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Beginner's Guide to Snorkeling in Oahu, Hawaii

Updated on February 2, 2015

Snorkeling - A Whole New World of Beauty and Relaxation

If my line of work had not provided me with some wonderful tropical vacations, I probably never would have experienced a whole new world of beauty from snorkeling. My first venture into the underwater world was in Negril, Jamaica. There were 3 masks and fins for us all to share. We were not in a great snorkel spot, and I immediately got stung by tiny Jellyfish. They were almost clear, about the size of a silver dollar, and once I learned to spot and avoid them, I fell in love with snorkeling.

Snorkeling is more about relaxing than swimming. If you are not a good swimmer, you will want a good pair of fins. You may also want to choose beginning snorkel spots that are tucked away from direct ocean waves.

Photo courtesy of SXC


Snorkeling in Oahu, Hawaii

My company sent me to Honolulu to work a Home and Garden show that didn't start till 3PM each afternoon. Remembering my short snorkel experience in Jamaica, I knew I wanted to rent snorkel gear for a week and really get used to the water. Snorkel Bob's had a huge selection of gear, that included prescription lens masks. (Being nearsighted, the prescription mask was a wonderful treat.)

Remember how you felt when you completed your first couple lenses, and were soon addicted to writing? That's what will happen when you relax into snorkeling. Once you trust that you can totally relax in the water and be safe, a whole new world of relaxation and beauty will open up for you, and you will be hooked.

Not only will you relax on your vacation, but when you return home and stresses start to pile up, you can take a mini-snorkel break by mentally transporting yourself into those warm tropical waters with the gorgeous underwater views. Just let go of everything for at least 5 minutes, and relive tropical paradise! You will be amazed at the quick "pick-me-up."

Dead man's float
Dead man's float

Learn to Relax!

Practice the dead man's float

Become the world's best floater. Allow your head to find the most comfortable position to float just under the water, which will be perfect for viewing sea life. Stretch your arms out comfortably at your sides, and let your legs just comfortably dangle. Breathe naturally. (Of course, you will have snorkel gear on.) Stay in this position when the water rises and falls with the swells, and you will become comfortable in the water very soon. Just stretch up your legs to skim over the top of submerged rock or coral, and keep your arms outstretched at your sides.

In warm waters you can snorkel for hours in this position.

Map of Hanauma bay
Map of Hanauma bay

Hanauma Bay

family snorkeling paradise

Hanauma Bay is a Nature Preserve. If you can only snorkel once and want to see as many fish as possible, visit Hanauma Bay, but plan carefully. It is closed on Tuesdays. Go early morning - park opens at 6AM. Fish are most active in the morning, there are less people and less wind to kick up sand and make the water murky.

this is the only place you will pay to enter ($5.00 per person over 12) and park($1.00). You can rent snorkel gear right on location if you arrive early. You will be required to watch a short video so you can help protect the coral reef.

Why pay to snorkel here?

Because it has a combination of high fish population, calm shallow water, and white sand. The fish are definitely the tamest fish in Hawaii.

Located on the east side of Oahu, the Bay is actually an old volcanic crater filled in over time with sea water. Thus it is protected from all but the biggest of ocean swells making it a wonderful place to snorkel for beach goers of all ages. The water near the beach is only knee deep. As you make your way further out, there will be all sorts of coves, and valleys, and coral maze to explore. There is beauty every where. You can literally spend hours and not get tired of the underwater scenery.

Kulima Bay East of Turtle Bay Hilton
Kulima Bay East of Turtle Bay Hilton

Kuilima Cove

Perfect for beginners and children

Because Kuilima Cove is sheltered and the water is the most serene on the island, it is the best snorkeling spot on Oahu for beginners and families with children. This gorgeous white sand beach is tucked to the east of the Turtle Bay Hilton on Oahu's famous North Shore. (You actually pull into the Turtle Bay Hilton and park in the lot on the right side.) Kuilima is one of the lesser known beaches so there's plenty of room to bask in the sun on your beach blanket.

The cove is enclosed by a natural rock barrier, protecting it from the waves. If the waves are large on the North Shore this spot is a great choice. The water clarity is excellent and the average depth is only about neck deep. The bottom is primarily coral flats scattered with large rocks. Fish abound. It's so calm and clear you're going to swear you're swimming in an aquarium.

It is uniquely different from Hanauma Bay where there is so much coral that creates part of the beauty. On the other hand, you will see plenty of fish without a swelling crowd. If you want lazy day snorkeling, with plenty of beach real estate, definitely put Kulima Bay on your visit list.


