Hanauma Bay beach

A Guide To Snorkeling In Hanauma Bay

Every year, over 9 billion tourists visit the Hawaiian Islands with 6 six islands to choose from. With some of the most stunning natural scenery in the world, why do many snorkelers go for Hanauma Bay?

Well, catching a glimpse of the bay in the Pacific sun whilst feeling the cooling sea breeze makes the destination a holiday paradise. It’s a tropical ideal that produces some picture postcard views. 

Hanauma Bay is a state park with the bay itself being shaped like a horseshoe on the Southern tip of Oahu, about 13 miles from Honolulu.

The destination attracts thousands of visitors daily, that hope to look upon the picturesque blue waters, the curve of the white sands, and to try out one of the best beginners snorkeling locations to be found anywhere.

Hanauma Bay attracts about 1 million visitors a year despite limiting the numbers for natural protection, but snorkelers can still enjoy the perfect blue water, absolutely teeming with natural life, from corals to tropical fish.

Hanauma Bay – At A Glance

Entrance fee – Currently there is a $7.50 entrance fee to the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve which excludes local residents, military personal, and children under 12.

Tuesday closing – Every Tuesday entry is prohibited.

Reservations – If you want to use the Waikiki shuttle then you will need to reserve (6:00 am, 7:15 am, 8:45 am and 10:15 am)

Opening times – Hanauma Bay opens at 6am and closes at 7pm (summer months) or 6 p.m (winter months). Closed Christmas Day and New Years day.

Lockers available – On the beach, small lockers are available (wallet / phone / keys) and large lockers for backpacks and larger handbags.

Alcohol – Alcohol consumption is forbidden.

Food – snack bar on site

Miscellaneous – Access is wheelchair friendly and prescription masks are available for hire.

at a glance - Hanauma Bay

What Is Hanauma Bay?

Just under 4 million years ago (who’s counting?), what’s known as the Waiʻanae volcano broke the ocean surface and created the current island of Oahu.

A mere 1.4 million years later the Koʻolau range of volcanoes followed suit to create the topography we see today. Luckily the volcanoes went dormant about 10,000 years ago.

The familiar landscapes, as seen on the TV series Lost, were created from those eruptions.

The Pacific tectonic plate that Hawaii rests on, was created from a ‘hot spot’ in geographical terms, which is where the magma from the earth’s core erupts on the seabed in the middle of a plate.

The hotspot is fixed, but the entire pacific plate is moving. The entire of Hawaii was formed when this hotspot caused eruptions on the seabed that broke the water surface.

What’s now known as the Hanauma Crater is said to have been created around 32,000 years ago in a series of violent rapid explosions. Over the following years, wave erosion has created a natural bay teeming with aquatic life.

Where Is Hanauma Bay?

Hanauma Bay is located on the Southeast tip of the island of Oahu, the third largest island in the Hawaiian group.

where is Hanauma Bay

The easiest way to get to the Hanauma Bay nature park is via Honolulu. There are several ways.

Vehicle – Hanauma Bay does have a car park which costs $1 (300 spaces).

Waikiki shuttle – A shuttle leaves Waikiki and costs $25, which includes snorkel equipment rental.

Bus – The #22 beach bus leaves from Waikiki beach.

Best Time Of Year To Visit

For the very best chance of great weather, the best time to visit any of the Hawaiian islands is between March and September. During this period there’s less chance of rain and the highest temperatures.

The water temperature is at its best.

However, Hawaii has a perennial climate so the weather is good at all times of the year. Day temperatures will range between 73 – 86 degrees Fahrenheit (23 to 30 degrees Celsius).

From October to November there are fewer visitors which gives the islands a less touristy feel than normal. In the early few months of the year (Jan to Mar) the surfers arrive to capitalize on the oceans swells for surfing.

hawai temperature annual guide

If You Go

Around 3000 visitors a day arrive at the national park so if you do go, it’s worth noting a few things.

Firstly, the marine life is given a break from human intrusion every Tuesday, so the beach is closed. It’s also closed on Christmas day and New Years day.

What to bring – Although there’s a lot to rent and buy while at Hanauma Bay remember to bring appropriate swimwear, towels, any day snacks you need, and a good sunscreen (wildlife safe). No alcohol consumption is allowed on the beach.

Don’t forget the entrance fee.

