The Ultimate Guide to Scuba Diving Hawaii
Find stunning seascapes, big animals, endless endemics, verdant volcanoes and the Aloha State’s best places to submerge.
Don’t worry—you don’t have to cross an entire ocean to experience the thrills, curiosities and color that Pacific diving is known for. Cue Hawaii. The flight is just six hours from LA, as opposed to the 22 or more necessary to reach other Pacific locales.
Hawaii Island dives are known for abundance, from schools of exotics to endemic reef fish, plus weird wonders including frogfish, eels and the leaf scorpionfish, a critter not found in the Caribbean or closer to home for most American divers. These islands also pack daily big-animal encounters. The most common sightings include spinner dolphins, whitetip reef sharks, and of course, giant manta rays, found reliably off the Big Island.
There is no best Hawaiian island for scuba diving — every island packs its own flavor. The Big Island offers the greatest number of dive sites, as well as sweeping biodiversity on reef dives, from manta rays to nudibranchs. The island of Kauai delivers the biggest numbers of green sea turtles. Wreck divers will appreciate the options Oahu offers. For those on a budget or simply seeking additional adventure, Maui is a good pick for shore diving and unique day trips.
As for the landscape, much of the underwater terrain is cooled lava. Former flows are responsible for creating labyrinths of tunnels, arches and craters. Plus, the stuff is nutrient-rich, with hard and soft corals that support thriving communities.
Best Dive Spots in Hawaii
Whether you are looking to go reef diving in Hawaii, to explore shipwrecks on Oahu and Maui or take in the sights on the famous manta night dive or pelagic magic dive in Kona, it is always diving season in Hawaii.
- Crescent Beach
- Manta night diving
- Blackwater diving
- Vertical Awareness, Niihau
- Sheraton Caverns, Kauai
- Turtle Bluffs/Fish Bowl/General Store
- Koloa Landing
- Five Caves at Makena Landing
- Molokai — Hammerheads
- Molokai — Black Wall
- Lanai Cathedrals
Planning Your Hawaii Dive Vacation
We’ve broken down the best diving in Hawaii island-by-island to make planning your trip an ocean breeze. Each Hawaiian Island has something unique to offer for scuba diving and topside excursions. If you are looking for a laid-back vibe, then a Hawaii dive vacation on Kauai or the Big Island might be your preference. But if it’s limitless diving and nightlife you are after, consider Oahu or Maui when planning your scuba diving trip to Hawaii.
The Ultimate Guide to Scuba Diving Maui
The Ultimate Guide to Scuba Diving Oahu
The Ultimate Guide to Scuba Diving Hawaii’s Big Island
The Ultimate Guide to Scuba Diving Kauai
When to Go
Hawaii is a year-round destination, with the presence of whales offering the biggest difference between winter and summer months. November through May, humpbacks return to the islands to mate and calve; peak viewing is January to March. Divers won’t likely see whales underwater, but they do hear them; booking a whale-watching trip is not to be missed. Value seekers note that September through November offers the biggest discounts, although this is the tail of hurricane season.
Year-round conditions remain consistently favorable. Expect summer water temps to be around 83 degrees, with winter averages slightly chillier at 76. “What to wear depends on what you’re used to,” says Laurel Steenhuis of Kona Honu Divers. “We all wear 5 mm fullsuits, but cold-water divers will be comfortable in a 3 mm.”
Visibility averages 60 to 100 feet. The west coast of the Big Island isn’t known for storms, but the island is subject to occasional afternoon showers in the summer.
Hawaii Travel Tips
Local operators hold themselves to a high standard; one way this plays out is rental gear. To stay competitive, operators trade out their gear frequently, so expect new, top-rate equipment. If you want to skip bringing your own gear and travel with just carry-on, you’re covered. Keep in mind that all of Hawaii has banned sunscreens that harm the reefs—most notably, formulas with oxybenzone or octinoxate. You can buy reef-safe sunscreens on island.
Hawaii Insider Travel Tips
- Bring your camera to Kauai’s Waimea Canyon— the Grand Canyon of the Pacific—where breathtaking vistas line the long valley.
