The Best Snorkeling and Diving in the Hawaiian Islands

The undeveloped and inaccessible coast of Kealakekua Bay is an excellent location for snorkeling.

The undeveloped and inaccessible coast of Kealakekua Bay is an excellent location for snorkeling. Photo © Apasciuto, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Hawaii’s reefs teem with marine life: fish, sea turtles, rays, sharks, octopus, and many other sea creatures only found in these waters. Diving the wrecks, ledges, lava tubes, and deep-water rock formations only add to the diversity. Snorkeling and diving are contingent on calm, clear water. If one side of the island has waves or is windy, the other side might be calm and flat: just right for underwater exploration.


O‘ahu

  • Three Tables: Part of the Pupukea-Waimea Marine Life Conservation District, this area consists of three flat reef outcroppings that barely break the water’s surface just 50 feet off the beach. The area teems with endemic marine life like puffer fish and reef squid.
  • Sharks Cove: The premier shore diving area has interesting underwater topography like lava tubes, caverns, and walls. Marine life is abundant. You’re sure to see creatures like the spotted eagle ray, wrasse, and unicorn fish.
  • Waimea Bay: During summer when the waves are flat on O‘ahu’s North Shore, Waimea Bay has perfect conditions for snorkeling. Pods of spinner dolphins frequent these waters and rock outcroppings at both ends of the bay attract diverse marine life.
  • Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve: This popular marine conservation area is set in an arid cinder cone, creating a protected environment where hundreds of marine species thrive. Snorkel beyond the inner fingers of the reef to escape the crowd.

Kaua‘i

  • Na Pali Coast: You’ll find the island’s most spectacular snorkeling along Kaua‘i’s Na Pali Coast, accessible only by boat tour. A snorkel cruise will take you through jaw-dropping underwater terrain with an array of sea life from dolphins to sea turtles.
  • Ke‘e Beach: At the very end of the road on the north shore of Kaua‘i lies this semi-protected pool great for beginners. Experts will find the truly spectacular snorkeling in the open ocean beyond it.
  • Tunnels/Makua Beach: The most renowned snorkeling spot on Kaua‘i offers beginners good snorkeling not far from shore. Experts can explore beyond the ledge that drops off into the deep ocean.
  • PK’s: Across from Prince Kuhio Park, this tiny strip of beach offers wonderful underwater shows. Fish like to snack on the seaweed that grows in abundance on the rocks.

  • Maui

    • Honolua Bay: A world-renowned surf spot during winter, Honolua Bay has the island’s best snorkeling during the calmer summer. Hawaiian green sea turtles are a common sight, as are parrotfish, octopus, and the rare spinner dolphin.
    • Pu‘u Ke ka‘a (Black Rock): Maui’s most famous snorkeling spot is also one if its best. This rocky promontory on the Ka‘anapali strip is a magnet for sea turtles and reef fish. Keep an eye out for the dozens of cliff jumpers who throw themselves off the rock.
    • Nahuna (Makena Landing/5 Caves): Known as Turtle Town, the volcanic Makena coastline is pockmarked with caves, which provide the perfect shelter for sea turtles. During the winter months, everyone from scuba divers to kayakers frequents this rugged shoreline.
    • Molokini Crater: This crescent-shaped volcanic caldera offers 100-foot visibility most days of the year. Over a dozen snorkeling tours make the early morning pilgrimage to the crater. The crystal clear waters are home to over 250 species of fish. Expert scuba divers explore the famous Back Wall, which drops straight down for nearly 300 feet.

    Lana‘i

    • Hulopo‘e Beach Park: This marine reserve has one of the healthiest reefs in Maui County and fronts a beach ranked as the nation’s best. Come face-to-face with multihued parrotfish as they snack on colorful coral, or search the shallows for the Hawaii state fish, the humuhumunukunukuapua‘a.

    The Big Island

    • Kealakekua Bay: An organized kayak trip to Kealakekua Bay not only gets you to the best snorkel location on the island but gives you a tour of this undeveloped and inaccessible coast.
    • Keauhou Bay: One of the most exhilarating things you can do on the Big Island is night diving with the manta rays in Keauhou Bay.
    • Pawai Bay: This is one of the best snorkeling spots on the Kona Coast. A small beach offers easy access to the water along this otherwise rocky coastline.

    Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.

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