O`ahu boasts 112 miles of coastline, but if you stop where the surf meets the sand you are missing out on more than half of the natural beauty that abounds here. Just beyond the waves there is an entire world glittering with colorful marine life. Experiencing it is as simple as picking up a mask and snorkel and peeking into the warm waters of the Pacific.
Haven for Snorkelers
The beauty of snorkeling O`ahu is how accessible and protected the reefs are. Excellent snorkeling is never far from shore. While you should always pay attention to conditions and your surroundings (and don’t forget sunscreen or a rashguard), snorkeling in Hawaii is an excellent way to experience Hawai`i’s underwater beauty with relative ease.
“I See Wonderful Things”
Hawai`i’s coral reefs are teeming with life, so grab a fish identification card and see what you can find! No matter where you go you’ll see colorful pairs of native butterfly fish (watch for them in pairs, guarding small coral heads), drifting schools of barbeled goat fish, brilliant blue flashes of jacks as they cruise past the outer reef, even a wily octopus peeking out at you from the coral’s crevices. Keep a close lookout for Hawai`i’s endemic species like angelfish, blennies, damselfish, and cardinalfish.
The Snorkeling Oahu Hot Spots
O`ahu boasts numerous snorkel spots, and one of our favorites for beginners is right here in the lagoons of Ko Olina. The rock breakwaters attract young fish and offer sheltered swimming for humans as well. Explore the rock walls and the sand flats and keep an eye out for turtles.
For truly breathtaking snorkeling in Hawaii, nothing beats the jagged shoreline and protected coves of Pupukea on the North Shore. “Shark’s Cove” has shallow tide pools, an enclosed bay, and plenty of rocks, reef, and lava tubes to explore. The snorkeling here is fabulous and the water is teeming with colorful marine life. Inside the cove the water gets gradually deeper, progressing from shallow boulders to sandy flats. Schools of fish are everywhere, and are approachable. They don’t even mind the visitors jumping off the rocks above! Advanced snorkelers can leave the lagoon and explore the outer reef on calm days, but don’t worry: the lagoon gets its name not from sharks, but from the “toothy” rocks and a story that says the outline of the reef looks like a shark from above. In summertime (winter is too rough), this is some of the best snorkeling anywhere, though be warned the beach is small and the cove entrance is over sharp rocks.
A Day By the Bay
For many tourists, THE snorkel spot is Hanauma Bay, an extinct volcanic tuff cone that is now a nature preserve. It boasts three well-formed reefs, calm conditions, and hundreds of species of colorful fish and invertebrates. Lifeguards are on site and snorkel rentals are available, and it is well worth the small entrance fee (though it can be quite crowded, so go early). There is even a tram if you don’t feel like walking up (or down) the steep access road, but to us, the views of the bay and the rocky headlands beyond are well worth the mild exertion.
Call It a Day
Elsewhere, the beaches of Lanikai and Waikiki have coral heads just offshore and make for pleasant snorkeling Oahu excursions in the middle of your beach day. So long as you are careful with the ocean conditions, anywhere on-island is worth bringing your gear since prime snorkeling is never far away. So, what are you waiting for? Let’s hit the water!