- Head to Kauai’s Puka Dogs in the Poipu Shopping Village for true Hawaiian-style hot dogs, complete with secret sauce, one of six original tropical relishes and a tasty passion fruit mustard.
- Three miles outside of Oahu’s Haleiwa are a series of buoys where operators take guests to swim with sharks. You will get face-to-face encounters with an assortment of feisty sandbar and looming Galapagos sharks. If you’re lucky, tiger sharks sometimes make an appearance.
- At Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa, enjoy the nightly sunset lighting of the Pu‘u Keka‘a Black Rock torches— complete with live music, narration, hula and cliff diving—or visit January through April for prime humpback whale-watching from outrigger canoe and oceanfront guestroom balconies.
- At Maui’s Fairmont Kea Lani, not only can you snorkel from the hotel beach, but on-site Wailea Scuba Surf & Paddle offers an adrenaline-spiked scooter dive. Explore the home reef or head to nearby Five Caves for swimthroughs and caverns filled with over a dozen sea turtles and whitetip reef sharks.
- Don the Beachcomber Bar shakes up the best mai tais on the Big Island. Head to this hotspot in Kailua-Kona at sunset for the classic cocktail that helped launch tiki culture into 1950s and ’60s mainstream America.
- For a fun, easy way to sample a mix of Big Island flavors, try a walking food tour. Kona Tasting Tours highlights vendors who take advantage of the bounty of local fruits, veggies, seafood and spices. Sample goodies from poke of the day to dragon fruit gelato.
2020 Readers Choice Winners
Our readers named these operators and liveaboards Hawaii’s best in our 2020 survey.
+ Big Island Divers
+ Jack’s Diving Locker, Big Island
+ Kona Diving Company, Big Island
+ Kona Honu Divers, Big Island
+ Seasport Divers, Kauai
+ Dive Maui
+ Maui Dive Shop
+ Scuba Shack, Maui
+ Dive Oahu
These are favorites of our editors.
+ Royal Kona Resort, Big Island
+ Whalers Cove, Kauai
+ Aston Kaanapali Shores Resort, Maui
+ The Surfjack Resort, Oahu
+ The Laylow Resort, Oahu
Scuba Diving In Hawaii: The Full Dive Travel Review
Torben traveled around South East Asia for scuba diving and almost didn’t come back. His affinity for gear that works and his generosity for guiding people on their own path match his energy as editor of all things travel-related
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ALOHA SCUBA DIVER!
Amazing blue water with rich marine life and healthy reefs surrounds Hawaii – making it the perfect destination for your next Scuba vacation!
Although to a lesser degree than some of the Caribbean Islands, Hawaii generally has a “laid back” vibe and the “Aloha Spirit” seems alive and well. Most local residents appear happy and smile much of the time. Visitors to the Big Island would do well to adopt the smiles, and the Aloha Spirit and adjust their clocks to “Island Time” while visiting.
The best dive sites in Hawaii
Nesting sea turtles and white tip reef sharks are among the most impressive sights you can expect in the waters around Hawaii.
However, there is also plenty of other large marine life to see as well. Several different whale species often come by and around the islands, as well as sharks of all shapes and sizes.
Top 7 Dive Sites in Hawaii:
- O’ahu – known for the wrecks of USS YO-257 and San Pedro
- Maui – is known for Black Rock, eagle rays, turtles, and schooling fish
- Lana’i – known for superior visibility and cavern diving
- Moloka’i – great for drift diving and with an option to spot hammerhead sharks, and rare Hawaiian Monk Seals
- Hawai’i – is famous for underwater lava formations and manta ray night dive
- Kaua’i – known for Hawaiian green sea turtles
- Molokini Wall – here sharks are commonly seen, with plenty of black-tip sharks, white-tip sharks, and gray reef sharks. Manta rays, turtles, dolphins, and schooling fish are also normally seen
Costs of Hawaii
Like most island nations, and due to the fact that most items need to be shipped in, the costs of many things are generally higher than it’s found on continents.
That said, the experienced traveler can find ways to cut costs by seeking lodging with a kitchen and preparing some of their daily meals. Many vacation homes or condos are available for rent and some are reasonably priced.
