When the surf is flat and the ocean is calm, generally during the summer, O‘ahu’s leeward coast is a snorkeler’s dream come true. Crystal clear turquoise water, ample rock outcroppings and patches of reef beside white sandy beaches, and calm nearshore waters protected from the trade winds make for excellent snorkeling all along the coast.
Look for areas where a sandy beach connects to rock and reef for the best opportunities to see marine life with safe and easy passage in and out of the water. While there are many places to just pull off the road and jump in the water, it’s always safer to swim or snorkel by lifeguards and first check with them about the current ocean conditions. And remember that strong currents accompany high surf, even if there are no waves breaking in your immediate aquatic locale. Green sea turtles and spinner dolphins are common sights on the leeward side.
The best bet is to bring your snorkel gear with you from your point of origin, because if you find yourself on the west side in need of snorkel gear, you’ll have to drive to Wai‘anae or Makaha to rent or purchase equipment. Hale Nalu (85-876 Farrington Hwy., #A2, 808/696-5897, 10am-5pm daily) is a sporting goods store located in Wai‘anae across from Poka‘i Bay renting snorkel gear for $10 per day, $20 for three days, and $35 per week. In Makaha, West Oahu SUP (84-1170 Farrington Hwy., 808/954-2091, 9pm-5am daily) rents snorkel sets for $15 full day and $50 five days. Inside the same retail space you’ll also find Paradise Isle (84-1170 Farrington Hwy., #AE, 808/695-8866), a fish and dive shop where you can purchase new gear.
Diving Leeward O‘ahu
Nestled in the lee of the trade winds, the west side has some of the best conditions for diving on a consistent basis. The underwater world has shallow reef diving with lava tubes and arches, the Makaha caverns and rock formations—a favorite for turtles and monk seals—and several wrecks including a plane fuselage, a landing craft unit, an airplane, and a minesweeping vessel. Look for octopus, whitemouth morays, porcupine puffer fish, whitetip reef sharks, Hawaiian stingrays, and spinner dolphins.
Captain Bruce’s (86-222 Moeha St., 808/373-3590) operates a Pro-42 Jet Boat built for 28 passengers, yet only takes a maximum of 16 divers with one guide per six divers. They dive all the wrecks and reefs along the leeward coast and can accommodate all skill levels. The boat is decked out for ultra comfort with hot water showers, complimentary snacks and beverages, and restrooms. They even set up all your gear for you. A two-tank certified dive is $150; two-tank introductory dive, $135. They have snorkel ride-alongs for $79 adult and $59 child. They also offer a three-day open water certification course for $550 and PADI and NAUI two-day referral dive courses for $325.
Patrick’s Diving Adventures (85-491 Farrington Hwy., 808/589-2177), also based in Honolulu, dives the west side in addition to the south and southern coasts. Their two-tank boat dives from the Wai‘anae Small Boat Harbor are $99 per person.