These volcanic islands are a magnet for mantas, sharks, one-of-a-kind fish life — and divers.
From Ni’ihau to the Big Island, the beautiful natural landscape of the Hawaiian archipelago attracts travelers of all types, from honeymooning couples to adventurous backpackers. But it’s the visiting scuba divers who experience the true diversity of the islands that’s waiting below the surface. Frequent turtle sightings, huge shipwrecks and countless big-animal diving opportunities are why our readers consistently rank this Pacific island chain among the best dive destinations in the world. From beginner to advanced divers, there is a once-in-a-lifetime experience waiting for every scuba fanatic in Hawaii.
Hawaii took home the following 14 accolades in the 2018 Scuba Diving magazine Readers Choice Awards:
|Best Overall Diving|
|Cave, Cavern, Grotto|
1 ) AMPED-UP DRAMA
The crystal-clear water that surrounds Ni’ihau makes the sheer wall drop-offs and visitors such as sharks and rays look even more dramatic at Vertical Awareness in Lehua. Keep your eyes peeled: If you’re lucky, you could spot a rare Hawaiian grouper.
2 ) SUNKEN HISTORY
Even on an overcast day, the top deck of the Sea Tiger is immediately visible after a giant stride off the boat into the clear blue waters off Waikiki Beach, Oahu.
3 ) LIGHT THE WAY
Around the southern end of Lanai, Lighthouse Point is known for attracting big visitors (whitetips and green sea turtles are nearly guaranteed). With big viz to match, they’re easy to spot when passing through.
4 ) THE CRATER GOOD
It can be sensory overload diving off the coast of Kona: “Look, a Potter’s angelfish! Over there! A snow-goddess nudibranch!” But like an oasis in the desert, Au Au Crater is a place where you might find everything you’ve come to see. On the days when you’ve got see-forever viz, you’ll be able to spot the small stuff, such as nudibranchs, ghost shrimp and wire coral gobies. If you’re lucky, this site is the underwater equivalent of an African watering hole — except it’s oceanic whitetips, hammerheads and huge schools of jacks that might pass by.
5 ) A RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE
The ethereal light that cuts through the cracks at First Cathedral and Second Cathedral in Lanai highlights the beauty of this underwater cavern.
6 ) TOTALLY TUBULAR
Kauai’s Sheraton Caves are practically a breeding ground for green turtles, but critter sightings of all kinds earn this site the nickname “The Circus.” If the marine life isn’t enticing enough, fin through a trio of lava tubes that flow through millennia-old rock.
7 ) SPITTING PRETTY
At Spitting Caves, Oahu, you’ll experience a thrilling underwater trifecta: drifts, caves and wrecks. And that’s not even counting the big-animal encounters. The caves are a surefire place to meet curious Hawaiian monk seals and see majestic spotted eagle rays fly by.
8 ) WELCOME TO TURTLE TOWN
Five Caves Maui is turtle heaven, but with shore access from Makena Landing Beach Park, it’s a popular site for many adventures besides diving, including snorkeling and kayaking.
9 ) COOL CAVES
The Big Island features classic examples of the chain’s famous lava tubes — what forms in the ocean when lava flows beneath hardened lava. Ulua Caves is a Kohala-coast site with a large swim-through home to a number of macro creatures such as Spanish dancer nudibranchs and frogfish. Keep an eye on the blue for big boys that might cruise through, including dolphins and rays. Off the Waikoloa coast, Pentagon is a roomy cavern with five large entrances and a lava tube that stretches for 40 feet.
10 ) NATIONAL TREASURE
Haleakalā National Park spotlights the rich culture of Hawaii, both ancient and modern, emphasizing the connection between man and nature. The park is home to endangered species such as honeycreeper birds and Hawaiian silversword plants, which exist nowhere else on Earth.
