WELCOME TO PARADISE
If you love scuba diving, chances are Hawaii is on your radar; that is, assuming you haven’t been already. Thousands of species of fish and coral to discover, miles of reefs, crystal clear waters and lava caves.
Not to mention that the waters around the Hawaiian Islands are known for sharks, dolphins, and oceanic manta rays; major perks for scuba enthusiasts who love the big stuff. Without a doubt, Hawaii is a top scuba diving destination.
But, we are also aware that sometimes planning the PERFECT dive holiday to Hawaii can be somewhat stressful, especially with the lack of useful information online.
But it doesn’t have to be.
In this guide, it is my goal to show you all of the best dive locations in the country, how to get there, what to expect, who to dive with, when to go, and more.
There are a ton of options when it comes to diving in Hawaii, so I will tell you what makes each area unique and special. Once you decide where you want to go, I’ll give you all the information you’ll need to make it happen.
No more stress about not knowing what to expect, our scuba guides will provide you with the information you need to plan every detail.
Where should you dive in Hawaii?
Molokai offers stunning reefs to explore. On the south shore of the islands is the longest fringing reef in the state of Hawaii. It’s a natural sanctuary for an abundance of marine life.
Yet, as stunning as it is, few divers actually visit. Making it even more attractive for those looking for somewhere quieter and less crowded.
Oahu is best known for its wreck diving. The remains of both ships and planes lie submerged off the coastline, creating interesting dive sites for wreck enthusiasts.
Oahu also has sloping reefs and lava tube caves that are accessible to every diver.
3. Kona (The Big Island)
Kona is probably one of the most popular dive areas in the Hawaiian Islands. Its relatively easily accessible, has great reefs, and is home to plenty of marine life.
Kona is also home to two world-renowned night dives: the manta night dive and the black water dive experience.
4. Hilo (The Big Island)
The east side of the Hawaii’s Big Island isn’t as popular as Kona on the west, but it still has some great dive sites.
Kilauea, the world’s most active volcano, is on this part of the islands which means some unique underwater terrains including hot spots and caves. It’s also a good spot to dive with spinner dolphins.
Maui has a little bit of everything for scuba divers. Colourful reefs, a few wrecks, and underwater caves offer a great variety.
The two best diving areas on the island are Molokini (the crator) and Lanai.
The waters surrounding Kauai offer a very scenic diving experience with about 30% of the marine life here actually being native to the Hawaiian Islands.
One of the best perks about diving in Kauai is that is also allows easy access to Niihau dive sites.
Like Kauai, Niihau has plenty of marine life. You can also expect large underwater caverns and impressive vertical walls. As mentioned above, diving Niihau can easily be combined with diving Kauai.
Lanai has some of the most dramatic scuba diving sites in the Hawaiian Islands. Massive pinnacles, towering arches, and bright lava-tube caverns make Lanai’s dive spots a favorite.
Also, since the island is not very developed with only a small population, the reefs here are strong, healthy, and overflowing with colorful marine life.
The Best Spots in Hawaii for Shark Diving
Hawaii has 41 species of sharks swimming in its waters which is part of why it’s such an amazing dive destination. It’s important to note that sharks can be found in the waters along all the islands, and are regularly seen at many dive sites.
However, there are some areas that are known to be shark hot-spots. Here is a roundup of those areas:
Haleiwa is a popular shark spotting site. About three miles off the shoreline is a popular spot to see sandbar sharks and Galapagos sharks. If you are really lucky, you may see a tiger shark (though this usually happens only a couple of times each year).
Cage diving and snorkel tours are the best ways to see sharks at this site, though they often come closer to shore so scuba divers should keep an eye out when diving around this side of Oahu.
Molokini Wall, about a 40-minute boat ride from Maui, is not only an amazing vertical wall but a great place to see reef sharks. Also in Molokini is a lesser known dive site called Fish Rain.
It’s a tricky site to access and recommended only for experienced divers who are ok in rough waters, but it is one of the best known spots to see hammerhead sharks.
Kaneohoe Bay, Oahu
Kaneohoe Bay is a nursery for baby hammerhead sharks. The young ones stay shallow, and are frequently seen by the snorkelers in the area.
The adult hammerheads are more active at night, but can be seen swimming together at the bottom of the bay during the day.
Crescent Beach, Kona
Just outside of Honokahau Harbour, crescent beach may be one of your best chances at spotting the elusive tiger shark. Tiger sharks like this area because the fisherman dump leftover chum in the area before heading back to the harbor.
It’s free food for the sharks which entices them to keep an eye on the area.
If you think Hawaii from above looks beautiful, just wait until you see what lies beneath the waves.
