Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Beaches: Hanauma Bay Beach Park/Nature Preserve

Hanauma Bay is one of the crown jewels of Hawaii.  Hanauma means "Curved Bay" in Hawaiian and this crescent shaped bay is a popular tourist attraction on O'ahu.  Due to overuse and overfishing, Hanauma Bay was designated as a marine life preserve to maintain the coral reefs and fish that inhabit them.  This is a definite must see for the snorkeling enthusiast or scuba diver.  There are hundreds of fish and the occasional green sea turtle to see when you visit.

Hanauma Bay is located on the southeastern tip of O'ahu past Hawaii Kai and before the Halona Blowhole and Sandy Beach.

The bay was formed when cracks opened on the sea floor and magma reacted violently with the sea water.  The explosions created steam and ash that formed cones.  A section of the crater collapsed and the ocean flooded the crater forming Hanauma Bay.  This provided a natural habitat for coral, reef dwelling fish and other sea life.  

Hanauma Bay is open throughout the week, but closed Tuesday.  Hours vary during the time of year, but it's usually from 6:00 am to 7:00 pm in the summer and 6:00 am to 6:00 pm in the winter.  On rare occasions open the bay for night snorkel/scuba dives.  There is more risk involved, so they don't do it often.

Parking and admission are separate fees: it's $1 for parking and admission is $7.50.  I'd recommend getting there early, the parking lot gets full and you'll be turned away.  

The mandatory orientation is a relatively new thing, to make sure people don't kill the coral, hurt the fish or or harass the turtles.  It's a short 15 minute video that includes a safety briefing, history of Hanauma Bay, and what you can expect to see underwater.  No alcohol is allowed and don't feed the fish.  Viewing of an orientation video is mandatory for first time visitors.  You should sign an attendance sheet so you can skip the video if you return within the year.  

If you have a lot of things, you can catch the Beach Shuttle.  It's only 75 cents down and $1 back up.  You don't need it unless you have a lot of stuff or you're going to scuba dive and need help with all the gear.

In the winter, you might see migrating humpback whales offshore of the bay.  Humpback whales migrate from Alaska to give birth to their calves in the Hawaiian waters.

If you decide not to take the shuttle, the view on the walk down is great.  

There are two showers, bathrooms, and three water fountains down on the beach.  No snackbar down here, it's up by the gift shop.  

There's a snorkels, fins, and mask rental shop past the showers.

Past the Rental Shop is the Information Shack.  The info shack is there if you have any questions on the fish or other sea life in the bay.  

As always, just be aware of the beach conditions before you go in.  Also, if you start walking on the coral reefs, the lifeguards will call you out with bullhorns from the shore.  It happened to two unlucky visitors.

Despite the clouds and rain, it's still a nice day at the beach.  

As you can see, it's low tide and weak currents by the beach.  Time to jump in the water.  Remember, you should go with a buddy.  The best place to see fish are at the edges of the bay.  Just be careful of the rocks and currents.  If you dive in the middle you have to swim further out into the bay since all the other divers scare the fish.  

If you're an avid underwater photographer I'd highly recommend bringing your camera.  If you don't have the waterproof gear, then you can buy a disposable underwater camera in Waikiki or at the local store.  Just remember to bring an extra memory card or film, the fish are fast and you'll have several pictures of tails.  You'll have to be patient and take a lot of pictures.  The picture above was the best of five shots.  

This day the water conditions are not the best for photos.  The sky is overcast, so there's not enough light for a crisp picture.  It also rained and there was a weak current that stirred up the sand, making the pictures cloudy.  Maybe another day, but it was still fun.  Didn't see a green sea turtle on this trip, but you might on your trip.

Also, special thanks to Cliff for contributing a few pictures of Hanauma Bay.

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