Our first snorkeling adventure on Oahu was testing out the waters at Hanauma Bay. Located on the southeast tip of the island, it offers some of the best snorkeling--if we can be so bold--in all of Hawaii. The state created a nature preserve here in the early 1990s to ensure that the habitat was maintained for both the undersea residents and future visitors. However, preservation comes at a cost, as itís one of the few beaches in Hawaii that will cost you money. Still, itís well-worth the $5 per person fee.
Although we were concerned that the place would be busy, we were surprised to have the bay somewhat to ourselves when we arrived at around 9 am on a Saturday. After a quick movie to remind us not to damage the coral or touch the fish, we lugged our gear down the hill, ready to explore. Once in the clear, calm water it was like watching an undersea documentary. The place was teeming with reef fish, and we even got to spend a little time watching a sea turtle enjoying a snack. The sea life was definitely used to tourists like us, which worked out well, as they just continued going about their business.
Ko Olina Resort Area
At the opposite corner of Oahu sits the Ko Olina Resort area. Even though we werenít staying at one of the on-site properties, we were free to just drive in and use the beach facilities. (All the beaches in Hawaii allow for public access--even at the swankiest of hotels.) There are four man-made lagoons at the resort area, and all offer great snorkeling opportunities thanks to the perfectly calm waters.
Our favorite was the one right in front of the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort and Spa. There wasnít too much coral, but the plentiful rock formations seemed to keep the fish happy. We swam around the outer edge of the lagoon, near where it meets the open ocean, and were interested the whole time. The best part of snorkeling here was going up to the hotel afterwards and enjoying a Mai Tai at the hotel bar--not budget friendly, but totally necessary.
On the North Shore there are many options when it comes to checking out the undersea critters. We pulled off the road many times and were amazed at the quality of the beaches. One of the best spots was Waimea Bay. Though the waters were calm when we stopped in, the surf can turn large and violent during the winter.
Both edges of the bay offered great opportunities for snorkeling, but we favored the left side a little more. Just watch out for people jumping from the cliffs above! The parking lot here is small, so if you have your heart set on this place, get there early.
[Photo of Hanauma Bay: kjb]