Thousands of different underwater creatures call the waters surrounding Hawaii home, including at least twenty different reef species that can only be found in this area.
Here are a few favorites to look out for:
Rays: Hawaii has three types of rays: manta rays (both reef and giant), spotted eagle rays, and stingrays.
Dolphins: Dolphins are pretty synonymous with Hawaii and chances are you will see at least a few spinner dolphins as you head out on your dive boats.
Green Sea Turtles: Another popular animal closely associated with Hawaii, green sea turtles can be commonly found munching on seagrass around all of the islands.
Sharks: A definite highlight for divers in Hawaii is the abundance of sharks. There are 41 distinct species of shark living in the waters surrounding the Hawaiian Islands. These include tiger sharks, hammerhead sharks, great white sharks, bull sharks, and reef sharks.
Octopus: There are several varieties of octopus found in Hawaii, though the most commonly seen one is the Hawaiian day octopus.
Humuhumunukunukuapua’a: A species of triggerfish known as the state fish of Hawaii.
Common questions about Hawaii
Can you dive Hawaii’s smaller, lesser known islands?
Some of them yes, but you will need to charter a private boat for your diving (this is also true for diving Kahoolawe). You can also do a Hawaiian liveaboard to get to some of the more remote dive sites.
That being said, unless you have dived the main areas and islands indicated above, there’s really no immediate need. The shores off the main islands offer stunning diving.
Is it dangerous to dive with sharks in Hawaii?
Diving with the sharks of Hawaii is no different than diving with sharks elsewhere around the world. In fact, Hawaiians say it’s safer to be underwater diving with them then paddling on the surface like a turtle (their favourite meal).
As long as you aren’t provoking them or spear fishing (which can attract them and trigger violence) you should be just fine.
What is the manta ray night dive?
Hawaii has a famous manta ray night dive where snorkelers and divers alike can enter the water with flashlights that will attract plankton and therefore manta rays.
It’s a must-see feeding frenzy that is known to be one of the best night dives in the world. There are two main dive sites where this takes place, “Manta Heaven” and “Manta Village”, both of which are near Kona.
What is a ‘blackwater dive’?
Like the manta ray night dive, the blackwater dives take place in Kona. The site is about 3 miles offshore and divers will tether themselves to a rope over 4000 feet of water in the pitch black of night.
This is when all the bioluminescent creatures come out; creatures that you have probably never seen and will likely not see again. It’s a definite must for divers in Hawaii.
Hawaii travel information
Hawaii is part of the United States of America but it’s located in the South Pacific. It’s made of eight main islands: Niihau, Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe, and the Big Island, with 143 islands total in the Hawaiian island chain.
Hawaii is known around the world to be a popular vacation destination, especially for adventure travellers, honeymooners, and of course scuba divers.
While Hawaii may be a popular travel destination, it’s not all crowded by tourists. Certain areas are known for their resorts and sandy beaches (especially Oahu and Maui), but there is a lot to be discovered for those looking to get off the beaten path.
How to get to Hawaii
There’s no overland travel to the Hawaiian Islands as they are surrounded by water so it’s either arrival by a flight or by a cruise.
As indicated above, there are eight main islands in Hawaii and, as you can expect, several airports to choose from.
The main International airports are: Honolulu International Airport (Oahu), Hilo International Airport (Hawaii Island), Kahului Airport (Maui), Kona International Airport (Hawaii Island), and Lihue Airport (Kauai).
travelers from North America, especially if they are coming from the west coast, can easily find direct flights to one of these major airports.
For travelers trying to save money on travel costs, your best bet is to shop around for fares to see where you can get the best deal, then book domestic flights to your preferred dive destinations.
Best time to visit Hawaii
Hawaii sees warm sunny weather year round, but when it comes to scuba diving you want to pay attention to the rains and the swells of the ocean.
May through September is ideal; the water is warm, it’s not too rainy, and the waves are smaller. It’s also sunnier meaning more light allowing divers to see the colorful world below the waves.
Surf swells and rain are at their worst during the winter months, that being said it is still possible to dive the Hawaiian Islands year round. If you are looking to escape the crowds; May, September, and October are your best bets.
Where to stay
As a popular travel destination, not just for divers, Hawaii has no shortage of accommodation options. From hostels to five star resorts, there are choices for all types of travel. As a top dive destination, there is also no shortage of dive resorts and operators across the islands.
For each individual location you can click the guides above for information on where to stay at each specific place, but if you need to find a hotel in a location not listed above, CLICK HERE.
More Hawaii travel and scuba resources
More coming soon! Want to write for us? Hit us up at Justin@artofscubadiving.com