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Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve: Best Snorkeling on Oahu, Hawaii


Natasha is a writer, artisan, traveler, and recent graduate with a Master of the Arts in Teaching.

Hanauma Bay

Hanauma Bay

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is one of Oahu's favorite snorkeling spots. With shallow, protected waters, an informative video, and on-the-spot snorkel equipment rentals and instruction, it is perfect for beginning snorkelers. Barely more than 10 miles outside downtown Honolulu, it is easy to locate and has on-site parking, but is also accessible by using The Bus, Oahu's public transportation.

If you've visited Hanauma Bay in the past, it's time to visit again. After a decade of intense preservation and restoration efforts, this fragile ecosystem is blossoming. A new, award-winning Marine Education Center, opened in 2002, informs visitors about the bay's natural history and what they can do to protect and promote its well-being. This is not a recreational 'beach park,' so leave the beach balls at home. Instead, it is a nature preserve and educational center where you can experience rare marine life in its natural habitat.

Entering Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve has its own parking lot, but this lot tends to fill up quickly. Signs clearly mark the park's entrance, and, during busy times, officials at the top of the hill monitor the parking and deny vehicular access if the lot is full. If the parking lot is full, just drive around to find a parking spot along the road and continue to the park on foot. On-site parking is $1 per car and does not include re-entry.

Once you reach the bottom of the hill, if you're on foot, or find a parking space, if you are lucky, proceed to the ticket counter. Admission is $7.50 for the day, which does include re-entry. Children 12 and under, residents of Hawaii, and active duty military stationed in Hawaii do not have to pay an admission fee.

Whether you have to pay admission or not, the first time you visit Hanauma each year you must watch a short educational video. This video is part of the park's preservation efforts. It educates you about how the bay was formed, the types of fish found in the bay, and how to protect the reef (by not touching it!). When you purchase your admission, you receive a ticket for a specific movie time. The film is less than 15 minutes long, and you generally only have to wait until the next quarter-hour to watch it.

If you even suspect you might return to Hanauma Bay within a year, sign a list stating you watched the film. When you return, the folks at the ticket counter can look you up and you can skip the movie. You can also re-enter during the same day without re-watching the movie if you get your hand stamped on your way out.

Snorkeling Hanauma Bay

To get from the movie theater to the beach, you must go further down the mountainside. You can either walk or take a shuttle. The shuttle costs $1 to go down, $1.50 to go up, or you can purchase an all-day pass for $3. I chose to walk both directions, but if you're carrying a lot of gear, it could be tricky.

Once you get to the bottom, take a minute to look at the informative panel with pictures and names of fish you're likely to encounter. The colorful signboard is located at the education booth/hut that you basically trip over on your way to the beach. At this booth, you can learn about the bay's wildlife. It is home to many different species, including some endangered species and others that live only in Hawaii. Angelfish, boxfish, parrot fish, grouper, goatfish, darftish, moray eels, moorish idols, green turtles, and many other types of marine life frequent the bay. Members of the education staff are well-informed and there to answer any questions about the area you may have.

If you need to rent snorkel gear, go to the snorkel rental stand. The folks are more than happy to show you how to use the gear, so make sure to ask, if you're unfamiliar with its operation. Of course, you're welcome to bring your own snorkel equipment.

While snorkeling, make sure to avoid the marked dangerous areas. Red buoys on the far left and right of the bay mark dangerous channels you should avoid. Also, remember to avoid touching the reef. Coral is very sharp and will cut you. Also, touching the reef damages it - even areas that look like bare rock are home to algae that fish rely on for food. I saw several different people stand on, sit on, and generally touch the reef and I wanted to yell at them! The slightest touch from a human hand can kill a delicate coral, and even smooshing some algae has a negative impact on the ecosystem. Please don't be like these folks - remember to avoid touching the coral!

