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Scuba Diving

All the great stuff to do atop the water sometimes leads us to forget the real beauty beneath the surface. Although snorkeling and snuba (more on that later) do give you access to this world, nothing gives you the freedom of scuba.

The diving on Oahu is comparable with any you might do in the tropics, but its uniqueness comes from the isolated environment of the Islands. There are literally hundreds of species of fish and marine life that you can find only in this chain. Adding to the singularity of diving off Oahu is the human history of the region. Military activities and tragedies of the 20th century filled the waters surrounding Oahu with wreckage that the ocean creatures have since turned into their homes.

Although instructors certified to license you in scuba are plentiful in the Islands, we suggest that you get your PADI certification before coming as a week of classes may be a bit of a commitment on a short vacation. You can go on introductory dives without the certification, but the best dives require it.

Best Spots

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve. On Oahu's southeast shore, Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is home to more than 250 different species of fish, of which a quarter can be found no where else in the world. This has made this volcanic crater bay one of the most popular dive sites in the state. The parking lot can fill up early, so consider hooking up with a licensed dive-tour operator. Preservation efforts have aided the bay's delicate ecosystem, so expect to see various butterfly fish, surgeonfish, tangs, parrot fish, and endangered Hawaiian sea turtles. 7455 Kalanianaole Hwy., Honolulu, HI, 96825. PHONE: 808/396-4229.

Hundred Foot Hole. Once an ancient Hawaiian fishing ground reserved for royalty, the Hundred Foot Hole is a cluster of volcanic boulders that have created ledges, caves, and a large open-ended cavern perfect for diving. Accessible from shore, this spot near Diamond Head attracts octopus, manta rays, and the ocassional white-tip shark. Honolulu, HI, 96816.

Mahi Waianae. Hawaii's waters are littered with shipwrecks, but one of the most intact and accessible is the Mahi Waianae, a 165-foot minesweeper that was sunk in 1982 off the Waianae Coast. It lays upright in about 90 feet of calm and clear water, encrusted in coral and patrolled by white spotted eagle rays and millet seed butterfly fish. The wreck serves as an artificial reef for such Hawaii aquatic residents as blue-striped snappers, puffer fish, lionfish, moray eels, and octopus. Visibility averages about 100 feet, making this one of the most popular dives on the island. Waianae, HI, 96792.

Maunalua Bay. The bay stretches about 7 miles, from Portlock Point to Black Point on Oahu's southeastern shore. Teeming with marine life, this spot has several accessible dive sites of varying difficulty. The shallow-water Turtle Canyon is home to endangered Hawaiian green sea turtles. Fantasy Reef is another shallow dive with three plateaus of volcanic rock lined with coral that is home to fish, eels, and sea turtles. In about 85 feet of water, Baby Barge is an easy-to-penetrate sunken vessel encrusted in coral. An advanced dive, the wreck of a Vought F4U Corsair gives you a close-up look at garden eels and stingrays. Honolulu, HI, 96825.

Shark's Cove. Oahu's best shore dive is accessible only during the summer months. Shark's Cove, on Oahu's North Shore, churns with monster surf during the winter, making this popular snorkeling and diving spot extremely dangerous. In summer, the cavernous lava tubes and tunnels are great for both novices and experienced divers. Some dive-tour companies offer round-trip transportation from Waikiki. Haleiwa, HI, 96712.

Three Tables. A short walk from Shark's Cove is Three Tables, named for a trio of flat rocks running perpendicular to shore. There are lava tubes to the right of these rocks that break the surface and then extend out about 50 feet. While this area isn't as active as Shark's Cove, you can still spot octopus, moray eels, parrot fish, green sea turtles, and the occasional shark. Haleiwa, HI, 96712.

Equipment, Lessons, and Tours

Captain Bruce's Hawaii. Focusing on on the island's western shore, this full-service company offers refresher and introductory dives as well as more advanced drift and night dives. Everything is provided, including transportation to and from Waikiki. Most importantly, the boat has hot showers. Two-tank dives begin at $135 per person. 86-222 Moeha St., Waianae, HI, 96792. PHONE: 808/373-3590 or 800/535-2487. www.captainbruce.com.

Hanauma Bay Dive Tours. You can guess the specialty here. This tour operator offers introductory courses in the federally protected reserve for divers ages 12 and above. The charge is $120 for a one-tank dive. 460 Ena Rd., Honolulu, HI, 96815. PHONE: 808/256-8956 or 800/505-8956. www.hanaumabaydivetours.com.

Surf 'N Sea. The North Shore headquarters for all things water related is also great for diving. An interesting perk—a cameraman can shoot a video of you diving. It's hard to see facial expressions under the water, but it still might be fun for those who want to prove that they took the plunge. Two-tank boat-dive rates begin at $100 per certified diver (prices are higher for non-certified divers) and you can go at night for only slightly more. 62-595 Kamehameha Hwy., Haleiwa, HI, 96712. PHONE: 800/899-7873. FAX: 808/637-3008. www.surfnsea.com.

Oahu Scuba Diving Tours. Veteran instructor Andre Huste leads small-group and private dives around Oahu. With no overhead costs and a real passion for diving, Huste believes his job is to ensure that you have a good, safe time—and that you get your money's worth. Introductory and two-tank dives are $125 per person, and certification dives are $325. 1778 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu, HI, 96815. PHONE: 808/450-8046. www.oahuscubadivingtours.com.

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