Ask around to discover the restaurants where the locals eat and you’ll find excellent food and more reasonable prices. Farmer’s markets and roadside stands offer a varied assortment of fruit and produce at more reasonable rates.
The “Big Island” is called that for a reason and a rental car (or jeep) is a great idea if you want to see a large part or most of it. Car rental prices are reasonable as long as one avoids major holidays and activities.
History of Hawaii
The Hawaiian Islands are what is known from a geological perspective as a “hot spot”. The Earth’s mantle is thin enough in this region to allow the upwelling of lava from under the ocean’s floor.
The cooled lava has created a series basaltic land masses in the form of an island chain as the tectonic plate passes over this hot spot. The islands furthest to the north and west are the oldest and most eroded and the Big Island, called “Hawaii” is the youngest in the chain.
Hawaii is quite active volcanically and it’s a cool experience to walk on earth that is probably younger than you! There are eight habitable islands and scores of smaller islands and atolls in the chain.
The Hawaiian Islands were first apparently colonized by the Polynesian Peoples from the South Pacific using large double-hulled canoes prior to the 1500’s. (Brave explorers indeed!)
Captain Cook was given credit for being the first European to “discover” the islands in 1778 and named them the “Sandwich Islands”.
The Hawaiian people apparently invented the sport/art of surfing and the ocean was extremely important to their culture. The arrival of the missionaries temporarily ended surfing as topless people having fun in the water did not mesh well with the religious beliefs of the time.
Over the next 70 years several countries made a play to claim Hawaii. The Japanese bombed the U.S. Naval Base in Pearl Harbor in 1941 and some 14 years after the end of WWII. And in another apparent example of U.S. “manifest destiny”, the Hawaiian Islands were “annexed” by the U.S.A. in August of 1959.
Scuba Diving in Hawaii
So enough about the surface…let’s get to the diving!
Perform an internet search on the “The World’s Top Ten Dives” and undoubtedly the “Manta Ray Night Dive” off the coast of Kailua-Kona will be found somewhere in the middle of the top-ten. It truly is a spectacular dive and shouldn’t be missed if your travels take you to the Big Island.
The story of the evolution of the Manta Ray night dive that I’ve been told by the locals goes like this.
The Sheraton Hotel built a deck adjacent to the lounge and near a small harbor on their premises and added lighting to assist those using it at night. It was soon noticed that Manta Rays could be seen performing their upside-down barrel rolls in the relatively shallow waters just off the viewing deck.
The explanation for this was that plankton are, greatly attracted in huge numbers by the light and as Mantas are filter feeders, they followed the plankton. From here it was an obvious evolution for the entrepreneurs of the local dive industry to find a suitable spot for a night dive where Mantas had been seen. Then start “habituating” them to the increased plankton source via the placement of artificial light.
So, over the course of several years it appears to have worked very well! A half dozen or more dive boats show up every night (when the seas aren’t too large) and set up a sort of “camp-fire” ring of dive torches on the bottom on one or two locations to attract the mantas. On some nights there might be an excess of 20 mantas, some with wingspans of 15 feet or more.
Don’t worry about the fact that there could be 40 or more divers and the same number of snorkelers topside! For this dive, the more the better as each diver is equipped with their own torch and it just seems to make a larger feeding area.
Once you’ve done this dive, you’ll never forget the image of huge gaping mouths and the exposed gill-rakers. Or when, these graceful animals, glide inches over your head (or sometimes just skimming it if they “like” you!) and displacing enough water to keep you swaying about on the bottom like a gorgonian!
The Mantas will continue this graceful feeding dance doing slow, somersaults up towards the surface until the dive-master gives you a tap on the shoulder. Letting you know that the first person from your boat is low and air and the dive is ending.
Upon surfacing you can hear the excited chatter from dozens of divers in the area who have just had the dive of their life! It is worth mentioning, that big swells or other conditions might prevent the mantas from showing, but on most nights they appear, making for one fine show!
It is possible to dive the area near the Sheraton from shore thus saving the “entry fee”, but a good deal of planning and experience is needed to make that one come off and it will not be as easy as from a boat.
