Snorkel Sites in Hawaii

by Marie Clay
Molokini Crater offers some of the best snorkeling in the islands, but is accessible only by boat.

Molokini Crater offers some of the best snorkeling in the islands, but is accessible only by boat. Images

One of the most popular activities for those vacationing in the Hawaiian islands is snorkeling. Snorkeling allows you to get a glimpse of the world under the tropical sea and experience views, creatures and fun not found on the mainland and does not require acquisition of a dive license as SCUBA does. Knowing some of the best places to visit ahead of time will save you time and prevent disappointment when heading out for a day full of underwater adventure.


On the west side of the island, the water is typically calmer and clearer due to the dry conditions created by the mountains blocking the trade winds. One of the most popular snorkeling sites on the entire island is Kealakekua Bay, approximately 16 miles south of Kailua-Kona. The entire bay is a protected area, with plenty of wildlife and reef along with Spinner dolphins who frequent the area. Also nearby is Kahaluu Beach Park, nearly as popular and just as impressive as Kealakekua. On the east side of the island, just outside Hilo, Richardson's Ocean Park offers snorkeling in a protected area with a large fish population and reef. Another site, known as Punalu'u, or the black sand beach, offers a different snorkeling experience, with a very high sea turtle population.


Arguably the best snorkeling location in Maui is the Molokini Crater, found three miles off the main island. The crater is home to a plethora of fish, coral, rays and occasional small sharks. Though a great location, it is only accessible by boat. A more easily accessible location is Coral Gardens, with an expanse of colored coral and a dense fish population. The coral is also home to octopus, eel, crabs, starfish, urchins and, further from the beach, humpback whales during the winter months. Kapalua Bay offers excellent snorkeling on the north side of the island, and along much of the south central coast of the island sea turtles can be found at nearly any point.


Lanai's best snorkeling is considered by many to be Manele Bay on the south coast of the island. The bay offers extremely high visibility and a large, protected fish and coral population. For more good snorkeling options on Lanai, you will need to go offshore. Many of the named outcrops offer shallow areas with dense populations of sea life and incredible views. Sweetheart Rock is one such area, located off shore from Manele Bay. Others include Wash Rock to the east and Shark Fin to the west of the island.


The most visited snorkel site on Molokai is Murphy Beach Park on the west side of the island. The water is protected by a near shore reef, creating a calm environment for snorkelers of all levels. For the best snorkeling experience, however, you must travel off shore and explore the island's barrier reef. Multiple ocean dive tour companies will take you to the reef by boat and you will enjoy a largely untouched reef with a low human population and enormous sea life population.


Near Honolulu, and the most popular snorkeling location on the island is Hanauma Bay. The reef keeps large waves out of the crater, making the bay great even in winter. The bay is protected and visitors must pay for admission. There is an abundance of fish and sea turtles here, but tourists have damaged the reef and the water is cloudy. Between the months of May and October, Makaha Beach Park offers underwater formations, fish, eel, octopus, turtles and dolphins and clear water. On the north side, Waimea Bay becomes as calm as a pool in the summer months. The area boasts caves and a large snorkeling area with unsurpassed water clarity. Those on the east side of the island will find Lanikai Beach a peaceful and large reef to explore, full of fish, turtles and beautiful beach scenery.


Kauai offers some of the most breathtaking scenery in the Hawaiian islands, with the towering Na Pali mountain cliffs and large old growth palm trees next to pristine beaches. Snorkeling sites on Kauai include Ke'e Beach Park, offering a stretch of reef-lined beach full of fish and sea turtles. With water conditions similar to Hanauma Bay on Oahu, Poipu Beach is a reef sheltered area with adequate sea life and scenery and few waves. For the most expansive snorkeling trip on Kauai, visit Anini Beach. The reef lining the beach is the largest reef group found on Kauai and offers great views of a variety of reef life. The waters between the reef and shore are extremely calm and great for swimmers or snorkeling practice as well.

About the Author

Marie Clay began writing professionally for an advertising firm in 2004. She holds a Bachelor of Science in mass communication from Illinois State University, where she was named Outstanding Honors Student for her graduating class and holds a third-degree black belt in Taekwondo with the World Taekwondo Federation. Her specialties include interactive media, art, computer software and programming, and parenting.

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