Snorkelling on O’ahu
If you read the guides, listen to the locals, or take notice of all the coupons in the weekly free publications that are found all over O’ahu, then you will quickly come to the conclusion if you want to go snorkelling on O’ahu, Hanauma Bay is THE place to snorkel here. We would definitely agree. Sure, we found some other areas that also looked great, but if you want somewhere that is easy to get to, easy to snorkel, and where you can actually get to see live fish and other ocean creatures, look no further than Hanauma Bay, located on the lower East Shore.
Given that the Hawaiian Islands were formed via volcanic activity, it’s not surprising that Hanauma Bay is located within a volcanic cone.
To make your trip to Hanauma Bay more enjoyable, I would suggest considering the following:
- Go early! I can’t stress this one enough. Even if you are someone who hates early mornings, make an exception for this event. It’s worth it. Going early wins for a couple of reasons. Firstly, you beat everyone else there! This bay gets incredibly busy and crowded. This in turn means that it could take longer to get down to the bay (queues for tickets and for the theatre that is a mandatory requirement for first time visitors to the bay) Lots of people at the top, turns into lots of people on the beach and then lots and lots of snorkellers swimming around you and where you want to look. It’s almost like a queue underwater! We were in the water nice and early and as such felt as though we had all the lagoons to ourselves. It got busier as the morning went on which means you have to spend your time watching more than just the fish. The second reason is to beat the winds that tend to strengthen later in the morning. Winds whip up the waves over the shallow coral areas making the snorkelling just that little less peaceful.
- If you are planning on doing a lot of snorkelling whilst you are in O’ahu or Hawai’i, and you have enough room in your luggage, it might be a good idea to bring your own gear. It will just save you money in having to hire them each time. If you can’t it’s no big deal as there are plenty of places on the island to hire from. Some are better than others so it pays to look around. You should at least check that the masks have been de-fogged and that the equipment has been sanitised. Even better would be to get a snorkel that has a dry valve.
- Take plenty of sunscreen and a hat. I know this might sound basic but it’s amazing how many people we see without either (or both). The Hawaiian sun is very hot and there is very little shade at Hanauma Bay. We snorkelled with ‘rashies’ as did many others there that day.
- The park opens early and you can stay there as long as you like. There is one snack bar up the top but other than that there are no food areas down at the beach. It’s not that far down there but to get back to the top you need to walk up a reasonable hill. If you don’t want to keep walking up, I would suggest you take some food and drinks down with you. Many people take cooler bags down with them.
- It’s probably easiest to leave your valuables at home. Lockers can be hired for around $US8 for the day.
- If you have mobility issues you can still snorkel here. A Jeep with a train carriage attached takes people up and down the hill constantly. $US1 to go down and $US1.25 to get back up.
- Logistics is probably the most variable item. You can catch ‘TheBus’, a variety of shuttles and tour buses or you can drive there yourself. ‘TheBus’, the local public service, would be the most economical but will take the longest. Driving is super easy from Waikiki.
In amongst the myriad of shuttle choices, I happened upon a review of Ike’s Hanauma Bay tour. Compared to some of the others, Ike has a professional website, which is always a good sign, and plenty of reviews that I could use to benchmark his offering. Whilst he might not be the cheapest around, ($US22 per person), you get what you pay for and there are several ‘extras’ that you get by going with Ike. He has an early service, with the first pickup at 6.45am.
We took this one which got us to the park at around 7.15am. Ike also has a small van which is important for one main reason. There are restrictions for vehicles entering the parking area. Approved tour buses can go in but the general shuttle buses, which are usually 14+ seaters aren’t allowed into the carpark. This means that they stop on the main highway near the turn off to the bay and use smaller vans to transfer you in. This, of course, takes time when you just want to get to the water.