“Black Water Dive”
Another notable night dive from the Kona area is called the “Black Water” or “Pelagic Magic” dive. It can be easily coupled with the manta dive for an unforgettable night!
For this one, you head out in a boat about 3 miles offshore from the harbor where the depths exceed 3,000 feet. The boat drops 6 or 8 heavily weighted lines that are about 40’ of length from several different points on the boat. Then each diver hooks into one of these main-lines from a 10’ “tether” line attached to their BCD and over you go. The boat basically drifts with the current as each diver moves up and down the mainline pointing their torch off into the inky waters of the abyss.
So if you’ve pictured this in your mind, you might think, “Well it sounds like they’re trolling the divers” and if you got that image, that pretty much describes it!
For the most part, everything you see will be fairly small. And almost everything you see will be equipped with bioluminescence characteristics. Reds, whites, greens, yellows and blues dance and shimmer around the edges of some of the most amazing organisms you’ve ever seen!
It is utterly amazing and fascinating to watch these strange looking juveniles from the deep as they make a huge migration every night to the surface waters to feed. Think twice before you do this dive as it isn’t for the faint of heart! (Speaking of which, I nearly fainted when the Divemaster grabbed me by the calf to show me a large Venus Girdle that was behind me!).
Calm currents allow you to view the organisms for a longer period of time whereas a fast current will have these strange, creatures flying by like something from a Star-Trek episode!
Minimal current is definitely better for close examination of these strange ocean dwellers.
Boat diving in Hawaii
There are scores of different dive sites near to shore and many that are further away which generally equates to higher dive price. It may be worth doing the boat dive especially when the Humpback Whales are visiting! I was fortunate to have a cow and calf swim about 12 meters under my fins while I was at a depth of 30 meters!
The west coast of the Big Island has some pretty amazing underwater topography created from lava formations and lava-tubes and swim-through dives are plentiful. There are some really good dive charter companies in and around Kailua-Kona so choose your dive operator with care.
Shore diving in Hawaii
There are many opportunities for shore-diving the Big Island and for the more advanced divers and those on a budget. And the diving from shore is excellent!
Check with shore-diving Hawaii for details on shore diving locations and what to expect.
There a few dive sites on the east side of the island near Hilo that can be accessed from shore diving. You should expect the water temperature to be a little cooler on the east side and visibility can be diminished if the area has been receiving heavy rains.
If you are new to shore diving you can read my guide to shore diving.
If you do plan to shore dive, I highly recommend renting a jeep. Some of the roads into remote dive sites can be quite rough. Take it slow, and respect the locals in the fishing villages and prepare for some excellent diving from shore!
The UW environment of Hawaii
Hawaii has around 20 (known) species of reef fishes found nowhere else in the world. This makes sense as it’s a long ways to other land masses and coral reefs.
Most of the coral around the islands are “hard-coral” or “Stony” type. Mountainous Star Coral is plentiful and often looks like giant mushrooms and often of various colors of green, red, yellow purple or blue. This easily leads one to think they’ve entered some chapter of Alice & Wonderland!
Some areas have more sheet coral species. There are a few species of soft coral, but most are very small and not readily visible.
The fish life of Hawaii
Yellow Tang, Butterfly Fishes, Parrot Fishes Triggerfish, Needlefishes, Angle Fishes, Wrasse, Goatfish and Squirrelfish are very common as are green sea turtles (Honu in the Hawaiian language). Frogfish, Lionfish and Scorpion fish can also be seen by those with trained eyeballs. The State Fish Humuhumunukunukuapua’a isn’t as common, but when you see it, you’ll know it (but saying it is something else!). Spotted Eagle Rays abound and can often be found at “cleaning stations” attended by the Tangs.
White Tipped Reef Sharks, Scalloped Hammerhead, Tiger Sharks, Black Tipped Sharks and Sandbar Sharks are the most common species.
But to really get the blood pumping, let’s don’t forget the Humpback Whales. They show up every year between December and March to breed and give birth.
From a boat it’s relatively easy to see them spout and breach.