11 ) DOLPHIN PROTECTION
In August 2016, NOAA’s Pacific Islands Regional Office published a proposal to better protect Hawaiian spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris), seeking to give the marine mammals necessary space and time to rest after nights spent hunting in deep offshore waters. When people or boats approach dolphins, their sleep is interrupted. This can deplete their energy reserves, scientists say, leaving them too exhausted to respond to threats or care for their young.
12 ) A WHALE OF A TIME
The annual Maui Whale Festival, presented by the Pacific Whale Foundation since 1980, features exciting events the whole family can enjoy. From themed runs to cruises to concerts, the goal of the festival is to inspire and involve people of all ages in an effort to protect whales.
13 ) SAVING THE SEA TURTLES
The Hawaii Wildlife Fund was formed in response to the number of hawksbill turtles and hatchlings being hit by cars while trying to cross roads in Maui. Since the mid-’90s, this organization and the state of Hawaii have made tremendous strides to help better protect hawksbills and other sea turtle species throughout the island chain.
14 ) MANTA MADNESS
Kona’s nonprofit Manta Pacific Research Foundation has identified more than 200 mantas in Big Island waters, and sets the standard for how operators island wide conduct encounters with these magnificent animals. Scuba Diving’s July 2014 Sea Hero Keller Laros and a dedicated team of volunteers started the foundation in 2002.
15 ) MIDNIGHT MANTAS
If you think night diving is for experienced divers only, think again. Kona’s Manta Ray Night Dive in 30 feet of water is falling-off-the dive- boat easy — and endlessly entertaining. Lights placed on the ocean floor and attached to dive boats attract the plankton; rays swoop in for the easy meal while you sit back and enjoy the show. Lights are also affixed to rings for snorkelers at the surface.
16 ) BABY STEPS
Diving Maui’s iconic Molokini Crater is easy from inside, where currents are almost non-existent and the visibility is endless. The best part about this site is that, as your dive training advances, you can step up to more-challenging diving on the backside of the crater. It’s a site you can visit again and again as you become more comfortable in your abilities.
17 ) RISE AND DIVE
An easy public-access shore dive on Kauai, Koloa Landing is used by many dive operators for openwater training. Situated right behind a beautiful resort, it’s the perfect spot for a beginner diver to wake up, gear up and go diving.
18 ) OAHU LEARNIN’
Get open-water certified with Dive Oahu, then be blown away by the underwater world on easy dives like Turtle Canyons Reef. With plenty of marine life to be seen, you’ll easily check many encounters off your dive bucket list.
19 ) ICE, ICE, BABY
Relax! You’re on vacation, after all. Nothing beats a frozen treat after a day of diving, especially during summertime. The Fresh Shave shave-ice truck on Kauai uses all locally sourced organic ingredients to serve up this Hawaiian specialty.
20 ) LET THE LAVA FLOW
The volcanic landscape — above and below the surface — draws many to the Hawaiian Islands. It must’ve been quite a show 6 million years ago — sites like Lanai’s Second Cathedral are the result of molten rock exploding in the ocean.
21 ) LIKE NOWHERE ELSE
There are a number of endemic fish and marine life that can be found only in Hawaii. Milletseed butterflyfish are abundant, and being greeted underwater by an elusive monk seal is a true treat.
22 ) EXTRATERRESTRIALS DOWN UNDER
Off Hawaii’s Big Island, experience the extraordinary during Pelagic Magic. On this unusual night dive, you’re tethered to the boat, with nothing but a few thousand feet of inky-black ocean beneath you. A galaxy of creatures rising from the deep drifts by and, caught by your dive light, twinkles like stars in a watery universe.
23 ) SHOW YOUR TEETH
Throughout the chain of islands, you can encounter a number of oceanic predators, from whitetip reef sharks to tiger sharks. Divers are spotting tigers and gray reef sharks more frequently.
24 ) “LIVE ALOHA”
A term heard throughout the islands, the word aloha translates to mean a lot of things in Hawaii. From “hello” and “goodbye” to “love” and “kindness,” it is a general state of being and can be felt almost everywhere you go. Visiting a Hawaiian cultural center or luau is a great way to experience the aloha spirit.