If you ever go to Hawaii and stay on Oahu, go beyond Waikiki and the hotels.
One of the top highlights for any family is Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve. Every guide book says this – but I will share my personal experience there.
The bay IS as beautiful as that picture. It is an inactive volcanic crater, and is a state park that is preserved very well in part by limiting the number of daily visitors. The nature preserve’s website says it opens at 6AM – Once the parking lot fills up, drivers are turned away. Don’t come after 8:30 AM and expect to get in.
Just look at the crowds at 8:20 AM. Why the line? You need to watch a film about conservation before entering the beach. Since this is a top snorkeling destination, there are instructions about not touching the fish, or walking on the coral. After the film, you walk down a steep hill to the beach. Beautiful view on the way down – you can actually see the coral beds the water is so clear.
Once you hit the sand, you can rent snorkeling gear and get a locker if need be. There is not much shade on this beach, so if possible bring an umbrella.
In addition to getting there EARLY, bring snacks…. there is no food on the bay. There is a snack shack up near the entrance, but you won’t want to hike back up that steep, long hill in the heat, for a mere pineapple slush. The bathrooms are also up the hill. For these two reasons, Hanauma Bay makes for a good half day outing.
The beach itself is feels very safe - The water is calm and clear…
I was impressed with the lifeguard attention on this small quaint bay. Still, don’t get too relaxed – always keep an eye on your kids when they are snorkeling. If you can, practice snorkeling with them in a pool first. It’s a shallow bay – the coral is only about two feet below water level, so you are really close to the fish and large reefs when you snorkel …which can be a little nerve wracking for young kids.
The marine life is great, there are some truly gorgeous fish. But on the day I was there, there were not nearly as many fish as in the film you watch.
The bay is known for the abundant green sea turtles, but my biggest disappointment was not seeing one. I get the sense visibility must vary day to day. Another benefit to getting there early is that you can snorkel before all the sand is kicked up making the water murky.
If you have little ones who aren’t confident swimming with snorkel gear, bring your own kids’ sized mask. And bring your own “noodle” to help them float. You can rent life vests, but my kids found them uncomfortable and cumbersome.
The park is closed on Tuesdays…unless you are President Obama -there are reports he and his family snorkeled here on a Tuesday during his Christmas break.
There is a $7.50 admission fee for adults over 13, and a $1 fee to park. If you are staying at a hotel in Waikiki, and don’t have a car, there is a bus that runs to Hanauma. But, although Hanauma Bay is only 10 miles from Waikiki, it can be an hour or more trip by bus.
This may be one of the prettiest beaches in America. I am so ready for summer. Have you booked your family vacation? http://www1.honolulu.gov/parks/facility/hanaumabay/