The Humpbacks and some shark species are among the few species that travel the great distance to Hawaii. Even a mediocre dive (if there is such a thing) becomes extremely special when accompanied by the songs of the male Humpback!
If sport fishing appeals to you Hawaii has that as well. Mahi-mahi, Marlin species, Yellowfin Tuna and my personal favorite from a culinary aspect, Whaoo (called Ono on the Islands) frequent the tropical waters of Hawaii.
Diving Temperatures in Hawaii
Low 70’s in the winter and upper 70’s to 80 ºF (21-26 ºC) in the summer so a 3 mm wetsuit is my personal preference in the winter and a 1 mm dive shirt suffices in the summer months.
When to go
Year-round with a note that some large swells can come in from the North Pacific in the wintertime which add a definite challenge to diving.
The high season is around Christmas and during the winter months when escaping the cold and snow sounds like a great idea, but hotel prices are higher during this time.
Also, the Iron Man Final is held each year on the Big Island during the month of October. So if you plan to visit during October, book ahead as hotels in the Kailua-Kona area generally fill up during this event. You might have a change of getting fit for diving.
Traveling between Islands
From the Big Island, a flight is the only choice to neighboring islands. Hawaiian Airlines is currently the only service, but there is rumor that this may be changing and most locals are eager for the end of the monopoly. There is one ferry from Maui to Molokai.
To sum it up, the diving in Hawaii is spectacular! If you can plan a trip to the islands, you won’t be disappointed!
The 15 Best Scuba Diving Sites in Hawaii
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There are more places to dive in Hawaii than you could hope to visit in one trip. Even if you live in Hawaii, you could spend years visiting the Hawaii scuba diving spots. But if you do plan a trip, there are some real standouts you may want to check out. From wreck diving to sharks and whales, there is a ton to see. Grab your scuba fins and a scuba mask and check out some of the best scuba diving in Hawaii.
1. Molokini Wall
The Molokini Backwall is not for the beginning scuba diver. Only certified divers with some diving experience under their belt need apply. It’s about a 40 minute boat ride from Maui to get here but it’s definitely worth it. As long as you don’t mind remote dive sites. It’s also a two tank dive. Scuba enthusiasts can’t miss this wall dive.
The eponymous wall is staggering in height. It spans down an impressive 300 feet. Expect your dive to not go much lower than 80 feet, of course. Reef sharks abound in this area. White tip, black tip and gray reef sharks can be found in numbers. You’ll also run into some dolphins if you’re lucky. Not to mention manta rays. And, of course, plenty of other smaller fish. Turtles even swim by on occasion. If you like underwater photography, this is an ideal spot. The currents are usually mild and visibility is good. It can get over 100 feet quite often.
The wall itself is part of a volcanic crater. It extends out of the water up to 200 feet. The 300 feet below water makes it all the more impressive. At the right time of year, humpback whales make the trek through this area as well. You’re much more likely to hear them than see them. If that doesn’t sound all that impressive, then wait until you experience it.
There’s a second drift dive here as well. Drift dives are when you let the tide or current move you along. The crater is part of the Marine Life Conservation District. It’s been protected since the late 1970s. That means the reefs here are pristine and bursting with life. Aside from all the sharks and colorful reef fish, octopus and eels make this their home. Check it out for sure if you’re into drift diving. Above the surface the crater is also a bird sanctuary. So you can experience a one-two punch of animal conservation.
In total, there have been over 250 fish species catalogued in this area. Some of them are literally found nowhere else on Earth. So this truly is a unique dive that you can’t replicate anywhere else. If you’re visiting Hawaii on a dive trip, this really is a must-see location.
2. Old Airport Kona
The Old Airport located on Kona is a great spot for beginner divers. It’s even a great sport for snorkeling. It’s named for the airport located right next to it. This was, originally, Kona’s main airport. The park is a great place to set up for the day and has show facilities and picnic areas.
Once you’re in the water, be on the lookout for eagle rays, eels, and Hawaiian lionfish. This is a great shallow dive site. Depths are from the surface all the way down to about 60 feet. Expect to spend most of your dive between 20 feet and 30 feet. Out past a sand patch you’ll find arches and some caverns as well. Lava tubes and boulders are around this area as well. If you’re interested in seeing octopus, check those rocky areas.