Sharks Cove

Not for beginners or kids

Sharks Cove is located on Oahu's world famous North Shore, just a short drive from Kuilima Bay. This is not a good snorkel spot for kids, as there is no sandy beach, and there are lot's of rocks, and deep water. Sharks Cove is a small rocky bay that forms part of Pupukea Beach Park. There is plenty of clear blue water, surrounded by large smooth boulders and coral heads. There are numerous small caves and ledges for marine life to hide, and the walls of the surrounding cliffs create calmer waters which attract vast varieties of schooling surface fish. The landscape diversity makes Sarks"s Cove one of the "Top Twelve Shore Dives in the World"

Just to the south of Sharks Cove you will find the Pupukea tide pools. This is a great place to bring the kids. Wade and explore the tide pools for all sorts of sea critters.

Why Snorkel? - To add a world of beauty and relaxation

Snorkel Underwater beauty
Snorkel Underwater beauty

More Snorkeling Beauty - Green Sea Turtle

Hawaian green sea turtle
Hawaian green sea turtle

Where Else Will You See This?

guess the fish
guess the fish

Or This?

Blue tang
Blue tang

Or This?


Capturing Lasting Memories - Think camera!

My big regret on my wonderful Oahu snorkel vacation. I did not have an underwater camera. I missed hundreds of once in a lifetime photos because of a camera - or should I say, lack of one. Don't make the same mistake - you will permanently regret it. Check out both the camera selections, and the less expensive alternatives listed below.

Sealife DC 800 8.0 Megapixel Underwater/Land Camera in Removable Housing with 4X Optical Zoom and 2.7-Inch LCD screen (Black)
Sealife DC 800 8.0 Megapixel Underwater/Land Camera in Removable Housing with 4X Optical Zoom and 2.7-Inch LCD screen (Black)

Sealife DC 800 8-megapixel Camera includes 3 new dive-specific color correction modes. 4X Optical zoom in rubber housing makes it easier than ever to take sharp, colorful underwater photos. Easy to view 2.7-Inch LCD screen. Camera can be removed from 200 Feet depth tested housing for use on land. Wide angle lens is 28mm to 112mm film equivalent. 22 land modes can automatically set camera for a variety of photos with included face detection, anti-shake, aperture/shutter priority and Spy Mode.

If you are a professional photographer, Check out a complete line of professional underwater cameras here

GoPro HD Hero
GoPro HD Hero

A Cheap Alternative - Waterproof your current digital camera

If you want to take underwater pictures of your snorkeling adventures on a single vacation, and aren't sure you will ever be underwater again, here is an inexpensive way to convert your current digital camera into an underwater picture taker. DicaPac makes a series of waterproof clear plastic digital camera containers which are perfect for snorkeling. Four different size cases are featured here. Click through on any of these, and you will find more on Amazon.

Understand this: for under $30.00 you will have a way to take underwater photographs. It is not the perfect solution as you may have to reposition your camera in the bag, and you may lose some shots due to time fiddling around. Missing a few shots sure beats no pictures at all. Be sure to read customer reviews for pros, cons and great user tips!

Waterproof cases fit over 200 digital cameras, are made of non-toxic materials (RoHS) and are tested and are of waterproof grade JIS IPX8 (Japaness Industrial Standard's highest waterproof grade). Underwater lab tested to 16ft . Patented roll and relcro zipper system allows full funtionality of camera controls. It also has a removable optical lens with diffused reflection prevention. The big addition is a polycarbonate quality lens (clear and hard to break) opening that lets you take pictures with zoom control even when the camera is in the pouch. The lens has a 3-layer coating both inside and outside. (UV coating, Water repellent coating, Scratch resistance coating for quality pictures.) It also floats when you drop it into water.

Want To Go Deeper? - Waterproof cases for specific camera models

If you are looking for a case for an existing digital camera that insures greater depth tolerance, ease of use, and are willing to spend more, you can buy camera specific waterproof cases with waterproof seals and custom controls.

Below you will find one of each brand, and when you click through to Amazon, you will find more selections for different camera models. Again, be sure to read customer reviews to help you decide, and also help you understand the upkeep of an underwater camera case with seals.


Preventing Scalp Sunburn

I wish somebody had told me

I wish somebody from the snorkel shop had told me. Experience should not have to be our teacher. The day after my fantastic snorkel at Hunauma Bay, I went to comb my hair and OUCH. Where my hair parted, I was lobster red. So, I will pass on this advice. If you are planning a snorkeling vacation, which I highly recommend, get the right protection. For the back and top of your head, which is constantly exposed to the sun, get a reasonably priced swim hood that is comfortable. A divers hood is too cumbersome and tight. I recommend the hood in the picture.

