Usually, we try to stay away from the tourist hot spots but in this case, Hanauma Bay is worth a trip. The bay offers some good snorkeling for beginners and offers a bit of marine education for visitors. There are lots of good sized fish including parrotfish and the occasional sea turtle. If you are lucky, you may even see a moray eel! I know of a few people who live on Oahu who try to hit the bay everyday.
Hanauma Bay used to be the epitome of horrible tourist spot. There was rampant promotion of fish feeding (which is horrible for the natural ecosystem), huge tourist buses would drop off hundreds of people at a time, and the beach was littered with cigarette butts and trash. Lifeguards will bull horns would yell “Get off the Reef” to unsuspecting tourists (who couldn’t hear them anyway) and the whole place just felt yucky.
However, in recent years the place has really cleaned up.
The fish feeding was banned. Cigarettes and food concessions were removed from the beach. And education became the priority rather than an afterthought.
They built a really neat visitors center in which you can find all about the currents, sea creatures and the history of the bay. The visitors center was built to interact with the environment rather than disturb it. It is built into the side of the hill and opens up to view the bay. I always dream of a way that I could live there permanently.
Another key component to the education is the requirement that every visitor watch an quick video about the bay and how to behave while there. The video focuses on the history of the bay, taking care of the reef, and a few safety things. Frequent visitors can get put on a list so they only have to see the video once a year. Once you are on the list you can bypass the movie. If you are planning on going more than one day–get yourself on the list.
After the video, you head down a really steep hill to the beach area. ( You can pay for a ride up and down the hill–I think it is about $2 for unlimited rides up and down.) Remember, there are no food concessions on the beach anymore–so you either bring your own, buy it up top, or go hungry. On the beach there is a snorkel rental, education booth and nice restrooms.
Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay is definitely not the best on Oahu but it is pretty good. The shallow water combined with the numerous sea creatures is perfect for beginning snorkelers.
More advanced snorkelers can go out through a little channel in the reef for some better snorkeling and clearer water–but be careful—there can be a strong current out there making it difficult to get back in. If you are concerned, check with a lifeguard. I am a very strong swimmer but have never been out beyond the inside reef. My dad has though and he and he loved it! Supposedly there is an even stronger current on the outside of the bay (way outside) that will pull you all the way to Molokai (not sure if this is really true but I don’t want to test it).
For non-snorklers, the beach is nice and the scenery is beautiful. However, we like to get a spot on the grass. The grass is cut super short and the kids love to run around and play there.
They snorkeled for about 30 minutes and then…
Hanauma Bay is located on Kalanianiole Highway just past the town of Hawaii Kai (which is a great place to stop for lunch after your swim). I recommend getting there early as the parking lot fills up quickly. The park is open from 6:00 am until 7:00 pm in the summer and from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm in the winter. The park is always CLOSED ON TUESDAYS. There is a $1 parking fee and an entrance fee of $7.50 per person (children under 13 are free as are Hawaii residents with proof). The bay also hosts some cool programs like full moon snorkels and lectures. For more information, see their website.