This is a fun dive with a lot to see. It’s incredibly easy and convenient if you’re in the Kona area. Just remember, the park has business hours. You have between 7 am and 8 pm to dive. After that, they lock the gates.
3. The Cathedrals Dive Sites in Lanai
The Lanai cathedrals are well worth a dive trip. The Lanai cathedrals are caverns that have opened up to the water above. They were formed by collapsed lava tubes. Rocks have fallen out of the cavern ceilings which allow light from above to pass through. On a clear day, the light shines through from above. When it does, it illuminates the caverns, making a stunning visual. So stunning, in fact, it earned them the cathedral nickname. People have likened it to experiencing light through the high windows in an old church.
The sites are full of incredible topography. The volcanic formations are unique and plentiful. There are areas to swim through and stunning lava shoots. With dives that range from 15 feet to 65 feet there is something for everyone at these dives sites.
It’s not just divers that have taken to this area. Hawaii marine life here is plentiful and diverse. Sharks, turtles, dolphins and more abound. There have even been whales sighted in the area.
There are two cathedrals in the area. Cathedral one and cathedral two are usually done as separate dives. We recommend one as the best of the two, but you shouldn’t skip out on the other. The stained glass effect of light coming through the holes in the ceiling is remarkable.
4. Manta Ray Night Dive Kona
This is the big one. Possibly the most famous dive experience in all of Hawaii these days. The manta ray night dive is unlike any other dive experience. When you head out on one of these dives, you can expect to see just massive schools of manta rays. The point is to watch as they feed on zooplankton under the cover of darkness. These massive fish put on quite a show and on a good night you may see hundreds of them feeding when you head out. They will swim all around you sometimes. It’s quite an experienced to be in the middle of it all. The way manta rays move, especially in darkness, is unlike anything else you’ll experience on a dive.
No dive is ever guaranteed but many manta ray night dives actually do come with a guarantee. If you go out and don’t see the rays, most dive tours will offer you a second trip for free. That’s how confident they are that you will see something. And really, odds are you’re going to walk away happy after this one because it’s quite rare to not find the rays.
5. Pelagic Magic Kona
Sometimes called a black water dive, this night dive is a big one. When you head to Hawaii, you really want to try the manta night dive and the pelagic magic night dives. A typical pelagic magic dive off of Kona is so unique and exciting you’ll be telling friends about it forever. Night diving is a whole new ball game. You can find fantastic dive sites at night when boat diving that you’d overlook in daylight.
A boat takes out a small group of maybe six divers. Your destination is three miles offshore. You’ll be tethered to the boat with a 50 foot line. Then you go down to the length of your tether in pitch black darkness. What happens next can be seen in Youtube videos but you need to see it in person to really feel it.
Jellyfish start to feed around this depth on some tiny microscopic creatures. The dark ocean comes to life with a flurry of movement. Your dive lights are the only light source. The ocean floor will be lost from view so all you can focus on is the life right in front of you. Things like larval octopi and crabs. Many other tiny creatures you cannot see in the light of day. It’s like a whole different world and is really incredible. Definitely worth experiencing at least once.
6. Black Rock Maui
When you’re in Maui, you want to check out Black Rock. Hands down, this is one of the best shore dive spots in the state. Arguably one of the best in the country. At the north end of Ka’anapali Beach is where you will find this dive site. It’s suitable for both scuba diving and snorkeling. It’s also a popular cliff jump location. Shore diving is much easier for new scuba divers. And this is one of the top dive sties for shore diving in the Hawaiian islands.
Black Rock was formed as so many spots in Hawaii were by lava. It was one of the last places formed by underwater lava formations that made the island. As such, it creates a natural outcropping. The current can become strong here, so be aware. Also, there are steep drop offs in the water.
You can find many species of marine life here. Turtles and rays are commonplace. You may even run across some monk seal just relaxing here. Most of the tourists stick to the beach and cliff jumping. The dive site is often pretty empty.
