Hanauma Bay is the defacto spot for snorkeling on Oahu. It is a designated nature preserve, and is nestled in a volcanic crater on the southeast coast. It is an incredibly popular tourist destination, and as a result is always extremely crowded. As a result, there is unfortunately a lot of misuse and damage done to the coral by the millions of people that visit each year. When you first arrive, you are froced to watch a short video describing the bay and outlining a number of things you shouldn’t do – such as standing on the coral, feeding the fish, etc. The video was really cheesy, but informative – with most of the information conveyed in song (“I’m a fish and live in the sea – please don’t feed me”). Having grown up in Florida, and with what I feel to be a pretty good respect for the water and marine life, this was all old news to me, but it amazed me how many people still ignored the video and what it said. I saw numerous people standing on and touching coral, and I saw many a stereotypical “Ignorant American Tourist” (although not just Americans, me thinks) doing great harm to the reef.
Once you get actually down to the beach (the entrance is at the top of the cliffs over the bay, and you can either walk down to the beach or pay a dollar or two and take a tram), there are a few bathrooms with lockers, lifeguard towers, and lots of people. If you are going to Hanauma, go early, because we got there an hour after it opened and it was already packed. Putting on our fins just off the beach, I was amazed at the tameness of the fish here – in 4 inch water I had a dozen fish around me in a few minutes. Because of this, most people never go farther than 30 or 40 feet out from shore. The first reef out from shore is maybe 50-60 feet out from the beach, and over the course of the few hours we were there, maybe a dozen people other than us went out past this. Which is why you should go out there to get the best snorkeling. There are a couple breaks in this first reef that are marked by buoys, so it is pretty simple to get out past it (the video makes note of these and recommends checking with the lifeguards on conditions for safety). I feel that the best snorkeling is out past this first reef, as the water gets deeper (12-20 feet I would say) and significantly less crowded.
As far as the marine life we saw, I stopped keeping track of the number of turtles at a dozen. There were dozens of species of fish of all sizes, with some fairly large parrot fish nibbling on the coral. Every time your head is underwater you can hear their hard beaks gnashing the coral. We weren’t there at the right time of year, but supposedly the bay is a popular destination for humpback whales when they are in the area, and have been seen by people diving and snorkeling out a little farther from shore. I could have stayed there all day, but since we were all using borrowed gear from Daniel’s family (and had at least one fin and mask failure), we left after only a couple of hours. You can rent snorkel gear at the visitor’s center for around $10, but if you really want the most enjoyable time, I recommend bringing your own gear (especially if you plan on doing more snorkeling elsewhere). Admission to the park is currently $1 to park a car and $5 per person for entry. If you find yourself going to Hanauma multiple times on your trip, you can get a pass that will allow you to bypass the intro video on later visits and save some time.
That night was our journey into Honolulu for dinner. We had all gone to the local Salvation Army store, and bought the loudest Aloha shirts we could find. I had found a sweet red one covered with pineapples. Sal’s must have been from a closed restaurant, as it prodly proclaimed “Superb Sushi” on the front. We all piled into the hula bus and headed into Honolulu. We walked up and down Waikiki beach looking for a good place to eat, and ended up eating at the Hula Grill. Oh man, it was such a good decision! We had to wait a while for a table since it was fairly busy, so we had a few drinks in the bar. Chen’s came in a tiki. Sal had his first-ever Long Island Iced Tea, and I guess he liked it, since it lasted all of 2 minutes. When we finally got seated, we were lucky enough to get a table at the very back of the restaurant, right next to the beach! The restaurant itself is on the second floor of a hotel, so we were on a balcony literally right over the beach. So as we dined we could watch the sun set and bask in the ocean breeze. Just thinking about it I want to go back. It didn’t hurt that their food was just as amazing. If you ever find yourself dining there, order whatever the daily fish special is. Ooooh my. That night it was a combination of blackened swordfish, ahi tuna, and some other fish I don’t remember the name of. But it sure was tasty. They also serve a mean macadamia nut encrusted mahi mahi. One of my favorite items of the meal was actually a condiment. They served what our waitress called “chili water” – a sweet/spicy dipping sauce for bread. I think we all agreed that we could make a meal of that stuff alone. SPeaking of our waitress, it turned out that she was from Florida originally! In fact, pretty much everyone we encountered on our journey was very nice and helpful, and more than willing to help out.
After dinner, we decided to find a good bar on the beach and try to get a drink that came served in a pineapple. Or a fishbowl. Finding one of these mythical drinks had been our quest from day one, but up to this point had been unsucessful. The closest we had gotten was Chen’s tiki earlier in the night, and roadside coconut stand – but drinking coconut milk out of a coconut doesn’t really count without alcohol! So we went to a couple bars, and were disappointed both by the steep prices and weak drinks themselves. Eventually we wandered into some hotel bar – I don’t remember which one it was. What I do remember, though, was the kareoke. Heck yes. As a bonus, the rum runners at this place were basically rum, rum, rum, splash of mixer. We quickly got to a point where we were signing up to sing. We decided that the best thing to do would be to sing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” as a group, since those of us with less vocal talent could still lend support. Or at least stand up there and look goofy. Plus we figured it was one of those songs that would get the whole crowd yelling along with you. Somehow, we never ended up getting called to sing – and I now think that it is a rule among kareoke DJ’s that they must NEVER let anyone sing “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Or maybe we didn’t hear our names being called. Whichever one it was, we were crushed that we were not able to share our gifts with the bar.
While we were there, though, we did see possibly the most intense kareoke singer ever. This one Japanese (I assume) guy got up, and gave the DJ his own CD to play. Right away we knew it was going to be good. Another clue was that the guy was decked out in Michael Jackson garb – “Thriller” jacket, white gloves – the works. So he starts off singing “Thriller” – well, not just singing it, but jumping around, doing the dance – you could tell this guy absolutely LOVED Michael Jackson. After about 30-40 seconds of Thriller, the music cuts to another Michael Jackson song. As it does, the guy runs over to a chair just off stage, and actually changes costume! He ended up doing a trio of Jackson songs, with full costumes and music video re-enactments! It was the greatest/most hilarious thing ever. Well, we thought it was the most hilarious thing ever, until another guy goes up to sing Lionel Ritchie’s “Hello” (…is it me you’re looking for?). When we first heard him sing “Herro, is it me you’re rooking for?”, we lost it. That guy was loving it though, he really got into the song. Good times. Finally, we realized that we weren’t going to be called up to sing, so we headed out for a walk along the main street along the beach.