You'll find Kaunaoa Beach just north of the world famous Hapuna Beach Park in the northwest of The Big Island. This beach is also known as the Mauna Kea Beach because it sits right in front of the Mauna Kea Resort.
Getting here is a bit tricky. You'll have to drive right into the hotel, but you'll be stopped by security. If you're not a guest, you'll have to ask for a day pass. The guard should give you a map and a day pass to the beach.
Parking for beach goers is provided by the hotel, but there are only 40 spots. Your best bet for getting a spot is arriving early in the morning before 8:30 a.m. Otherwise, you'll be at the mercy of the parking gods.
This is a beautiful strip of white sand that faces due west on the northwest coast of Hawaii. It's a beautiful beach to watch the whales during mating season (January to March) or a tropical sunset. The rocky fringes at the edges of the half-mile beach create a great silhouette against the pastel oranges, pinks and reds of a Hawaiian sunset.
The soft white sand gently slopes into the water to make for a safe and pleasant swim during the summer. However, the water here can get quite violent during wintertime. Check the surf conditions online before heading down to this beach in the winter, and only swim if the water is calm.
There are two reefs at either end of the beach which makes Kaunaoa Beach perfect for a snorkel. If you didn't bring your snorkel gear, you can rent a set at the desk near the Mauna Kea Resort's beach side restaurant. You can also rent boogie boards.
This restaurant serves up a delicious lunch, but you'll pay a premium for a table on the beach. It's a great way to get out of the midday sun during a day at Mauna Kea Beach. You can also grab some delicious tropical drinks from the hotel's bar.
This beach has great facilities. You'll find nice bathrooms and showers at Kaunaoa Beach. You can easily spend all day on the white sand exploring the coral reefs and swimming in the calm waters.
But the beach really comes to life at night. The Mauna Kea Resort turns on flood lights which attract a certain type of plankton. It is the preferred food of the massive manta ray. If you're lucky, you'll see these majestic, giant and harmless creatures in the crystal clear waters of the beach. You'll know they're feeding because they do a loop-de-loop in the water with a wide open mouth.
Manta rays are harmless to humans. Their massive mouths may look intimidating, but it all leads to a very narrow throat that can only handle plankton. That's why swimming with a manta ray is on many diver's and snorkeler's bucket lists. Just seeing one in the wild is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.