The biggest downside to this dive is a weird one. Access to the site is easiest through the Sheraton hotel. That means you’ll be walking, in your gear, past all the tourists. If you don’t mind, then it’s no big deal. But it’s definitely a strange twist.
7. Golden Arches Kona
The Golden Arches are on Kona. This would likely be a much more popular dive site if the visibility were better. That’s not to say it’s bad here, but it is not consistent. Some days you can see a great distance. But other times the current and surge are not your friend.
Lots of reef fish call this area home. Whitetip reef sharks, moray eels, and even the occasional dolphin can be found here. As you can expect from the name, the arch here is also a sight to behold. It makes for some great photographs if you’re looking to take pics.
Because the arches aren’t heavily trafficked, it’s a gentle spot. Currents are not typically too rough here. It’s a decent spot for beginners to check out. With the abundance of marine life, including rare boxfish, there’s lots to enjoy.
8. Au Au Crater
This is one of the best crater dives around Hawaii. Oceanic whitetip sharks, large jacks and hammerhead sharks call this place home. They’re not guaranteed to show up, but they are common. You can also find turtles lazing about in the crater as well.
Unlike the bowl you might expect, Au’au is more of a V-shaped crater. The walls offer a great environment for all manner of marine life. Wall size ranges from 30 to 70 feet on one side all the way to 50 to 200 feet on another. You’ll also find a cleaner shrimp station and plenty of nudibranches. Even if the big fish don’t show, there’s a lot of check out.
If spinner dolphins are on your Hawaiian dive bucket list, here you go. Naia actually means dolphin. Located in Kona, this spot is home to plenty of butterflyfish and tangs. Also some stonefish and frogfish as well. But of course it’s the spinner dolphins everyone wants to see. There are no guarantees any will be here when you drop in.
In the summer you may run across some tiger sharks and eagle rays in the area. They share the waters with the dolphins but are not everyday staples. The dive site is located very close to Turtle Pinnacle, so you can knock out both dives.
10. Suck ‘em Up Lava Tube
How could you not want to dive at a place with a name like this? We can’t recommend this for beginners because of the ride involved. If you’re super new to scuba diving this can potentially cause some panic. But once you’re comfortable under the water, this is a must try. Pound for pound, this is one of the most fun dive experiences you will ever have.
Also called Suckem Up Cavern, this spot is made of lava tubes. What makes it unique is that the entrance to the cavern is wider than the exit. That means if the surge is strong enough, the exit will literally suck you out of the cavern. It spits you back up near the shore. If you’re into shore dives, it’s great. Amazing fun if you have never experienced cavern diving before. But, like we said, if you’re new it can feel a little scary.
Aside from the thrill, this is also a great scuba dive site. Lots of coral in the area and, if the surge isn’t bad, decent visibility. Pufferfish and whitetip reef shark have been spotted here. Scorpionfish and butterflyfish call this area home. If you want a unique scuba diving experience, give it a look.
11. Turtle Pinnacle
With a name like Turtle Pinnacle, it’s pretty clear what to expect here. But even knowing that the place is packed with Hawaiian green sea turtles won’t prepare you. See, the turtles come here for a specific reason. It’s not just nesting or feeding. It’s a cleaning station.
As weird as it sounds, this is where the Hawaiian green sea turtles come to get some beauty treatment. The surgeonfish in the area love algae. So when the sea turtles arrive, they swarm them to clean their shells. The turtles get cleaned up and the fish get a meal. The other big winners are divers. Few places in the world let you get this close to turtles.
Green turtles are very gentle and docile. But they are also a protected species. This area is a great place to observe, but you need to keep your distance. Harming one of these turtles is against the law. So it’s great to dive here, but remember to let the turtles do their own thing.
12. Three Fingers
Kauai is sometimes called the Garden Island. That’s where you’ll find Three Fingers. With visibility up to 60 feet, there is a lot of marine life to check out here. The fingers in the name were formed by lava. They extend a full 100 feet out from the harbor. It makes for a unique lava formation you won’t find anywhere else.