Consider reef shoes as there are plenty of places to cut your feet if you aren’t using fins. Additionally, people do report the sand can be a bit coarse.

Storage – At the beach level you can hire lockers if you feel the need, A small locker is around $12, and takes small items like wallets and phones. A larger locker that takes backpacks and handbags is available for $12.

Access – Completely free of charge, wheelchairs are available between 8am to 4pm.

Presentation – when you arrive you will be required to watch a small video about preserving the reef before you will be allowed onto the beach.

Shuttle services – A lot of the hotels will provide masks, snorkels, and fins for those going to the bay.

Lifeguards – At 6.15pm in the summer months, and 5.15pm in the winter months the lifeguards will start asking people to prepare for the closing of the bay, by requiring everyone to get out of the water.

Park gates – They close promptly at either 6pm, or 7pm depending upon the time of year.

Bay walk – There is a walk around the bay on the clifftop that should take 40 minutes or so, should you wish to get those picture perfect holiday snaps.

Fish feeding – There’s a ban on feeding fish and you’re only meant to observe the turtles when you see them.

Hanauma Bay beach

How Much Does It Cost To Snorkel At Hanauma Bay?

For those of us that are 13 years and older, a fee of $7.50 (current as of Oct 2020) for park entrance is required.

Hanauma Bay entrance is free if you are under 12, active in the military, or a Hawaiian resident (proof required).

To listen to a recorded message of the current fees and situation, please ring (808) 396-4229

Can You Rent Snorkeling Gear At Hanauma Bay?

Many people bring their own gear, especially the mask if they want to snorkel with gear they know fits them well.

Nevertheless, it is quite cheap to rent gear on a trip to Hanauma Bay. Renting is about as cheap as buying them, but the advantage is that you don’t have to travel with the snorkeling gear.

Many of the hotels with their shuttle buses will rent you a set or include it in the cost of the shuttle bus.

The latest (Oct 2020) prices seem to be as follows;

  • Mask with a snorkel ($12)
  • Fins ($9)
  • A full Fins, Mask, and Snorkel set ($20)
  • A full Fins, prescription Mask, and Snorkel set ($20)
Hanauma Bay beach

Is Hanauma Bay Good For Snorkeling?

And here we come to one of the main reasons why snorkelers travel across the vast expanse of the Pacific ocean to visit Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve.

Along with the white sands, there is a very high fish population, with some 400 species present in the bay. Amongst the calm waters, you can appreciate just how unafraid of humans the fish have become.

They don’t dart off but will happily swim around you.

Note: Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is exactly that, a nature preserve. As a visitor, you are asked to respect the wildlife and nature around you so it can be enjoyed by others in the future. By law, visitors are asked to not touch or feed marine life, as well as not to walk on the corals.

Throughout the entire length of the beach, you are allowed to snorkel. A barrier reef parallels the bay shoreline protecting the beach. If you are not a strong swimmer or are a beginner to snorkeling it’s best to stay beachside of the reef where the currents are manageable.

The depth of the inner part of the reef range from about 2 to 8 feet the length of the bay.

Marine Life

According to the nature preserve, there are 400 species of fish known to inhabit Hanauma Bay. It’s particularly known as a good spot for the green sea turtles.

The sheer amount of variety makes the bay a visual feast, and some of the very best snorkeling in the world because of it.

Common fish within the bay are;

  • Green sea turtles
  • Honu
  • Parrotfish
  • Surgeonfish
  • Tangs
  • Butterflyfish
  • Trumpetfish
  • Triggerfish
  • Goatfish
  • Moray eels
  • Box Jellyfish
  • Octopus
  • Snapper

You’re probably likely to see a fair amount of sea urchins as well, although beware as those spines are painful.

If you want a full guide to fish, wildlife, and natural coral that you can view at Hanauma Bay then please visit here.

Hanauma Bay beach

Hanauma Bay Beach Facilities

Like most tourist places Hanauma Bay has plenty of facilities to service the needs of the tourists who visit.

As well as the facilities previously mentioned, services at the bay include;

Lifeguard – For the opening hours lifeguards are watching those in the water. If for any reason you are worried, you can let them know to keep an eye on you.

Restrooms – There are 4 restrooms available.

Showers – Following your time in the sea, showers are available.

Gift shop – A shop is available for all the typical items, some crafted locally.