Ike will also only ever pick up from a couple of hotels which means you don’t waste time going from hotel to hotel doing pickups. There is a heap of hotels in Waikiki so this could take some time. And there’s always those who are never on time. Ike provides you with personal service and some great commentary along the way. He’s a little crazy and he loves to talk, but it’s all good fun. He’s also got new gear, with all the features I mentioned above.
On arrival at the park entrance, we paid our $US7.50 admission fee and went inside to wait for the information and safety briefing in the theatre. Many years ago, the bay became a victim of it’s own beauty and popularity and the significant number of people who came here (and some less than careful of the fragile marine environment they were playing in) created a negative impact on this area. Today, the admission fee also acts as a means of limiting access by ensuring that it is not used as a general public beach as well as providing the regular upkeep of the surrounding area.
The briefing takes you through the types of animals you might see in the water and guides people on the importance of not touching the marine life and to avoid stepping on the coral, something which even I must admit was hard when the waves pushed me around a little as the wind picked up later in the morning. They ask you to sign a paper record of attending the briefing so if you are going more than once over a 12 month period, you do not have to sit through the briefing every time you visit. A great idea!
The view from up the top is spectacular and it gave us a very clear idea of where the bays are to snorkel in, such is the difference in the water colour. There are specific areas that are out of bounds (or should be if common sense prevails). Outside the main bay area are lava tubes which suck in the ocean creating strong waves and whitewash. If you get caught in this, you will more than likely be sent flying into the rocks at a great speed.
There are five main areas in which to snorkel. We snorkelled bay 2 and 4. Bay 2 was full of sea life. The most amazing fish, so many varieties ! My favourite was the large parrot fish which would have been about 70cm in length.
Here’s a snapshot of what we saw. [Note – these photos aren’t mine as I didn’t have an underwater camera. Photos are credited to the relevant websites ]
It gets crowded
As we finished our time in the water and were heading back to the beach, we looked up towards the top of the hill. Streams of newcomers to the bay were walking down the hill, ready to take their own turn at experiencing this beautiful area. It made us instantly pleased once again that we had come here early. As it was, towards the very end of our session, the number of people in the water had already started to make it a little crowded.
Back up the top, we first set our eyes on the wild chickens and roosters in the picnic area. I’ve seen feral dogs, cats, pigs and birds in various locations in the world, but never chickens (or chooks as we like to call them in Australia). What were they doing here? A quick chat with Ike revealed that the wild chicken problem was exacerbated by Hurricane Iniki that struck the island of Kaua’i in 1992. Domesticated chickens in coops were blown all around the island and the animals were displaced. Needing to survive, they got their food source they only way they knew how….from the area that they now found themselves living in. As with any wild animal problem, if not brought under control, it takes on a life of it’s own. Since this sighting, we have seen chickens in the front gardens of people’s homes in regular residential areas, in the churchyards of downtown Honolulu, waiting for food scraps at food trucks on the Kamehameha Highway and even crossing the road. Like any living thing required to fend for itself, you will also find them at tourist areas, having cleverly worked out that where there’s people there’s usually food of some kind.
Domesticated chickens in coops were blown all around the island and the animals were displaced. Needing to survive, they got their food source they only way they knew how….from the area that they now found themselves living in. As with any wild animal problem, if not brought under control, it takes on a life of it’s own. Since this sighting, we have seen chickens in the front gardens of people’s homes in regular residential areas, in the churchyards of downtown Honolulu, waiting for food scraps at food trucks on the Kamehameha Highway and even crossing the road. Like any living thing required to fend for itself, you will also find them at tourist areas, having cleverly worked out that where there’s people there’s usually food of some kind.
Thanks Ike – what a great morning!
Ike dropped us back where we were staying, a little worn out after all the activity, but feeling very pleased with ourselves that we got to spend such quality time with very few people in the crystal clear waters of Hanauma Bay.
Kerri now travels regularly with her husband, Stirling, where eating great food, drinking quality beer and wine, and cooking international foods are integral to their adventures.