Turtles have been known to drop by Three Fingers from time to time. Expect dragon morays, wrasse, anthias and more here. The water here can be extremely calm and gentle. Parts are also pretty shallow. But there are some more complicated locations as well. Because of that, it offers a great opportunity for beginners as well as pros.
Keep your eye out for south swells. Those may reduce your visibility considerably. Most days, however, it’s pristine and clear.
13. Kahuna Canyon
You can find Kahuna Canyon near Mokule’ia. It’s on the north shore of O’ahu. Some people call it Hawaii’s Grand Canyon and when you get a look at it, you’ll see why. The whole area is spectacular and very unique. It’s not technically a canyon at all, but a crater. The entire area is a volcanic crater that extends down 100 feet. The top starts at 35 feet, and the whole thing extends a solid 600 feet.
The reason it’s called a canyon is because half of the crater is missing. The remaining half creates a massive canyon down to the depths. The pristine reefs are chock full of marine life. Expect to see Moray eels, parrotfish, amberjacks, lobsters and lots more.
Sharks do make passes along the canyon frequently, so keep your eyes peeled. Scuba diving through the summer months is best because visibility is high. The water is also pretty manageable at that time. In the winter months, things get choppy and scuba diving is not recommended.
14. Carthaginian II
If you’re in Maui scuba diving, you have to visit Carthaginian II. This one time sailing vessel was converted to a model whaling ship. It was used as a whaling museum for years to teach about the history of whaling. Then, in 2005, the ship was sunk. Now it serves as an artificial reef and is home to many marine species.
The ship rests at 97 feet and has fantastic visibility. Expect to see upwards of 100 feet when you head down. The current here is minimal and the dive offers great views. Trumpetfish, frogfish and more have made the ship their home. White tip reef sharks are common sights. You can also run across eagle rays and dolphins sometimes as well.
15. Fish Rain
Located on the south shore of Molokai, Fish Rain is a gorgeous reef. There are around 40 dive sites along this 30 mile reef. As you can imagine, you could spend a lot of time here. This is our recommendation for the most impressive one. As the name suggests, it’s bustling with life.
The coral found on Fish Rain is packed with colorful sea life. Parrotfish, triggerfish and more are everywhere. But if you like the big fish, this is definitely your spot. Keep your eyes peeled for Galapagos sharks and Hawaiian monk seals. You may even see tiger sharks in the area but don’t go expecting them for sure. Whale sharks and scalloped hammerhead sharks are around as well.
Fish rain arguably has the highest concentration of sea life in and around Molokai. Visibility is incredible as well. The big downside? Getting here. There is no easy way to access this spot. No roads roll out in this direction. It’s going to take you close to an hour to get here from Lahaina Harbor. That, combined with the rough seas, make this a more advanced dive.
Humpback Whale Dives
You may have heard that Hawaii is the best place to see humpback whales. This is true. Most of the humpbacks in the Pacific Ocean will make their way to Hawaii. Around 10,000 of them come here to give birth and raise their young. And there are many boat tours that give you a chance to view them. You cannot dive with the humpback whales, however. Any reputable boat tour will only allow the whales to be viewed from the boat. This is for your safety and the whales. Humpback whales are endangered. They need to be kept safe and viewed from a distance. Especially when they are mating and caring for their young. You don’t want to be in the water with an 80,000 pound whale if it doesn’t want you there.
Things to for Scuba Divers to Remember About Scuba Diving Hawaii
There is a ton of world class scuba diving in Hawaii. But with beauty comes some responsibility. Hawaii also has some dangerous spots. Dangerous marine life as well. Not all sharks are sandbar sharks. But by the same token you may run into humpback whales. There is beauty and potential danger in spades.
The Hawaiian island chain offers a range of locations. From the Big Island to Kailua Kona. The underwater world has some of the best dive sites anywhere. Calm waters for beginners. More trying spots for experienced divers. The best scuba diving sites are always the ones where you can relax and just have fun. Don’t dive outside your comfort zone and be responsible. Have fun out there.
My grandfather first took me fishing when I was too young to actually hold up a rod on my own. As an avid camper, hiker, and nature enthusiast I’m always looking for a new adventure.