Not into the crowds and admission prices of Hanauma Bay? Is Hawaiian Electric Beach on the west side of the island too far for comfort? Then snorkeling on the North Shore of Oahu is for you. There are famous coves that you may already know, and less familiar spots to explore without bumping elbows. Here are the top five.
Disclaimer: During winter season swell, swimming and snorkeling can be dangerous and may not be permitted on the North Shore. Please heed signage and verbal warnings from lifeguards. If in doubt, don’t go out.
Top 5 Places to Snorkel on the North Shore Oahu and What Else You Need to Know
Crowd Level: High
A rare moment of solace for a kīkākapu in Shark’s Cove
Shark’s Cove in Pupukea is the second most famous snorkeling destination on Oahu. There will be crowds, but this can be comforting for the inexperienced. In fact, when water levels are low you don’t even need to swim. It is not uncommon to see goggled visitors float facedown with lifejackets on. That said, there is a deep water snorkel spot on the northeastern edge of the cove where there are also underwater caverns for adventurous souls to explore. There is a diverse array of tropical fish along with sea turtles, but the reef is a bit beat up from all of the foot and flipper traffic. If you want to see healthier and more colorful coral heads just walk over to Pupukea Beach Park west of the basketball courts.
Shark’s Cove is convenient in being appropriate for all skills levels, but also for parking access and nearby amenities. North Shore Surf Shop across the road rents snorkeling gear and reef shoes so you don’t need to bring a thing beyond your credit card. And when done, hit the food truck collective to refuel after a day of fun under the sea. View more on Shark’s Cove.
Crowd Level: Medium
Ha’uku’uku’ula’ula clinging to the reef
Laniakea is better known as Turtle Beach, as it is a popular place for green sea turtles to shuffle ashore and bask in the sun. For this reason the beach is jam packed with tourists, all vying to sneak a peek and snap photos of sunbathing sea life. However, very few venture in to snorkel the small cove, which leaves you with plenty of room to study the vibrant reef. Sea turtles are a guarantee, but you’ll also spy Humuhumunukunukuapua’a, Saddle Wrasse, Butterfly Fish, and even a few small puffers for your pleasure. The reef is also home to the Ha’uku’uku’ula’ula, which is the Hawaiian name for the red pencil urchin. And don’t worry if you notice a few inverted fins while you’re under the water. Those will be from the bottom of surfboards as surfers paddle overhead to one of the more popular breaks on the North Shore. Bring your own snorkeling gear as there are no amenities at Laniakea.
Crowd Level: None
We were reticent to give up the goods on Kaunala Gulch, but the cover on this treasure trove was already blown when we released an article on how to spend a day on the North Shore. Thankfully the web traffic for the feature has not translated to foot, leaving Kaunala equally uncrowded on the sand and in the water. Tropical fish sighting is a little more sparse, so you’ll have to cover more area, but with a little patience you’ll enjoy quite the show. From time to time, hihimanu (spotted eagle rays) pass along the shoreline, creating quite the spectacle for lucky snorkelers. Pack your own gear as there are no amenities at this secluded beach. View more on Kaunala Gulch.
Kukaimanini Island at Waiale’e Beach Park
Crowd Level: None
Kaukaimanani island is a popular sightseeing subject that is predominantly enjoyed from the rugged parking lot off of Kamehameha Highway. What onlookers don’t realize, is that the reef that runs between the islet and the sands of Waiale’e Beach Park teems with sea life. The closer you get to Kukaimanini, the more you’ll see. However, only venture over to the small island if the water is calm as when choppy you’ll get knocked around between large masses of reef and rocks. This is one of the more adventurous places to snorkel on this list, and most certainly the least crowded. Once again, you’ll need to bring your own snorkeling gear as there are no amenities at Waiale’e Beach Park.
Kuilima Cove at Turtle Bay
Crowd Level: High
Turtle Bay Resort’s snorkeling beach is about as uncharted as a TGI Friday’s, but its protected reef offers safety and assurance for snorkelers in search of a sure thing. Through the lens of your goggles you’ll eye butterflyfish, parrotfish, fantail filefish, sea turtles, and more. The flurry of resort guests in the water kicking up sand makes the water a bit cloudy, but if you swim to the outer edge of the lagoon it clears up for better viewing. You can rent snorkeling gear from one of the activities booths at Turtle Bay, or you can purchase what you need from the shops in the resort. View more on Turtle Bay.
Do you have any questions about snorkeling on the North Shore of Oahu? Feel free to message us on Facebook to chat!