Snorkeling Kahe Point on Oahu, Hawaii
Kahe Point Beach Oahu
Electric Beach - doesn't it just sound exciting? Well, if you love to snorkel or dive and are ready for a little bit of adventure, it is.
Electric Beach, officially named Kahe Point Beach, is not for beginning snorkelers or non-confident swimmers. If you want easy snorkeling and a handy place to rent equipment, try Hanauma Bay or Shark Cove. There are no rental facilities at Electric Beach, but there are dangerous currents and you must swim out into the ocean to reach the best coral and fish. If you are feeling confident, and have a snorkeling buddy, your efforts will be rewarded with amazing schools of fish and incredibly clear water. The experience is fantastic, but you need to take a moment to prepare yourself before jumping in the water.
Why Is Kahe Point Beach Called Electric Beach?
Kahe Point Beach is nicknamed Electric Beach because it is literally across the street from an electric power plant. This power plant towers over the area and you can actually here intercom announcements and machinery noise coming from the plant while you prepare to enter the water.
This electric plant, though less than picturesque, is the reason snorkeling in the area is so fantastic. The power plant uses sea water as a coolant and then vents the now warm (and clean) water back into the ocean. Schools of fish gather around these vents, and coral actually grows over them, too, because of the warmer water. The vents are located about 500 feet into the ocean, but they are the best places to find impressive schools of fish.
Snorkeling Electric Beach
Before getting in the water, take a minute to observe the ocean. Stand on the rocky ledge near the car park and look for disturbances in the ocean. You should be able to spot a bubbling area. Its appearance is white and foamy. Actually, there are two vents, but one is much closer than the other. Think of how a water jet affects a pool or hot tub and look for something similar in the ocean. It looks sort of like it is boiling, or like a spring bubbling up. Try to remember where this 'boiling' spot is located because it's where you need to go to see incredible amounts of marine life.
You should always enter and exit the water with a snorkeling buddy. This is particularly true at Kahe Point because there are potentially dangerous currents and getting back on to the beach is very difficult. Once you are out in the open ocean, the water is actually quite a bit calmer, but entering and exiting is potentially dangerous. If you absolutely cannot find a snorkeling partner, hang around the beach or car park area until you another group of snorkelers comes along. Talk to them and see if you can team up with them for safety reasons. In my experience, most people at this beach know how potentially dangerous it is and are more than happy to have you tag along.
Before getting in the water, secure all valuables from sight in your car. If you leave any items, like your towel or flip flops, on the beach, do not leave your car keys or wallet. Lock your wallet in your car, remove any electronic portions of your car key, and secure your car key to your bathing suit or swim trunks. This is a very high theft area and people will dig through your belongings to look for car keys. I saw this happen. Luckily, the girl hadn't left any keys in her bag and the would-be thief's plan was thwarted.
To enter the water, head to the north, or "right" (if you are facing the ocean), of the car park. Proceed past the pavilion and restrooms until you come to a short drop off that marks the beach's southern edge. The beach's other boundary is created by the cement retaining wall. Waves crash into the wall, and rocks, creating strong currents. Watch the waves to get a feel for their timing before entering the water. Also, take a last look for the 'boiling' water that marks the vent's location. It should be almost directly offshore from the walled-in area. Because the water is shallow, and rocky, you may want to carry your fins until you swim past the wall's outer edge. You may also want to carry your mask and snorkel while swimming out.
Getting to the Beach at Kahe PointClick thumbnail to view full-size
Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins
After making it out of the beach, head straight out from the walled area. You should see a line of rocks on the bottom, leading you into the ocean. These piled rocks protect the water pipes. Follow the line of rocks about 500 feet until you reach the vents, themselves.
The vents are encased in large cement structures that are covered with coral. The water is 20-25 feet deep, so you have a fantastic view of the schooling fish. Common creatures include butterfly fish, parrot fish, tang, goat fish, snapper, trigger fish, mackerel, jacks, cornet fish, sea urchins, and green sea turtles. I saw a green sea turtle so enormous I started swimming backwards to get further away from it! Rationally I knew sea turtles don't eat humans, but this turtle was so large that some primordial fear overrode my logic for a moment.
The Kahe Point area is a popular spot to find Hawaiian spinner dolphins. These dolphins feed in deep water at night, but come closer to shore during the day to play, teach their young, and rest. Evidently the conditions around Kahe Point are perfect for spinner dolphins, so make sure to keep your eyes open for these playful creatures! They're smaller than bottlenose dolphins and travel in huge, playful pods. They're a really cool sight!
I am fairly strong and in decent shape, but it is still difficult for me to swim back in. You have to fight the waves all the way in the little cove area, and it can be a struggle. No matter how tempting it is to bring a camera along, I advise against it unless you have a pocket to stow it in. You will need both hands and arms free for swimming. You also really shouldn't go out alone!
Stay Safe and Happy Snorkeling!
As addressed above, always make sure to snorkel with a buddy, even if you have to partner up with a group of Japanese tourists. If you go out alone and are overwhelmed by a wave, no one will know and no one will be there to help you.
Because of the strong currents, I highly recommend investing in a pair of fins if you intend to snorkel at Electric Beach. I have seen people make it out without fins, but it is far easier with fins. Unlike more commercial locations, there are no snorkel rental locations near Electric Beach.
I know it is tempting, but do not dive down and get close to the water vents or attempt to enter a vent. The water comes out very fast and it will send you on an unplanned underwater acrobatic adventure.
As always, make sure to put on plenty of sunscreen, especially on your shoulders, back, and legs. The water off Kahe Point is usually only in the 70s, so it may feel cool, even during the summer. The direct, tropical sunlight will burn you, no matter how cold the water feels.
And, lastly, make sure to have fun! If you're willing to swim a little and brave the currents, Electric Beach will reward you with amazing schools of fish and, potentially, green sea turtles and spinner dolphins.
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