As the birthplace of surfing, Hawaii is synonymous with both big-wave action and gentle, rolling breaks. With 1,930km of fringing coral reef in the Hawaiian Islands, diving into the deep blue is clearly another one of the top water-based activities to do in the Aloha State. Plus, as you'll see in our map of Hawaii, there are plenty of great dive sites to choose from no matter which island you visit and locations suited for all diving abilities from beginners to more advanced certification levels.
Shore dives versus boat dives
Shore dives tend to be cheaper and safer as you’ll be diving in shallower waters, making it ideal for less experienced or novice divers. For advanced scuba divers, boat dives offer open-water diving for the opportunity to access deeper and clearer waters and the ability to see a wider variety of marine life from a choice of locations.
How to pick the best dive site
When diving into the deep blue, there’s a few things to look for:
- Visibility – Good visibility of around 12m and above ensures clear and calm conditions for diving and viewing sea life.
- Variety – When diving in a new location, you want to be able to see native marine life you haven’t seen before or select a site to spot a particular creature i.e. manta rays or green sea turtles.
- Accessibility – If you’re wanting to do two 40-minute tank dives, choose a dive store that’s close to the dive site to reduce the amount of travel time.
- Reputable dive operators – Check online reviews for good-quality equipment and experienced dive guides for the best diving experience.
The North Shore of Oahu isn’t just for pro surfers, it’s also a top spot for scuba diving too. It’s best explored in summer minus winter’s famous big-wave swells. The Haleiwa Trench is an easy shore dive with calm conditions and visibility up to 25m. You can spy manta rays, Hawaiian green sea turtles (honu) and seahorses here. Also on the North Shore, Shark’s Cove is one of the world’s top shore-diving locations due to its clear, shallow waters in a rocky bay. It’s part of the protected Pupukea Marine Sanctuary and you’ll get to do swim-throughs among amazing rock formations such as lava tubes, caves, caverns and ledges, and yes, you may see sharks as well as octopi and eels.
For offshore diving, hop on a boat charter off Waikiki or Waianae to deep-dive amid wrecks and sea caves and spot some of the larger marine life such as eagle rays and sharks. Haunama Bay Marine Sanctuary on Oahu’s southeast is another top snorkelling and shore diving location. Here you can spot the state fish of Hawaii – humuhumunukunukuapuaa aka reef or rectangular triggerfish – finning around.
Hawaii (‘Big Island’)
As the ‘biggest’ island in the chain, Hawaii has plenty of coastline to explore. On the Kona Coast, Kealakekua Bay and Honaunau Bay are two of the top diving sites. Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park has free entry and the Marine Life Conservation District is ideal for swimming amid coral and schools of tropical fish and spotting spinner dolphins. Honauau Bay is a deep-water bay with ocean entry via Paea, a smooth two-step lava rock. Here you’ll find plenty of tropical fish amid coral and even Hawaiian green sea turtles. Kona dive sites range in accessibility from beginners to advanced divers with visibility up to 40m.
Head to the north and south shores of Kauai for the island’s prime shore diving and boat diving locations. In summer, Tunnels Reef and Cannons on the north shore offer calm conditions with visibility up to 20m. For more experienced divers, Kauai’s south shore is the spot for boat dives to Sheraton Caverns and Brennecke’s Drop-off – a massive lava shelf with brightly coloured coral, crustaceans and nudibranchs, while advanced scuba divers won’t want to miss seeing monk seals and dolphins at Niihau.
Molokini Crater, just 4km off the southwest shore of Maui, is a tiny crescent-shaped island and sunken volcano crater surrounded by reef that offers a technicolour underwater world of coral gardens and more than 250 species of tropical fish. This pristine reserve is also a Marine Life Conservation District and Bird Sanctuary and just a short boat ride from the shore. Early morning is the best time to go diving here as it’s also a popular destination for tours. Off Maui’s western shore, divers can dive Honolua Bay, Olowalu and Five Caves sites.
Lanai has six well-known dive sites that are all boat dives. Head to the southern coast of Lanai to check out the lava caverns of Lanai Cathedral, off Hulopoe Bay, which is also a popular snorkelling site. The First Cathedral consists of a huge two-storey underwater lava tube with a hole at the top that creates rays of light – giving it a stained-glass effect, hence the name. Don’t miss the turtles, reef sharks, lobsters and local angelfish and other tropical fish that congregate here.
The south shore of Molokai is home to Hawaii’s longest continuous barrier reef at 45km long. The underwater gardens are home to green sea turtles, spotted eagle rays and a variety of tropical fish. Mokuhooniki Rock on the east shore is another advanced boat dive spot with marine life not seen anywhere else, such as whale sharks and hammerhead sharks.
Map: Flight Centre
All images: Getty Images