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Hanauma Bay: Things to Do on Oahu, Hawaii
Don't Miss Hanauma Bay When You are on Oahu, Hawaii
I have been to Hawaii four times (Kauai, the Big Island, and Oahu twice). In January 2014, I visited Hanauma Bay near Waikiki beach for the first time, and I regret not having done it sooner!
I'm not a strong swimmer, and have been wary of tourist-trap destinations. So when I heard that Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is so popular, you have to get there early or they will turn you away from the parking lot, I was wary. Oh, and it's a hike down to the beach and back up to the parking lot (by the way, true).
Let me just say that I cannot believe I let these minor things dissuade me from spending a day at this "paradise within paradise!" If you are on Oahu, you must plan a visit to this amazing park and wildlife refuge.
During our last visit to Hawaii, we were staying in Kailua, on the east side of the island, and my parents were staying on Waikiki. It took each of us about 20 minutes to drive to the Bay, park and enjoy an incredible day on the beach, snorkeling, swimming and marveling at the tropical fish! If you stay in Honolulu, its only about 10 miles east to the Bay.
In addition to snorkeling for the first time, I loved learning about the geology of the area. Similar to Fort Rock in Oregon, this Hawaiian Bay was formed about 35,000 years ago from a tuff ring as a result of volcanic activity. The wave activity eroded the southern part of the ring, opening it up to oceanic activity.
The geology of the site makes it particularly attractive for beginner swimmers and snorkelers - it is so curved and protected that waves and strong currents are rarely an issue. To me, it felt safer than snorkeling in the "open ocean" and we didn't need to go very far at all to see amazing marine wildlife practically under our feet. In fact, you can wade about 3 feet from shore and put your face in the water and view tropical fish swimming around!
Swimmers are cautioned against venturing to the mouth of the Bay as the wave and current action is much stronger, however.
What Interests You Most About a Visit to Hanauma Bay?
An Amazing Snorkeling Experience
I have visited Fiji and been to Hawaii on prior occasions, but have never gone snorkeling or scuba diving. I might attribute this to my fear of the unknown, past issues with asthma, or just plain being unadventurous.
The great thing about Hanauma Bay is that you don't have to scuba dive to see the amazing tropical fish and other wildlife. Snorkeling allows you to view underwater wildlife as an amateur. You can wade right in and explore, without having to go through scuba diving training. I am telling you now - try to put aside any fears so that you can fully appreciate the beauty of this special site.
When we visited Hanauma Bay in January 2014, I was with my daughter, her friend and her friend's mom, and my parents. My 10-year old daughter and her friend were very excited to try to locate all the tropical fish, shown on an illustrated card that identifies the types of aquatic life in the Bay. The water was a comfortable temperature and the salt water is so buoyant that you can just float above the coral with little effort, peering down at the multi-colored fish.
On that short afternoon in January, we spotted many saltwater fish of all sizes, an octopus, and another person on the beach saw sea turtles! If you visit, you may be lucky enough to see Humuhumunukunukuapuaa (the state fish of Hawaii) milletseed butterfly fish, yellow tangs, trumpet fish, angel fish, parrotfish, butterfly fish, moorish idols, surgeonfish, and more!
We brought along our own flippers, masks and snorkels. However, you can rent equipment at the site for a nominal fee. You can also pay for beginner snorkeling lessons.
We are strong enough swimmers and the tropical fish are so abundant in the Bay that we were able to only use swim goggles for our experience (snorkel equipment proved challenging to us). However, if I could do it over again, I would purchase an underwater camera to take pictures of the colorful fish and sea creatures. They have cameras available for purchase at the gift shop, but I was not ready to part with $25 at the time. I would definitely do it now!
Swimming above the reefs is a must-see activity on the island of Oahu. When the tide is in, it is easier to watch the coral below as you swim to avoid knocking a knee, hip or foot. Low tide can be challenging!
Have Fun Snorkeling in Hawaii
How to Get to Hanamua Bay, Oahu
Pack Appropriately for Activities at Hanauma Bay
Things to Pack
For the Beach
flip flops or water shoes
lace-up sturdy shoes
swim suit/cover up/towel
jeans or shorts/ t-shirt/sweatshirt
goggles, mask, snorkel, fins
none required (hiking poles optional)
sunscreen, sunglasses, camera, cell phone, beach chair, umbrella
sunscreen, sunglasses, camera, cellphone
Sandwiches, chips, fruit
Excellent Tips for Snorkeling Hanauma Bay
Preservation Efforts at Hanauma Bay, Oahu
The beauty of Hanauma Bay is carefully preserved by the State of Hawaii. Years ago, the site was showing signs of damage from overuse, as well as uninformed visitors who were destroying the reefs and feeding fish to their detriment.
Today, the number of daily visitors is capped. If you arrive too late to the park, you will be turned away. Plan accordingly! All visitors are required to view a 20-minute instructional video at the Marine Education Center that provides education regarding the delicate reefs and the importance of minimizing human impact on the fragile ecosystem. There are strict rules concerning the park and lifeguards positioned along the beach have authority to enforce them. Violators may be asked to leave.
Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, Hawaii
Hours, Parking and Other Details About Hanauma Bay
- Hours: Open daily (except Tuesday) from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (the 2nd Saturday of each month, it remains open until 10:00 p.m.)
- Parking: Available, but limited - arrive early. Cost is $1 per vehicle
- Admission: $5 per person, daily
- Shuttle to/from beach: YES - you can choose between one-way, round-trip or all day
- Distance to beach: Approximately .25 miles each way - downhill to the beach, uphill from the beach. Shuttle available $1 down/$2 up, or purchase all day wristband pass
- Handicap Accessible: YES
- Lifeguards: YES
- Restrooms: YES
- Changing rooms and showers: YES
- Lockers: YES
- Gift Shop: YES - towels, sunscreen, cameras, souvenirs available
- Food concessions: YES - good selection, a bit pricey
- Snorkeling equipment rental: YES
- Can you bring your own food: YES
Hanauma Bay is Child-Friendly
Hiking at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve
You don't have to be a beach bum or snorkeler to enjoy the geological beauty of Hanauma Bay. The day we visited in January 2014, we spotted numerous hikers along the trail that winds along the top of the crater. The views from the top are worth the effort! As the Bay is on the south side of Oahu, you can see Molokai and Lanai on clear days. During whale watching season (November-March) humpback whales may be spotted, too!
The trail is said to be relatively easy, but people underestimate the food and water they should carry. Its exposed to the sun (no nice, shady trees), so don't forget sunscreen! From the Hanauma Bay parking lot ($1), it is less than one mile each way along the paved path. Plan on at least 1 hour to complete the hike, longer if you wish to picnic and take photos.
Hanauma Bay Paradise
Whether you wish to swim, snorkel, hike or just relax on the beach with a book, Hanauma Bay is an amazing place to visit. The cap on the crowds helps make a day at this Park a day in paradise. Do plan on arriving early to maximize your enjoyment and ensure your entry to Hanauma Bay.
© 2014 Stephanie Hicks