Food stand – Up the hill from the beach is a snack stand to get food and drinks.

Education center – Near the entrance, there is an education center about the preserve.

Shuttle – The hill to the beach and snorkeling has a shuttle service to take beachgoers up and down.

Picnic tables – Around the park, picnic tables are available

Handicap facilities – Wheelchairs a free of charge, so that disabled people can reach the beach.

Hanauma Bay

Are There Dangers At Hanauma Bay?

It’s an idyllic spot for tourists, so it’s not surprising that the bay is continually voted one of the world’s best beaches for snorkeling. That beauty though, shouldn’t suppress a natural caution for respecting nature.

Danger can come in many forms, some are self inflicted, some from ignorance, and some from misfortune. The bay has been open for many years, and on any given year somewhere between 2 to 4 people lose their lives.

To put that in perspective, there are 3000 visitors per day or over a million per year. It perhaps gets a bad reputation based purely on the numbers of tourists arriving.

Around the preserve, there are warning signs about pretty much everything, from wet grass, low tree branches, and sloping terrain to more legitimate concerns like waves and rocks.

With the bay being closed off from the ocean in a natural crater enclosure can give a slightly false perspective to a tourist. It can give a sense of security when perhaps more caution is warranted.

There are 8 lifeguards around all the time, so you are safe from that point of view.

Nevertheless, the unforeseen dangers you perhaps need to worry about are as follows;

Breaking waves – If the sea is slamming waves into the rocks it’s advisable to stay away from the rocky ledges. They can be particularly dangerous during this time

The rocks are abrasive lava stone and crumble quickly. Additionally, they can be slippery so there’s a risk of slipping into the water.

Freak waves have washed people away in the past.

Sharp coral reef – Hanauma Bay has a coral reef in the shallow water near the beach. While providing shelter and attraction for sea life, the rocks are abrasive and sharp.

The lifeguards do have medical training for these types of injuries, but prevention is better.

Be careful in the swell of the waves as the coral reef is in shallow water. Ocean swells can slam a snorkeler down onto sharp coral.

High surf – during the summer months this isn’t quite the same danger but in the ‘non-tourist’ season large powerful waves can build up that provide the surfing waves.

Although the high surf affects all the islands, not just specifically the bay, these waves create strong currents making swimming more difficult. Also, these waves can push snorkelers onto rocks.

Currents and rip tides – If you’ve ever been caught, or seen a riptide effect you’ll already be aware, but these are powerful currents that aren’t always easily seen. These currents accompany a time of high surf, or with a rapid tide change.

Once caught in one, you won’t be able to swim against it. You will go where the current is taking you. If trapped in one, swim diagonally to it so you move into slower moving water.

Waving your hands above your head is the international distress signal.

If in doubt, ask the lifeguards where these currents are.

Hanauma Bay beach

Are There Sharks At Hanauma Bay?

With the bay connected to the pacific ocean, a snorkeler might ask if they could see sharks on their visit. If there are any, what species, and are they dangerous?

Reef sharks have been known to visit the bay but many residents say they’ve never seen one so they aren’t common. It’s unlikely that you’ll see a shark on a Hanauma Bay trip.

Reef sharks are about 4 feet in length and aren’t man eating, and currently, there has never been a shark attack in the bay.

It’s a large bay, so the reef sharks may come in during the night if there are any about the area.

A shark isn’t something you need to worry about unduly if you are planning a snorkeling trip here. Of far greater concern are the currents.

a reef shark

Final Thoughts – Parting Waves

Hanauma Bay is a snorkeling paradise for beginners that attracts millions per year, all year round. It has such an abundance of natural wildlife that you will quite likely see a sea turtle here.

It’s a natural reef that’s ideal for beginners to snorkeling, and there’s enough to see to satisfy those who are more familiar with the activity as well.

There are shallow reef waters, as well as deeper areas to provide excellent snorkeling for all levels of experience.

If you don’t have an underwater camera, if you are visiting Hanauma Bay then it’s as good a reason as any to get one.

Whether you are a beginner or not to snorkeling, once you arrive at Hanauma Bay it’s time to step back and enjoy the natural beauty of the location. It took millions of years to create, and if you treat it well, the preserve will deliver some lifetime memories.

If it’s good enough for Elvis in ‘Blue Hawaii’ then it’s good enough for the rest of us.

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