Beautiful beaches, perfect weather, and lush tropical forests – Hawaii is an archipelago of adventure and beachside luxuries. However, if you have only seen Hawaii from land, you haven’t really seen Hawaii at all. No small part of this island chain’s allure lives just feet under its crystal clear water, waiting for the adventurers to come pay them a visit with their snorkel mask. From the indigenous marine life to the seasonal visitors, the Hawaiian Islands are home to hundreds of different species of fish, many of which can only be found around the islands and nowhere else.
Yet, with brilliant beaches, highly rated tours, and miles of crystal clear coast to choose from, where are the best spots to do a little snorkelling in Hawaii? The choice can be overwhelming, but there are a few spots that stand out above the pack. So, you've got your snorkel gear, a GoPro, and your trusty Spivo Stick. Let's get to it!
Hanauma Bay, Oahu
Like many of Hawaii’s perfect crescent-shaped bays, Hanauma Bay is actually made out of a 35,000-year-old volcanic crater that opened itself up to the ocean after its outer wall collapsed. Its crater shape not only protects the bay from strong currents and waves, but it has made the bay the perfectly sheltered home for a number of Hawaii’s marine species.
While some visitors come to explore the sandy beach and the hiking trails beyond, Hanauma Bay is Hawaii’s most popular snorkeling destination. As the bay has crystal clear waters and a protected reef, this is where the largest variety of marine life can be discovered. Visitors in the water are greeted with a rainbow of sea life that includes tangs, parrotfish, surgeonfish, butterfly fish, and the occasional green sea turtle. During the winter, humpback whales can also be spotted breeching the water outside of the bay.
Unfortunately, because Hanauma Bay receives around 3,000 visitors each day, many looking to snorkel the reef, there are strict conduct guidelines in the marine preserve. In order to prevent any detrimental impact to the marine life, do not feed the fish or do anything that might impact the area’s environment negatively.
Molokini Crater, Maui
Rivalled only by Hanauma Bay in status as Hawaii’s most legendary snorkel spot, the Molokini Crater is one of those adventures that will never leave you. Like Hanauma, Molokini is made from a semi-submerged volcanic crater which gives the small strip of landmass its beautiful crescent shape. Located just off Maui’s south coast, snorkelers will have to take a short boat trip, but there are enough snorkel locations within Molokini to make the trip out more than worth it.
Due to the island’s crescent shape, it protects the water from the ravages of ocean waves, currents, and wind. This not only provides smooth snorkeling, but it has also fostered water visibility up to 150 feet down. Due to the enhanced visibility, the best snorkeling is often done inside the crescent. However, it is likely visitors will spot scuba diving tour boats outside the crescent where the ocean floor is deeper.
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In the water, snorkelers will be privileged to view up to 250 different species of fish, most endemic to Hawaii. Commonly spotted sea life includes yellow tang, parrot fish, raccoon butterflies, moorish idols, moray eels, manta rays, and the occasional whitetip shark. As the area’s marine life have grown accustomed to the constant visits from tour boats, snorkelers, and scuba divers, they are less skittish than in other areas of Hawaii. Most native fish are perfectly content to go about their day as visitors swim right above them.
Hulopoe Bay, Lanai
The island of Lanai is one of Hawaii’s smaller, lesser know islands. However, it is also considered one of the most beautiful due in no small part to the lack of vacationing crowds. However, it is not just the white sand beaches that are one of Hawaii’s best kept secrets; it is also the island’s snorkel spots that are ready for the world to discover.
For those that don’t want to fight over space with a hundred different snorkelers and desire a chance to see some of Hawaii’s most playful marine life, a trip to Lanai’s Hulopoe Bay on the island’s southern shore is a must.
Before jumping in the water, be sure to check out the beach’s famous tide pool area where, at low tide, a variety of crabs, starfish, and small fish are easy to spot. While good snorkeling is present throughout the bay, the most scenic areas sit between the beach’s easternmost point and the center of the bay where the reef is the most developed. Inside the reef, snorkelers will be able to spot everything from bandit angelfish to Hawaii’s state fish, the humuhumunukunukuapuaa, as they gracefully flint around the water. However, Hulopoe is actually better known among snorkelers and marine enthusiasts for the potential to spot both the threatened green sea turtles and the playful spinner dolphins. While the sea turtles can be found among the reef in a larger abundance than around any other Hawaiian island, the dolphins tend to stick to deeper waters off the coast.
The bay provides protection from the rougher ocean waters, but snorkelers will need to beware of rip currents and a steep ocean floor drop off as they explore further out into the water. However, due to its clear waters and generally smooth conditions, Hulopoe Bay is an excellent area for all skill levels.
About the Author: Ken Muise is a snorkel gear expert on the Island of Oahu. He has snorkeled throughout the Hawaiian Islands and is currently running a website that reviews snorkel gear at http://snorkelstore.net