Also, do not attempt to feed the animals. Feeding animals can lead to dangerous overpopulation. By allowing the animals to only eat naturally-occurring food, the ecosystem can maintain a healthy balance. The fish poking at rocks may seem hungry to a human, but they are actually eating algae off the rock's surface. Don't harass the wildlife, either. In some cases, it is highly illegal. For example, I was lucky enough to see an endangered green sea turtle. If you have the same opportunity, remember you should not approach or disturb the animal. You don't have to run away if it comes toward you, but do not hassle it. I swam along behind the turtle to video it without disrupting its intended path.

Sea Turtle at Hanauma Bay

Snorkeling Safety

The educational video does a great job of explaining basic snorkeling safety, but if you haven't snorkeled before, there are a few things you need to take into account while planning your trip:

  • Do not snorkel alone. Hanauma bay is generally safe, as long as you do not venture between the buoys that mark dangerous currents. However, you never know when you might cut yourself, catch a wave in your snorkel, or get caught by an unexpected current. Snorkel with a buddy, enter and exit the water with this person, and keep a visual on them at all times.
  • Make sure to wear plenty of waterproof sunscreen. I get chilly in Pacific waters, even during the summer, so it can be easy to forget how direct the sun's rays are. Make sure to apply plenty of waterproof sunscreen at least 15 minutes before getting in the water.
  • Do not ever touch the reef or harass the wildlife! I really cannot stress this enough.

Enjoy Hanauma Bay!

While it is a popular, and frequently crowded, spot, it is easy to enjoy Hanauma Bay. Restrooms, an outdoor shower, and water fountains are provided at the base of the hill, but there are no on the beach concessions. A small gift shop and concessions area is located at the top of the hill, but you can put your all-day admission to work and exit to have a picnic at the tables near the parking lot, or even leave the area altogether for a meal.

Hanauma Bay is perfect for beginning and intermediate snorkelers. If you are up for a more remote, and more challenging location, there are plenty of other spots on Oahu. I highly recommend checking out Shark's Cove on the island's North Shore. But if you have the time - why not just snorkel everywhere?

© 2012 Natasha


Natasha (author) from Hawaii on January 10, 2013:

And there's a place I've never been!

Thanks for stopping by - I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Shelley Watson on January 10, 2013:

Wonderful descriptions of an island I will probably never get too, as it is just that bit too far. I have snorkelled in several places in Mauritius, and those experiences are something one can never forget! Thank you for reminding me!

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on October 05, 2012:

If you are worried about tight spaces, you might want to choose Shark Cove (dangerous sounding, I know, but it's named for a non-aggressive species of shark), instead, because the coral is sometimes kind of close to the water's surface at Hanauma Bay! But at Hanauma Bay you can rent flotation devices to keep you off the reef.

I have confidence in you =)

Denise Mai from Idaho on October 05, 2012:

Looks beautiful. I get claustrophobic under the water and have a hang up about the ocean. That's why I enjoy your photos and video. I don't actually have to get in. Maybe I will give it a try on our next Hawaii trip. I think I can. I think I can. Beautiful hub. Voted up and sharing.

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on October 05, 2012:

Thank you Wilderness, SimeyC, and Judi Bee! Yes, underwater photography is very difficult. There's poor light, lots of organic matter, and everything is moving! Glad everyone found my efforts acceptable, anyway. =) Thanks for stopping by and I hope all of you get the chance to visit Hawaii - it is truly amazing.

Judi Brown from UK on October 05, 2012:

I've wanted to visit Hawaii since I was very young - I think I wanted to be a Hula dancer originally - now I just want to visit for the scenery. Beautiful photos!

Simon Cook from NJ, USA on October 05, 2012:

Wow stunning pictures. Never been snorkeling myslef, but after reading you just might tempt me!!!

Dan Harmon from Boise, Idaho on October 05, 2012:

This reminds me of my first snorkeling trip to the Caribbean, but looks like a much nicer place to do it in. I would love to visit Hawaii one day and if I do, Hanauma Bay will definitely be on the list of places to see.

Underwater photography is HARD, isn't it? You sure got some nice photos, though - much better than I did.

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on August 18, 2012:

I'm glad you're enjoying it! I'm safe so far, and doing my best to stay that way.

