After dozens of requests from friends and family, I decided to make a list of my favourite Hawaii snorkeling destinations. For the record, it wasn’t easy. With 750 miles of coastline, warm ocean water temperatures year round, diverse reef and marine life that exist nowhere else in the world, it’s easy to see why Hawai’i is considered one of the worlds best snorkeling destinations.
So here’s my top 10 list, and feel free to pass it on to your family and friends. Give them 10 more reasons to snorkel in Hawaii.
Starting on Hawaii’s most urban island, Oahu has a great number of snorkeling spots all within a short drive or walk of the tourist zone of Waikiki.
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve
When people think about Hawaii snorkeling, more often than not, they are thinking about Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve because snorkeling at Hanauma Bay is like a dream – white sandy beaches with sand shallow reefs are surrounded by a picture perfect volcanic caldera. The bay offers year round protection from seasonal waves, and has tranquil, safe snorkeling year round. Because it’s a Nature Preserve there is an abundance and diversity of fish near the inner reefs, while the outer reefs offer a more challenging snorkel environment.
Oahu’s second most popular snorkeling destination, Makaha Beach, is on Oahu’s dry and sunny west side. In summer you’ll find clear, aqua blue waters where visibility can be up to 50 feet. Numerous caverns, underwater arches and deep tunnels also make this prime ocean life viewing habitat. Dolphins, turtles, octopuses, manta and eagle rays frequent the area. Makaha Beach is also a world famous surf break, and is nothing short of dangerous and life threatening during winter and spring swells. So make sure you check weather and wave forecasts.
Kapiolani Beach Park
Within walking distance of Waikiki is Kapiolani Beach Park. Sandy beaches lead down to turquoise blue water, which are almost always calm enough for the beginner snorkeler. The section between the Natatorium and the Waikiki Aquarium known as Queen Beach, will have the best snorkeling.
Although not known for its beaches, the Big Island of Hawai’i has some of the states best snorkeling.
Kealakekua Bay is also a protected marine sanctuary, and is the location where Captain James Cook first encountered Native Hawaiians, and was eventually killed. Vibrant reef colors and schools of fish greet the snorkeler as soon as they enter the water. Reef sharks, turtles, rays, eels and dolphins inhabit the bay making it one of Hawaii’s best snorkeling destinations.
Kona Surf Hotel
Although technically not a snorkeling destination, Night Diving with the Manta Rays is on my snorkeling must-do list. A resident group of Manta Rays has frequented the waters fronting the Kona Surf Hotel for many years. They are attracted to the hotels lights as it attracts the plankton on which they feed. It is an awe inspiring experience to be in such close proximity to the massive Rays that dive and swoop through the dark water like huge bats, mouths agape searching for the plankton.
Known as the Garden Isle, Kauai can be rainy, but when the sun is shining, the layers of tropical greens are dazzling and leave no wonder why it’s been the backdrop for so many Hollywood movies.
Ke’e Beach rests against the edges of the Na Pali Coastline, and the stunning drive to Ke’e Beach passes along some of Kauai’s most scenic panoramas. Summer time offers tranquil waters that are perfect for novice snorkelers and children. Summer weekends bring crowds, so it’s best to arrive early and on the weekday if you can.
Tunnels Beach or Makua Beach on Kauai is one of Kauai’s best snorkeling spots. A massive curved reef sits inside a large lagoon that provides natural protection from ocean waves. Apparently, the reef is so large it can be seen from space, although I cannot attest to that. There are endless cavities, crevices and yes, tunnels to explore along the inner and outer reefs. This is also a favorite resting spot for several Hawaiian Monk Seals. As always, check the wave and weather forecast as winter swells can make snorkeling and swimming here extremely dangerous.
Anini Beach on Kauai’s north shore, is highlighted by a huge reef that seems to go on forever. The inner reef although shallow during low-tide has a seemingly endless amount of nooks and crannies to explore. Tides can bring strong currents so as always, use caution.
Poipu Beach Park
Poipu Beach Park on Kauai’s south shore, has three coves protected by an outer reef and outer shoal. The beach park is also well known for turtles, dolphins and seasonal whales that frequent the area. The protected coves are also great for beginner snorkelers and children, while the right side of the coves offers better snorkeling for more advanced snorkelers. Poipu Beach Park is also home to a wave-machine like boogie board beach, and during summer months can be filled with an unbelievable amount of people. A beautiful, multipurpose beach park that has a little bit of everything for everyone.
Known as The Valley Isle or The Lovers Isle, Maui has just about everything, including the awesome Molokini Crater. Shaped like a crescent moon, the partially submerged volcanic crater is home to over 250 different species of fish, many of which are endemic only to Hawai’i. Molakini’s waters are incredibly clear and can have visibility up to a depth of 150 feet. Molokini is 3 miles off the coast of Maui, and is only accessible by boat. If you come during whale season, you’ll be treated to close up views of Humpback whales and their babies using Maui’s waters to mate, swim, and prepare for their long journey north.
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