There is no question that Hanauma Bay is an excellent place to snorkel. Unfortunately it, unlike any other snorkeling spot in the State of Hawaii, costs money for an admission charge and costs money for a parking fee. There are many good reasons for this however and they probably justify the costs.
Essentially Hanauma Bay is the extinct crater head of a volcano. The crater lies right along the ocean and over the years the ocean has broken through a portion of the crater providing an almost perfectly circular and extremely protected area of bay that is the home of much coral and many fish. This area is very beautiful and fully beckons all that catch a glimpse of it to make their way down the pathway to its beautiful shoreline. This is the way I'm sure it has always been but it is estimated that of the burgeoning crowds of visitors to come to Oahu in the 1970's, fully 3,000,000 of them visited and snorkeled at Hanauma Bay each year. The eco system at the bay was challenged to the max and the forces that be were deservedly correct in assuming that a limit needed to be placed on the number of people to visit this incredible area. Hanauma Bay was declared a Marine Life Conservation District and plans were made to restore and revitalize the natural marine environment that once flourished here.
Today you have to pay an entrance fee of $7.50 per person to enter the park to snorkel. You also have to pay a $1.00 parking fee to park your car in the lot above the bay. In addition, you need to wait in line to see a 10 minute movie that explains facts about the underwater environment here before you set foot in the bay. The education you receive prior to your snorkel will presumably (and does) instill in you a respect for this beautiful place and give you an understanding of the "do's and don'ts" and specific rules regarding your snorkeling session here. It seems like a lot of hassle, and it is, but the net result is that the bay is now flourishing and provides what is probably (Shark's Cove may be an exception) the very best snorkel experience on the island.
As of this writing in 2011 you can avoid these charges by getting to the park prior to 7:00 am (the park opens at 6:00am). This is not a bad idea anyway because if you get to the park late you will be turned away like I was the first time I went. It's probably best just to plan a half-day excursion and get there very early. Another tip is that if you bring your own snorkel gear you will save a bunch of time as well. There is a place where you can rent snorkel gear but the line-up for that will take about a half-hour so bringing your own or renting some elsewhere will save a good bit of time and frustration. Another advantage of an early visit is that you will avoid the crowds to follow and unfortunately it does get very crowded but not so crowded that you will not enjoy you time here. Yet an additional advantage of an early visit would be that you will have first crack at visiting the sea life prior to them seeking some degree of shelter from the invading multicolored human fish to follow. All in all, your experience here should likely be a favorable one regardless of what has proven to be a "necessary hassle" to maintain a certain purity at this very special location.
Please be advised that all beaches and ocean locations in Hawaii can be potentially dangerous including this location. Be completely aware of the ocean conditions prior to entering the water and of course, never turn your back on the ocean when you are on the shoreline. It should also be noted that all shorelines and beaches in Hawaii, including this one, can be frequented by sharks, jellyfish and other sea creatures which can provide potential harm to people entering the water.
One of the few beaches that has the look and feel of old Oahu is Kahana Beach on Oahu's windward coastline. The fact that this beach is located in a section of the island that is normally simply a gateway for island visitors to pass by on their way to visit what are presumably more spectacular attractions is the saving grace of Kahana Beach Park.
Shark's Cove on the North Shore of Oahu is not really a beach, but rather a snorkel and diving spot; and what a snorkel spot it is! This small cove is ringed in rocks and coral providing very little in the way of sand to lay out on, but if you are looking for a great place to snorkel, Shark's Cove is, at many times of the year, an excellent option.
A listing of all Oahu Beaches can be found on these pages. Check for the Oahu Beach that will be perfect for you!
It's a good thing you're going to the beach on Oahu! Not only does Oahu have some of the most beautiful beaches in the state, have some of the best snorkeling to be seen in the state, have some of the best surfing, kayaking and stand-up paddling locations in the state and some of the largest waves for you to watch in the state, but Oahu beaches have more lifeguard locations and more lifeguards all toll than any other island in the State of Hawaii.
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