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The majority of scuba diving on Kauai occurs on the South Shore. Boat and shore dives are available, although boat sites surpass the shore sites for a couple of reasons. First, they're deeper and exhibit the complete symbiotic relationship of a reef system, and second, the visibility is better a little farther offshore.
The dive operators on Kauai offer a full range of services, including certification dives, referral dives, boat dives, shore dives, night dives, and drift dives. As for certification, we recommend completing your confined-water training and classroom testing before arriving on the island. That way, you'll spend less time training and more time diving.
The best and safest scuba-diving sites are accessed by boat on the South Shore of the island, right off the shores of Poipu. The captain selects the actual site based on ocean conditions of the day. Beginners may prefer shore dives, which are best at Koloa Landing on the South Shore year-round and Makua (Tunnels) Beach on the North Shore in the calm summer months. Keep in mind, though, that you'll have to haul your gear a ways down the beach.
For the advanced diver, the island of Niihau—across an open ocean channel in deep and crystal-clear waters—beckons and rewards, usually with some big fish. Seasport Divers, Fathom Five, and Bubbles Below venture the 17 mi across the channel in summer when the crossing is smoothest. Divers can expect deep dives, walls, and strong currents at Niihau, where conditions can change rapidly. To make the long journey worthwhile, three dives and Nitrox are included.
Equipment, Lessons, and Tours
Bubbles Below. Marine ecology is the emphasis here aboard the 36-foot, eight-passenger Kai Manu. This company discovered some pristine dive sites on the West Side of the island where white-tip reef sharks are common—and other divers are not. Thanks to the addition of a 32-foot powered catamaran—the six-passenger Dive Rocket—the group also runs Niihau, Napali, and North Shore dives year-round (depending on ocean conditions, of course). They're still known for their south side trips and lead dives at the east side walls as well, so they truly do circumnavigate the island. A bonus on these tours is the pizza and wide variety of other grinds served between dives. Open-water certification dives, check-out dives, and intro shore dives are available upon request. There's a charge of $130 for a standard two-tank boat dive and up to $30 extra for rental gear, though different tours can be up to $310. Port Allen Small Boat Harbor, 4353 Waialo Rd., Eleele, HI, 96705. PHONE: 808/332-7333 or 866/524-6268. www.bubblesbelowkauai.com.
Ocean Quest Watersports/Fathom Five. A few years ago, Fathom Five, the South Shore boat-diving specialist, teamed up with Ocean Quest Watersports, a separate company specializing in shore dives at Tunnels on the North Shore. Today, they offer it all: boat dives, shore dives, night dives, certification dives. They're pretty much doing what everyone else is with a couple of twists. First, they offer a three-tank premium charter for those really serious about diving. Second, they operate a Nitrox continuous-flow mixing system, so you can decide the mix rate. Third, they tag on a twilight dive to the standard, one-tank night dive, making the outing worth the effort. Fourth, their shore diving isn't an afterthought. Finally, we think their dive masters are pretty darn good, too. They even dive Niihau in the summer aboard their 35-foot Force. Prices start at $75 for a one-tank shore dive and top out at $495 for full certification. The standard two-tank boat dive runs $125 plus $40 for gear rental, if needed. In summer, book well in advance. 3450 Poipu Rd., Koloa, HI, 96756. PHONE: 808/742-6991 or 800/972-3078. www.fathomfive.com.
Kauai Down Under Scuba. Though this company is now offering boat diving, it definitely specializes in shore diving, typically at Koloa Landing (year-round) and Tunnels (summers). They're not only geared toward beginning divers—for whom they provide a very thorough and gentle certification program as well as the Discover Scuba program—but also offer night dives and scooter (think James Bond) dives. Their main emphasis is a detailed review of marine biology, such as pointing out rare dragon eel and harlequin shrimp tucked away in pockets of coral. Hands down, we recommend Sacred Seas Scuba for beginners, certification (all levels), and refresher dives. One reason is that their instructor-to-student ratio never exceeds 1:4—that's true of all their dive groups. Rates range from $79 for a one-tank certified dive to $450 for certification—all dive gear included. PHONE: 877/441-3483 or 808/742-9534. www.kauaidownunderscuba.com.
Seasport Divers. Rated highly by readers of Scuba Diving magazine, Seasport Divers' 48-foot Anela Kai tops the chart for dive-boat luxury. But owner Marvin Otsuji didn't stop with that. A second boat—a 32-foot catamaran—is outfitted for diving, but we like it as an all-around charter. The company does brisk business, which means it won't cancel at the last minute because of a lack of reservations, like some other companies, although they may book up to 18 people per boat. There are slightly more challenging trips in the morning; mellower dive sites are in the afternoon. The company also runs a good-size dive shop for purchases and rentals, as well as a classroom for certification. Niihau trips are available in summer. All trips leave from Kukuiula Harbor in Poipu. Rates start at $130 for a two-tank boat dive; rental gear is $30 extra. 2827 Poipu Rd., look for yellow submarine in parking lot, Poipu, HI, 96756. PHONE: 808/742-9303 or 800/685-5889. www.seasportdivers.com.