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Hanauma Bay – Oahu Island, Hawaii

Hanauma Bay, Oahu Island, Honolulu, Hawaii - Ideal for snorkeling and swimming with the fish and other sealife.

Hanauma Bay Beach Park

7455 Kalaniana’ole Highway (route 72), Southeast O’ahu
808-396-4229 – recorded information

Hanauma Bay (pronounced “ha-nowmah”, in Hawaiian) was once a spot reserved for Hawaiian royalty and favored for its great fishing. Hana in Hawaiian is “bay” and uma is “shelter”. The bay is both a nature preserve and Marine Life Conservation District (Hawaii’s first). Since 1967 Hanauma Bay has been one of the most often visited tourist attractions not just on the lovely Hawaiian Island of Oahu, but in the entire state of Hawaii. During some years the bay has welcomed over 3 million visitors from all parts of the earth to this scenic playground for children and adults alike.

Where is the best snorkeling in Hawaii? (click)

Hanauma Bay Beginnings

The City and County of Honolulu bought the land containing and surrounding Hanauma Bay from the estate of Bernice Pauahi Bishop for the incredibly measly sum of $1. The area was opened to the public shortly after. Hanauma Bay began as a lovely fishing and picnic spot for Oahu residents willing to travel the dirt (lava) road to reach it. Later, in the 1930′s the road was paved and parking cleared.

During WWII Hanauma Bay was closed, afterward re-opening and in 1967 the bay was dedicated as a Protected Marine Area, by the Hawaii State division of Fish and Game. This had the effect of protecting everything in Hanauma Bay, from fish and sea life to the reef and, sand, and every living thing. White sand from Oahu’s north shore was shipped in to make it more suited for those that just wanted to enjoy the sunshine.

What is Hanauma Bay Today?

Visitors at rim of Hanauma Bay Park, Oahu Island, Honolulu, HawaiiHanauma is a large, incomplete circular bay which is a protected marine life conservation area protected by the state of Hawaii. The bay is shallow enough for tourists to enjoy wading, snorkeling and diving. The bay was created as the outside wall of a volcanic cone caved in, allowing the Pacific ocean to rush in. The sea floor is a mix of sand and numerous types of coral. It is possible to see over 450 types of fish here including the state fish – humuhumunukukuulualua, a reef triggerfish. The beach has sand and grass and is about a half mile long.

The mouth of the bay which is open to the Pacific ocean is small. This, and the large coral reef provide ample protection against large waves and large sea-animals like sharks. You won’t see sharks or dolphins in Hanauma Bay.

Geological History

Hanauma Bay crater was created by a violent volcanic eruption on Oahu tens of thousands of years ago. On the sea floor volcanic vents were created. These vents channeled liquid rock, magma, to the surface which reacted with the ocean water to form fine ash. Repeated explosions of magma formed volcanic cones of ash, which over time formed solid firma. Through the millenia the erosion produced by constant wave activity wore through the southeast wall of the Hanauma crater and allowing sea water to rush in. This formed the amazing “Hanauma Bay” we’re familiar with today.

Where is Hanauma Bay?

The bay is located on the southeast side of the Hawaiian island, Oahu. It is a relatively short drive by bus. Take the #22 bus from Waikiki on Kuhio Ave. For TheBUS schedule call 808-848-5555.

The GPS coordinates for all you geo location cachers are:
21°16’12?N 157°41’46?W / 21.270°N 157.696°W

Interactive map of the bay is below – scroll down.

Why Visit Hanauma Bay?

The view as you walk from the parking lot, or bus to the rim of this defunct volcano cone is just stunning. Nowhere on earth is there a more beautiful bay that is so inviting. The view from the top rim is especially stunning and you’ll want to have many photos. Start snapping photos from the moment you depart the bus or you may forget – lost in the beauty of the place. Sunbathing, snorkeling, scuba diving, and hiking are some of the reasons visitors and residents enjoy Hanauma Bay.

Haunama Bay Sea Life You May See

Hawaii's State Fish: Humuhumunukunuku at Hanauma Bay, Oahu, HawaiiParrotfish, spotted eagle rays, milletseed butterfly fish, yellow tang, trumpet fish, angel fish, green sea turtles, Chelonia mydas, in Hawaiian language turtle is, “honu”. Any of 450 tropical fish species including Hawaii’s most famous – the Hawaiian state fish – Humuhumunukunukuapua’a. Say that 5 times fast!

Features of Hanauma Bay?