It is stretchier than an old-fashioned bathing cap, keeps hair out of eyes, and gives more sun protection than a bathing cap. It is not as cumbersome or tight as an actual divers hood.

Hot Skins
Hot Skins

More Sunburn Prevention Tips

You got sunburned where?

Next, unbeknown to me, my swim suit rose up above my sunscreen line on my legs. I had a half inch lobster red mark on both butt cheeks. I could hardly sit. Even with sunscreen, the back of my legs were also burned, but not as bad. My advice - forget sunscreen when snorkeling. It just doesn't stay on in salt water. Here is a better tip that offers all-around protection from sun, jellyfish, and fire coral.

Treat yourself to what is called a "hot skin" or "dive skin." A dive skin is lighter weight than a dive suit, and gives full body protection, not only from the sun, but Portuguese Man of War, regular jellyfish, fire coral, and other stinging hydroids. It dries fast and is easy to put on and take off too.

Do You Snorkel? - Would you like to try?

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    • bbsoulful2 profile image


      8 years ago

      I'm not one of your "dump me off the boat at the Great Barrier Reef" snorkelers, but I really enjoyed Hanauma Bay when I visited Oahu many years ago. The fish "schooled" with us, and made me feel like I was on "Wild Kingdom" or something. Too cool. Beautiful lens.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Hanauma Bay... oh yes. Incredible.

    • Jhangora LM profile image

      Jhangora LM 

      9 years ago

      Beautiful pics. Hawaii is certainly worth a visit.

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 

      9 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      Really interesting lens. blessed by a squidangel

    • RuthCoffee profile image

      Ruth Coffee 

      9 years ago from Zionsville, Indiana

      Wonderful lens. Very informative and you definitely made me one to give it a try.

    • The-Java-Gal profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      @anonymous: Thank you for stopping by - I too cannot think of anything more invigorating and relaxing at the same time. It gives one a total sense of freedom, I am due another snorkel trip before I get too old! lol

    • The-Java-Gal profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      @hlkljgk: Yes, the casings can be a real help as a temporary solution, or even a permanent one if you do not snorkel often

    • The-Java-Gal profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      @SnoopyGirl1: Thank you for stopping by. A tip for you - even a cheap older copy of photoshop elements will help your readjust your favorite grey photos. Hope that helps.

    • The-Java-Gal profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      @Sylvestermouse: Thank you for the lensroll. Glad you enjoyed the lens,

    • The-Java-Gal profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      @HorseAndPony LM: Thank you so much for the angel blessing, that means so much to me, as a relatively new lens writer,

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Beautiful lens!

    • The-Java-Gal profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago

      @BuildABetterMouse: Thanks for the great tip on public transportation.

    • BuildABetterMouse profile image

      Steve and Annette 

      9 years ago

      I love to snorkel in Hawaii and also highly recommend Hanauma Bay but consider taking public transportation - the bus stops right by the entrance. We had a rental car and it was broken into. The police say petty thieves know these cars are easy pickings because everyone is down at the beach.

    • HorseAndPony LM profile image

      HorseAndPony LM 

      9 years ago

      I have not yet snorkeled but I hope to soon. This is a great lens. Thanks for sharing all this information. Blessed!

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 

      9 years ago from United States

      We love snorkeling!!! Yes, we have snorkeled Oahu and we loved Hanauma Bay. I hope to go back some day :) Lensrolled to "My Dream Vacation to Hawaii"

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I have snorkeled on Oahu several times and I love it. My favorite views were are Hanauma Bay and the North Shore by the Turtle Bay Hilton. I had a cheap disposable camera and the pics game out looking a little gray. At least my wonderful memories are in color! I remember it like it was yesterday! Great lens! 5*

    • hlkljgk profile image


      9 years ago from Western Mass

      i went snorkeling on our honeymoon - it was so beautiful. i've got by eye on an underwater casing... :)

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I love snorkeling! I used to live in Hawaii and I did a lot of snorkeling and scuba-diving around the islands. It is so relaxing and invigorating all at the same time! Great pics and wonderful memories for me...thank you : )

    • Demaw profile image


      9 years ago

      Beautiful underwater pictures. I think even I could do the dead mans float. So who knows?

    • sheriangell profile image


      9 years ago

      While I'm probably the worlds clumsiest snorkeler, I have snorkeled in Hanauma Bay. It was a beautiful experience I will never forget.

    • Heather426 profile image

      Heather Burns 

      9 years ago from Wexford, Ireland

      yes, and i have been to all of these places. Great job describing them!

    • mistyriver profile image


      9 years ago

      I have never snorkled but it looks amazing!


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