up to at least 87 meters (285 feet) within a mile from shore. It is not uncommon to see freedivers swimming out with their partner and a buoy to practice line diving out on the 47-meter (155-foot) mooring line. On Sundays, however, freedivers come in droves to meet on the beach, do their routine stretches and breathing, suit up, swim out, and congregate around the dive lines. Two Step becomes what freedivers call “Church.” This is not that kind of church, though. There are no walls, no crosses, menorahs, Korans, Bibles, or Torahs. There are no priests, preachers, rabbis, or any other leader of a religious sector. The only ceiling is the sky, and the stained-glass windows are the ripples in the water above you when you are down on the line, alone. The congregation is your fellow freedivers who are patiently waiting for their turn on the line. There is no choir, only silence; sometimes, however, you can get lucky and hear the clicks of Hawaiian spinner dolphins. There is no religion, only love and passion for the depths of the unknown.

Oh, yeah, what’s a freediver? In it’s most basic definition, it is somebody who can dive as deep, if not deeper, than a scuba diver…on one breath. No tanks, no fancy equipment…well, not too fancy; just fins, a mask, and a suit. This “line” that I keep referring to helps measure depth, and freedivers use it for a point of reference when diving down to their goal depth. You will never see just one freediver (at least you shouldn’t). That is, like, the Golden Rule of freediving: “never dive alone.”

Now, back to Church; if you happen to venture out to Two Step on a Sunday, you should definitely stop and chat with the divers, everybody is super friendly and would love to share their passion with you. If you happen to be a freediver, bring your gear and a dish to share after diving because there is definitely a potluck after! It seems most divers mosey in between 9:00am and 10:30am, and people head into the water at 11:00am. There is a bit of organizing involved—head count, who has brought a buoy and line, how deep are people planning on diving, etc.—so if you have a buoy and line, bring one, and make sure to bring your lungs!

Freedivers congregating

Freedivers congregating

Things You Should Know

Beach at Honaunau

Beach at Honaunau

Two Step Beach is free to the public, pets are not allowed, and free street parking is limited. The earlier you arrive the better chances you have at scoring a sweet parking spot right on the beach. There is a lot that charges $5 USD for parking right across the street from Two Step, or you could also park inside Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Park for the same price and have access to the historical site for a week (you should definitely check it out); just note that there is no beach access from inside the park. There are port-o-potties at Two Step, but no showers, and no rental stands for snorkeling, so make sure to bring your own gear.

Whether you’re a freediver, snorkeler, sunbather, scuba diver, or paddle boarder, there is plenty of ocean to share, and plenty of fish in the sea, every day of the week!

How to Get There

North from Hilo/ South from Kona: Head towards Captain Cook on Highway 11, turn on Highway 160 at the Kona Coffee House and Cafe. Turn left at the sign for Pu’uhonua O Honaunau (Place of Refuge). There is a one-way right turn, Honaunau Beach Road, which leads down to Two Step.

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