  • Picnic facilities with tables, grassy areas and shade located near the parking lot
  • Concession stand located near the entrance
  • Restrooms located at the top and bottom area
  • Freshwater showers
  • Pay phones
  • Snorkel, mask and fin rental available on the beach
  • Locker rental available on the beach – recommend you bring a waterproof bag for your valuables and always have them with you.
  • Educational information center and theater located near the entrance
  • Gift shop for souvenirs
  • Wheelchair Accessible via shuttle bus or trolley

Snorkeling

The major reason people visit Hanauma Bay is the world-class snorkeling. It’s a once in a lifetime experience, the bay has a vast amount of open water you can explore – and both expert and novice snorkelers will find something to make the trip well worth it.

Picnics

Grass Picnic Area at Hanauma Bay Park, Oahu Island, Honolulu, HawaiiThere is a large beach surrounding the bay and there is enough room for everyone, considering most will be splashing about in the ocean.

Hiking the Rim of Hanauma Bay

Most people never venture beyond the cool waters of the bay, but if you dared you would find a couple of hiking trails around the Hanauma Bay rim leading all the way to rocky lookouts overlooking the deeper Pacific ocean. It is well worth the time to explore these trails! You might even see a jeep or truck that has slid down the mountain and wedged itself into a gulley where it will no doubt rust away pound by pound. Give yourself an hour to explore the area on the trails on the right side of the top of the crater.

Toilet Bowl

Though it doesn’t sound very attractive, for years this was a major Oahu attraction before the state declared it too dangerous and had to close it off from the public. The toilet bowl is a hole in the lava that leads from the rocky cliff all the way to the ocean. When a wave rolls in it feeds the water up through the chute and fills this crevice

Cautions

  • Arriving Late – if you arrive late you may not get a parking space at all. There is additional parking at the bottom of the hill you climb to reach Hanuama Bay, but it might be a hot climb. Arrive early!
  • Illegal Hanauma Bay Tours – Hawaii state has been cracking down on illegal tours bringing tourists to the bay. If you’re considering booking a tour of Hanauma call this Dept. of Parks & Recreation phone number for a list of companies approved to do tours 808-523-4525.
  • Lifeguard Flags – Lifeguards have flags and boards telling about up-to-the-minute cautions like jellyfish to be aware of. Check the lifeguard area first before you hit the water.
  • Theft – A fact of life in Hawaii is that theft is a problem at all Hawaii beaches and tourist attractions. Someone should (must) remain with valuables and take turns having fun in the water. If you’re coming to the bay alone you’ll want to have a waterproof sealable bag like they sell at dive shops – to protect your wallet, camera and things. You can then tow them around with you as you snorkel.
  • Feeding Fish – A friend of mine years ago held one pea in his hand and let the big reef fish eat it out of his fingers. That worked about twice. The third time the fish nipped his finger and he bled quite a bit! They have teeth similar to a parrot’s beak, but stronger and very sharp. Don’t hand feed the fish.
  • Touching Sea Creatures – Jellyfish, Portuguese Man-O-War, and sea anemones are dangerous creatures you may find as you snorkel Hanauma Bay. The lifeguards monitor the jellyfish and man-o-war closely, so you won’t be on your own there. A good rule of thumb is to avoid touching anything under the water, observe and take many pictures but refrain from touching.
  • Coral is Sharp – Be careful about stepping on coral, either with or without snorkeling fins because it is very rough and sharp at the same time – and can cut you easily. Be sure to warn your keiki (children).
  • Sea Conditions – The bay is secluded and naturally protected against most big waves. Pay attention to lifeguard signs.

Lifeguard Warnings

Pay attention when you go to the beach, to the lifeguard stands because they post important information about the place where you’ll be swimming or surfing. At Hanauma Bay they have these specific warning signs:

  • WARNING – SLIPPERY ROCKS – You could fall and be seriously injured. IF IN DOUBT, KEEP OFF.
  • WARNING – STRONG CURRENT – You could be swept away from shore, and could drown. IF IN DOUBT, DON’T GO OUT
  • WARNING – WAVES BREAK ON LEDGE – You could be swept off, injured, or drowned. IF IN DOUBT, KEEP OFF
  • WARNING – SHARP CORAL – May cause serious injury, avoid contact.

Reviews and Accolades

“As a resident of Oahu for thirteen years I have visited Hanauma Bay probably fifty times. My family enjoys it immensely every time we go!” Sarah K., Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii

National Geographic magazine and “Good Morning America” have named snorkeling at Hanauma bay the 2nd best activity in the water across the nation in their “Top 10 Trips with a Splash” contest.

Hanauma Bay named “Best Beach in USA” in 2004 during the fourteenth annual rankings of American beaches from “Dr. Beach”, Stephen Leatherman, a Florida environmental scientist. Hanauma beat out 650 other USA beaches and shores. Beaches are rated on 50 criteria including: comfortable water temperature, water and sand quality, quality of beach management, litter control, and available beach facilities. Leatherman said of the Hawaii Bay, “It’s a perfect little jewel.”

