Oahu's Best Snorkeling
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is a gorgeous wineglass-shaped bay situated on the southeastern side of Oahu near Hawaii Kai, tucked into the sheltered side of Koko Head.
Merely a 30-minute drive from Honolulu (when the traffic is good!), this stunning bay feels like a world away from the bustle of the city, which cannot even be seen from the beach as the large bay is surrounded by the lush green, gently fluted hills of Koko Head.
The bay is secluded and tranquil in the early morning, but during the day becomes a very popular place for locals and visitors. Before changes that occurred in 2020 (see below) due to the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of people previously flocked to the bay each day to experience the excellent snorkeling in the area. 400 species of fish are known to inhabit the bay, and it is also known for its abundance of green sea turtles or honus.
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Hanauma Bay Information
Hanauma Bay has suffered from overuse since it became a major attraction in the 1980s. Even into the 1990s hoards of visitors, uneducated about the fragile marine ecosystem, would trample the reef and leave trash everywhere. In 2002 the Marine Education Center was opened at the entrance to the bay, and now all visitors must watch a short educational video about the conservation of the bay before entering the beach. Emphasis is placed on encouraging visitors not to touch the sea life or coral.
Updates for 2021 & Beyond
Hanauma Bay was closed for much of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic but reopened in early December 2020 with several changes. The park now has a daily visitor limit of 720 people. Compared to years prior like 2019, that's a fairly significant change, as previously the average number of daily visitors to the park was about 3,000. Rates for non-residents have also increased, see below.
A paved, steep path leads to the beach and takes about 10 minutes to walk. For those who prefer not to walk, there is a shuttle bus that is 75 cents down and $1 back. Snorkeling equipment can be rented on the beach and lessons are available. There is food available at the entrance of the bay, as well as a gift shop and shower facilities. After 9:30 am the place becomes very crowded, so best to arrive either early morning or mid to late afternoon to get a parking space.
There is a $25.00 admission fee for visitors (it increased from $12/person, beginning July 1, 2021), and a $3.00 parking fee, which is waived for Hawaii residents, military, and children under 12. The beach opens at 6 am daily, except Mondays and Tuesdays when it is closed to allow the fish a day of feeding without interruption by swimmers.
Directions: From Honolulu, take Kalanianaole Highway (H1 72) east from the city, then look for the signs to Hanauma Bay and turn sharp right onto Hanauma Bay Rd.
Phone: (808) 396-4229
The Koko Head region had the most recent volcanic activity on Oahu, with lava flows creating the Hanauma Bay area starting about 40,000 years ago. 32,000 years ago the bay was created in a series of violent explosions that blasted up through a coral reef that was established 100,000 years prior. The erupting magma blew up in bursts of steam, gases, rock, coral, and ash, which cemented together to form a firm rock called ‘tuff’. Fragments of white coral, dark basalt as well as green olivine can be seen in areas of the bay today. The bay is essentially a flooded crater, surrounded by several cratered cones.
The area was not inhabited by Hawaiian people due to the lack of a freshwater supply. However, fishing tools have been found here by archeologists, indicating that the bay was used as a recreational area by Hawaiian royalty (Ali’i), for fishing and games. It was also a navigational lookout point for safe passage between Oahu and Molokai.