Dianna Mendez on August 18, 2012:

I am enjoying this series through your adventures. It would be so wonderful to see this up close, but for now I am happy to read about it here. Be careful out there but enjoy yourself.

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on August 13, 2012:

Thank you for the votes, Om Paramopoonya! I love it in Hawaii, though it is a little chilly for me...Most people wouldn't consider 80s chilly, though.

Om Paramapoonya on August 13, 2012:

What a beautiful and fun-filled place! I've never snorkeled but would love to try it. Thanks for sharing this lovely hub. Rated up and awesome :)

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on August 13, 2012:

Thanks for stopping by, Jackie Lynnley. Glad you liked it and thanks for letting me know.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on August 12, 2012:

Great hub! Just beautiful and you make me want to go there for sure! I would love to snorkel!

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on August 12, 2012:

Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed the photographs. =)

Tammy from North Carolina on August 12, 2012:

Wow! You are a great photographer. I am enjoying your vacation with you. If I travel there I am going to look you up as my travel agent. Just gorgeous!

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on August 12, 2012:

Hopefully you enjoy it even more this time! The last decade of conservation efforts have really helped the reef. Of course, there are lots of other beautiful places to snorkel on the island, but Hanauma Bay is very easy to get to.

Thanks so much for voting and sharing!

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on August 12, 2012:

Hi Natasha. You said it, "if you've been in the past you need to go again". We went 19 years ago on our honeymoon and we want to go back next year for our 20th anniversary. It was wonderful 19 years ago and I'm sure it will be even more rewarding when we get there next. The video sounds like a great idea to educate people on this wonderful preserve.

Thanks for sharing with us. Great job. Voting up, sharing, etc.

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on August 12, 2012:

Thank you! I actually saw a larger sea turtle on a different snorkeling trip, but I didn't have my camera with me at the time. Oh well. The second turtle was so large it was actually a little scary! Snorkeling is awesome - you totally should try it! Thanks for sharing =)

Joshua Zerbini from Pennsylvania on August 12, 2012:


Ok, that is it! I am going snorkeling one of these days! You have made up mind for me Natasha! I am going to go snorkeling in Hawaii and see me some sea turtles! Again, beautiful pictures! :) I am sharing!

Bev G from Wales, UK on August 12, 2012:

How beautiful! I hope you get your dream job on Oahu.

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on August 12, 2012:

I was really surprised by the number of Mexican restaurants I saw in Hawaii. After this particular snorkeling trip, I had a shave ice with condensed milk and adzuki beans before going elsewhere for Japanese food. =)

Lela from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on August 12, 2012:

Hanauma Bay is very beautiful. I loved when I visited Oahu. We ate at some Mexican restaurant near there that was just fabulous. I wonder if it is still there. Oh well, I will get back to Hawaii some day.

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on August 12, 2012:

Thank you!

Deepak Chaturvedi from New Delhi, India on August 12, 2012:

Nice and interesting hub.

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on August 12, 2012:

Thank you =)

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on August 12, 2012:

Oh, to be young and carefree....so nice! I wish you well my dear; you deserve happiness and adventure!

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on August 12, 2012:

I just might! I'm told Hawaii always wants new teachers from the mainland, so after I wrap up this degree, I may end heading there. I can tell you that South Carolina isn't too keen on hiring more history teachers.

I'm glad you enjoyed it - I'll be sharing even more pictures soon. There is such an amazing amount of stuff to do in such a small area on Oahu.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on August 12, 2012:

It was bad enough when you were showing us all the beautiful places near where you live; now you are showing us Hawaii! I am green with envy my dear! Wonderful hub! Sounds like you are ready to move there permanently.

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on August 12, 2012:

To be fair, there are a lot of non-English speaking visitors, and the video was exclusively in English. However, some of the reef-standers clearly spoke English. It made me pretty mad!

Thanks for stopping by and I'm glad you liked the photos!

Liz Davis from Hudson, FL on August 12, 2012:

People had to watch a video telling them not to disturb the reef, then they went and stood on it. Geesh! Love your photos. Thanks for sharing!