Park Entrance Cost?

About $20 for a bus ride from Waikiki and another $15 to rent snorkeling equipment including mask, snorkel and fins. admission is $7.50 each (13 years or older). Children under 13 free. Hawaii residents and military stationed in Hawaii – free (with ID). Parking is $1 per car.

What to Bring?

Sunscreen, waterproof floating dive bag to protect your valuables, your own snorkeling equipment if you have it, a hat, athletic sneakers to explore the trail above the bay, your own water, a camera with video recording capability, a large memory stick!

Directions:

Starting from Waikiki you can travel Kalaniana’ole Highway East for 10 miles. As you climb a hill you’ll notice the entrance come up fast on the right. If it’s after 8 am you’ll notice a line leading into Hanauma Bay’s parking area.

Helpful Tips:

  • No Alcohol, no pets, no fishing, no fish feeding. No taking of, harming, or harassment of any living creature.
  • Open/Closed times change. Call the info line to get updated news. Today the bay is open 6 am – 6 pm from October through March and 6 am – 7 pm from April through September.
  • Open Saturdays – 6 am to 10 pm, all year.
  • Tours – no tours allowed on weekends, so if booking a tour – do so during the week.
  • Tours – no tours allowed on state holidays.
  • Hawaii Residents – to help residents get into the bay easily the “Friends of Hanauma Bay” group and the city plan to open a cashier window for expediting residents visits.
    Information: 396-4229
  • Closed Tuesdays for environmental conservation
  • Smoking is banned
  • Parking Fees – $1 per car
  • Mandatory 9-minute educational film shown as you exit bus by the Hanauma Bay Marine Education Center.
  • Paved walkway from entrance down to beach – works for wheelchairs, but, it is very steep. You will want to take the shuttle instead.
  • Optional shuttle bus available to bring visitors up and down the hill to the beach. – currently fee is $1 per person each way. Handicap accessible.
  • No standing on the coral reef. Don’t get close to the ocean while hiking on the rim around the bay. Caution must be taken during seasonal high surf.

Statistics & Interesting Facts

  • Over 450 species of fish inhabit Hanauma Bay.
  • You might see mongooses at the bay, they were brought in to control the rats years ago
  • President Barack Obama recently had the entire Hanauma Bay to themselves during a recent vacation back to Hawaii!
  • Hanauma is a protected nursery area for immature green sea turtles, which have their nesting grounds at French Frigate Shoals.
  • Honolulu county spent $16 million for the new Hanauma Bay Marine Education Center designed to educate visitors about the facts and importance of Hanauma Bay.
  • Few local residents of Hawaii visit Hanauma Bay because the number of tourists is high – at about 1.2 million visitors per year. That’s 100,000 per month. That’s 3,300 per day on average. 2000-01 11.47%, 2001-02 12.92%, 2002-03 13.36%, 2003-04 12.67%,
    Source: Hanauma Bay. The good news? This is down from the peak of Hanauma Bay’s visitor numbers at 3 million tourists coming per year!
  • Hawaii state approved using dynamite in the 1950′s to remove (destroy) part of the reef to make way for the first ever for a transoceanic communication cable (telephone cable) between Hawaii and California. This also provided more reefless swimming area and spurred the growth of Hanauma Bay as an ideal Hawaii tourist attraction.
  • In 1967 The City of Honolulu turned the bay into a Marine Life Conservation District (Hawaii’s first).
  • The Toilet Bowl attraction on the left side of Hanauma Bay has been closed since the mid 1990′s after too many accidents, and even deaths were recorded.

Bottom Line
You literally cannot miss going to this Hawaii attraction. Hanauma Bay is, in our opinion, the number one attraction to see in Hawaii. Schedule time during your vacation to see it. Yes, it’s touristy – but there’s a reason for that! Arrive early, about 6am, to enjoy the small crowd and be among the first to peek at the sea-life.

Haunama Bay Map

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Photo credits, all from Flickr.com – 1- mhalon; 2 – chdwckvnstrsslhm; 3 – Bierman; 4 – love jeannine.

Copyright 2007-2013 Vern Lovic. All rights reserved. If you would like to display this article on your website, write for permission: HawaiiPulse@gmail.com. Printing not allowed. Plagiarism tracked and plagiarizers prosecuted.

About the author: Aloha! I’m “Vern”. I created this site to focus on Hawaii – all the islands – Oahu, Maui, Kauai, Big Island and even Molokai and Lanai and Kahoolawe when I can find information on them. I love living in Hawaii, and I think you would too. I hope you come away with something positive as a result of visiting Aim for Awesome. Feel free to add comments or contact me through email. All written content on this site by Vern Lovic. Contact me at Google+. Best of Life to You in 2013 – Aloha!

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