By Sand and Sea

A tour operator takes clients below Waikiki’s waves

By: Dawna L. Robertson

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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 owner/operators

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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 levels.


Sand and Sea Tours
Email Sand 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 a.m.-4:30 p.m.