Hanauma Bay is one of Oahu's
most popular snorkeling sites.
On my first vacation to Hawaii, my top priority was to glide amid
the menagerie of marine marvels at Hanauma Bay. After moving to the
Islands, however, several decades had passed since I explored
Oahu’s legendary snorkeling site. Big mistake.
On a recent mini-vacation that found me playing tourist in
Waikiki, I decided it was high time to revisit this aquatic
treasure chest. I contacted Sand and Sea Tours, a well-established
operator recently purchased by a dynamic duo sharing a gift of gab
and an addiction to ocean action.
What initially sold me on Sand and Sea was its ease. Ideal for
Waikiki visitors without wheels or those wanting to avoid the bay’s
often overextended parking situation, Sand and Sea took total
control. Aside from its extremely flexible schedule and convenient
transfers throughout Waikiki, the company’s Hanauma treks include
an ocean coastline tour that’s informative and fun.
I requested an 8 a.m. pick-up from my hotel, fully appreciating
that all my transportation and gear would be provided. Our
distinctive 14-passenger silver van (most are white) stopped at
several Waikiki hotels, collecting a dozen passengers along the
way. Then we were off for a scenic coastal drive to the famed fish
sanctuary, entertained all the while with the remarks and
observations of our driver, Dana Shaffer, one of Sand and Sea’s
Hawaii's oceans are full of fish to spot
while snorkeling, a popular visitor activity.
During the drive, Shaffer shared a little “Bay 101.” She explained
that before 1990, some 10,000 daily visitors were taking a toll on
Hanauma’s fragile reef ecosystem. In 1990, the City and County of
Honolulu and grassroots Friends of Hanauma Bay organization joined
forces to reduce the number of visitors, establish an education
program and institute supportive restrictions.
“The visitor count dropped down between 3,000 and 3,500 visitors
daily,” Shaffer said. “So it became easier to conserve and
replenish Hanauma’s resources.”
Today, the spectacular preserve reaps the benefits of these
sanctions to reestablish its pristine marine ecosystem.
Once we arrived, Shaffer scheduled our returns, then geared us
up with upgraded purge value snorkels, silicon uni-lens masks and
sure-fit fins. Most of us had snorkeled before, so the basic
instruction was brief. I proceeded to Hanauma’s Marine Education
Center for a short video focusing on how to respect the bay’s
thriving environment. The adjacent gift shop sold Hanauma Bay
souvenirs and reef fish charts so snorkelers know what they’re
seeing. However, a kiosk on the bay also provided the same type of
educational information, as did my well-informed driver. Guests
also find showers, restrooms and rental lockers at the bottom of
the hill, but no food concession. A snack kiosk is at the top near
the Marine Education Center.
I opted to hoof it downhill to the beach, although a trolley
transported those preferring an easier option. Smart thinking by
the bay the trip down is 50 cents, while the uphill return is
double the fare.
It was a pristine day for viewing. Since it was low tide, we
witnessed ample fish and reefs close to shore. It was as clear as
the bay’s waters why this “wow” experience lures fans. In a flurry
of color, I found myself surrounded by ornate butterfly fish,
moorish idols, saddle wrasse, achilles tang, red parrotfish and
trumpet fish. The colors were vibrant, the viewing conditions were
ideal and the water was invigorating. The shore was equally
appealing, allowing beach-bound spectators to savor the sun while
others explored. As instructed, I looked for the silver Sand and
Sea van at my scheduled time. Lisa Marshall, Sand and Sea’s other
owner/operator, was behind the wheel.
“This is the only thing we do,” remarked Marshall. “There are
quite a few competitors, but many are into numerous activities. We
focus on snorkeling only, providing a great way for Waikiki
visitors to enjoy one of the island’s most popular activities. And
we try to make it fun.”
From my experience, I’d say Sand and Sea succeeded on all
Sand and Sea Tours
and Sea Tours
Cost: From $18 for snorkelers and from $15.50
for riders. A $5 park entry fee is additional. Children 12 and
under free. For Purchase: Underwater cameras, bottled water, suntan
lotion, corrective lenses, dry snorkel and beach mat.
Inclusions: Roundtrip transportation from
Waikiki hotels, ocean coastline tour, sanitized snorkel equipment
and reef fish chart. Six Waikiki pick-ups from 6:30 a.m.-1 p.m.
daily, except Tuesday (park is closed). Five returns from 11