Check out our section on Snorkeling in Hawaii for information on gear, history, and how to do it.
Hanauma Bay, enough said. Although may be some better places to snorkel within the islands, nothing is easier than Hanauma Bay. However, no matter what shore you happen to be on there’s a place to snorkel. Whether its Sharks Cove on the north shore swimming with turtles and dolphins on the west you’ll find something to see under the surface.
Whenever you’re on vacation you hear people say “Get there early.” Well at Hanauma Bay listen to this advice, especially if you are driving. By about 11:00 am the Hanauma Bay parking lot is full and a few of the park volunteers are sitting outside the entrance directing confused tourists where they can park and walk. By 3:00 pm the traffic has subsided and the staff is gone, and reopened the lot again. If you do go during peak hours and need to park elsewhere we suggest the park thats just before Hanauma Bay. To get to the park turn left at the stop lights after the Foodland. Then make the first right followed by another right and follow that road all the way back to the park. Park your car and walk down the path located at the back of the parking lot. This will take you to Hanauma Bay. You can also park here if you want to save the $1 parking fee.
One more little tip is to make sure and call ahead of time before you plan on going. Depending on the status of the moon, Box Jelly Fish come in and they close the bay. These guys can sting a little and I am told that Hanauma Bay just fills with them. Also, Hanauma Bay is closed on Tuesdays, so make sure to call 808-396-4229 to double check if the ride out there is worth it.
Once inside Hanauma Bay, if you haven’t been there before you will need to watch a very short informative video. It’s actually kind of neat. There is a cool song that goes along with it which is quite catchy. It helps to remember to not feed the fish or step on the coral. Please remember to not step on the coral.
Then after that its down the hill into the bay. If you need to rent snorkel gear you can get it at one of the grass huts located to your right at the bottom of the hill. The gear is about $7. However if you plan on snorkeling more than just this one time, I suggest bringing or buying some. They sell it at ABC stores, Wal-Mart, the International Market Place, all over. Just look around and get some decent stuff. There’s a whole world under the surface so I would plan on going several times around the island and having your own hear is great.
Next it’s time to get in the water. There’s a whole beach so find some place where there aren’t too many people and plop your stuff down. Although at Hanauma Bay there doesn’t seem to be too much theft you never can be too sure so please try and leave your valuables in the car or at home. They have security guards roaming the parking lot so your car should be a safe place. They also offer lockers for a small fee so this too is an option. Once you’ve found your a place for your stuff head to the water. There is aquatic life everywhere in the bay so just head towards the water. The bulk of the coral where most fish hang out is on the left most 2/3rds but like we said you can find fish everywhere.
Once you have your general region selected, sit on the sand just before the water and put on your fins. Then your mask… and your ready to go.
Tip: One thing we have been told is that if you take some plane white toothpaste and put some on the inside glass of your mask, rub it around, let it dry a little, then wash and wipe it off, this will work as a anti-fogging solution to your snorkel gear fogging up. We’ve tried it and it works!
Now get in the water already!!! If you’ve never walked in fins before it can be difficult. When walking forward you must remember to pick up your feet or you will surely trip. One thing you can do is walk backwards, WARNING you must never turn your back on the ocean. So to get around this look over your shoulder to see not only where you are going, but whether or not there are freak waves that could knock you over and worse case pull you down. Although Hanauma Bay is usually pretty calm, you never know, plus you don’t want to get in the habit.
Once in the water just lay on your belly and kick around. Be prepared to see a ton of fish all in one place. Hanauma Bay is filled with all sorts of colors and sizes. Look for eels sticking their heads out of coral holes, or large schools of fish darting back and forth. You may see a sea turtle out there as well, we tend to see them towards the left hand side everytime we go, but they can be anywhere. We have been told by people who have snorkeled in Australia, the Florida Keys, and Mexico, that Hanauma Bay has the most diverse, most abundant, and most easily accessible fish population out of all of them. Although we haven’t been to all of these places, we believe the sources and just feel lucky to live 10 miles from such a place.
Just after passing Waimea Bay coming from Heliewa on the Kamemehamea Highway you come across a great snorkel spot. Just across the highway from Foodland is Shark’s Cove. With the high surf of the winter months Shark’s Cove is just a few jagged rocks sticking out of the ocean. In the summer the cove opens up into a wonderful sheltered sea creature haven. Both snorkelers and scuba divers swarm Shark’s cove everyday.
Coming from the west you have to enter the parking via the second entrance, its a one-way moving east to west. If you arrive early enough there should be parking left within this area. However, if you find yourself without a place to park don’t fret. There is another parking lot just before the fire station to the west and also road parking to the east of the Shark’s Cove lot.
Once there you will see a large pennisula sticking out into the ocean wrapping from left to right. This is what creates the cove. The left side of the cove is very shallow and really nice to just sit around in and relax. You may also want to start here if you have smaller children who haven’t snorkeled much before. There is a sandy entrance and the shallow water will give you a little more peace of mind.
On the right hand side of the cove it gets much deeper. This is the side that opens to the ocean. Be careful here, strong currents can sometimes pop up and pull you out. Just be sure to check with those more experienced people around you. This deeper half has a huge amount of fish, turtles, and if you look close enough eels. You can go to the right and the left of this half and see it all. Often time huge schools of fish venture in to feed and swarm all around you. We have been lucky enough to see quite a few eels in here as well. You have to really be observant when scanning the rock and coral formations below. Eels tend to hide within the holes of the coral and just stick their heads far enough out to grab unsuspecting fish that wander to close.
After we spend a few hours hanging around and playing in the water we usually run across the road to the Shark’s Cove Cafe. It’s basically a permanent lunch wagon parked on the Kamahamea Highway. They have great teriaky burgers. Stop by if you get a chance.
Although you won’t see tons of fish Waimanalo Beach and Waimanalo Recreational Area can be a relaxing spot to snorkel on the east side of Oahu. Traveling from town past Hanauma Bay, Sandy’s Beach, and Makapu’u you will find Waimanalo Beach Park. This beach is a very low traffic beach with plenty of spots to stretch out and relax.
After a few hours of getting pounded by the shore break just up the road we like to stop by and float around in the water. We always see a turtle or two pop up for air while we’re there. We have also snorkeled a bit and some some fish but nothing like other places on the island. The reef on the east side of the island is farther off shore and takes a long swim to get there. We don’t suggest snorkeling out to the reef unless you’ve packed a lunch.
Ko’olina has many public lagoons that you can go to and lay on the beach, play in the water, and snorkel around. The lagoons act to shelter predators and strong currents so fish swim in to protect themselves. These lagoons can be a great place to swim schools of fish without a ton of people around you. Each lagoon has a maximum number of cars that are allowed to park there so the amount of people let in is kept to a minimum. Although it feels more like a water park or attraction area we suggest going if you have younger children. We enjoyed going and found Ko’olina like it’s own separate city.