Hanauma Bay is one of my favorite places to snorkel on Oahu. It’s also one of the tourist hotspot destinations on Oahu. Why? It’s one of the best places to snorkel on all of Hawaii.
Hanauma Bay from the Hanauma Ridge Trail
The Basic Info:
Hours: 6am – 6pm, October – March, 6am – 7pm, April – September, closed on Tuesdays.
Where: About 30 minutes east of Waikiki on Kalanianaole Hwy. Catch The Bus #22, The Beach Bus and get off at Hanauma Bay. To drive, take the H-1 east. The H-1 turns into Hwy 72, Kalanianaole Hwy. You’ll pass a traffic light at Lunalilo Home Rd, and then climb a hill. The entrance is at the top of the hill on the right. It’s hard to miss.
Cost: $1.00 to park, $7.50 admission fee for adult non-residents and non-military. Kids 12 and under are free.
Snorkel Rental: There’s a place to rent snorkel gear on the beach. I have no idea how much it costs, but a quick search suggests it’s around $6, plus a refundable deposit of about $30. Alternatively, you can rent gear from one of the many places in town, like Snorkel Bob’s. They will rent you gear for the duration of your stay, if you plan on snorkeling at more places. http://www.snorkelbob.com/
Shuttle Cost: There’s a shuttle you can take to get down to the top, and/or up from the bottom. It costs $1.00 on the way down and $1.25 on the way up. Save the $1.00 on the way down and just walk it. It’s about a 5 minute walk downhill. If you can’t walk downhill for 5 minutes, you have no business snorkeling. Use the shuttle to get back up the hill, which sucks to walk up when you are exhausted from spending hours snorkeling.
Hanauma Bay Snorkel Tours: There are lots of places that offer “snorkel tours” to Hanauma Bay. For around $25, they will pick you up at your hotel, drive you out to the Bay and provide you with snorkel gear. I haven’t seen a tour where the price of the tour includes the $7.50 admission fee. You’ll still have to pay that on top of the $25. If you rented a car, there is definitely no reason to pay someone to drive you to the Bay. If you didn’t rent a car, there are certainly less expensive ways to get yourself to the Bay. Convenience is the only real selling point here.
Other Things You Should Know: If you don’t get to the Bay early, the parking lot will fill up, and you won’t be able to park at the bay. You can park down the hill a bit in the Portlock neighborhood, but it’s a hell of a walk up the hill to the top, followed by a long walk down the hill to the entrance, followed by a long walk further down the hill to the beach. And all of that downhill walking becomes uphill walking on the way back, after you’ve worn yourself out snorkeling. So, if you don’t want to get there super early, wait until early afternoon. The parking lot usually opens back up around 1pm, when all of the early morning snorkelers leave.
Once you get there, find parking, and pay your entrance fee, you’ll have to watch a 9 minute video that plays every 15 minutes. It tells you about how Hanauma Bay was formed, and tells you not to feed the fish or turtles. If you intend to return again another day, make sure to sign the sheet at the end of the video. They will put your name in the database, and you can bypass the video next time.
If you have a desire to see a mongoose, look by the trash cans to the left of the lifeguard tower as you look at the bay. They are often scavenging around the trash cans. Also keep that in mind if you are looking for somewhere to set your stuff. If you put it by the wall on that side, chances are a mongoose or two may dig through it.
Hanauma Bay has tons of tropical fish, and I’ve never NOT seen a sea turtle when I’ve snorkeled there, BUT, it is not crystal clear water. Because of the waves and the sheer number of people kicking up sand, it can be cloudy. When I go, I usually swim out between the two buoys to the outer reef in deeper water. One, it’s a lot less crowded out there. Two, the water is much clearer. Three, I don’t feel like I’m going to beach myself snorkeling over the way shallow reefs. During low tide, there might only be about a foot of water covering the reef. More than once, I have snorkeled along, mesmerized by all the fish, only to get paranoid as I end up over a large portion of very shallow reef. You aren’t supposed to touch the reef, and it’s hard not to when you are concerned that you’re going to hit your tummy on it!
If you aren’t a confident swimmer, stay on the inner reef. There is a current that runs through the channel to the outer reef that can make it difficult to re-enter the inner reef if you don’t have fins.
White spotted surgeonfish
Hawaii State Fish (Reef Triggerfish): Humuhumunukunukuapa’a
Rainbow Wrasse and Moorish Idol
In my experience, the sea turtles tend to hang out on the left and right edges of the bay, where the reef is deeper.
Either on your way there, or when you’re done, stop for a poke bowl at Paina Cafe in the Koko Marina Shopping Center. Next to Teddy’s Burgers). Want some shave ice? Skip Kokonuts, and head further west on Kalanianaole Hwy to the Aina Haina Shopping Center (where the Foodland and McDonalds is). In that shopping center is the best place to get shave ice on the island. People will tell you the best place is Matsumoto’s in Haleiwa on the north shore, but they are wrong. Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha has the BEST shave ice on the island. They make all of their syrups themselves, all natural. And delicious!