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One advantage that snorkeling has over scuba is that you never run out of air. That and the fact that anyone who can swim can also snorkel without any formal training. A favorite pastime in Hawaii, snorkeling can be done anywhere there's enough water to stick your face in. Each spot will have its great days depending on the weather and time of year, so consult with the purveyor of your gear for tips on where the best viewing is that day. Keep in mind that the North Shore should be attempted only when the waves are calm, namely in the summertime.
Think of buying a mask and snorkel as a prerequisite for your trip—they make any beach experience better. Just make sure you put plenty of sunblock on your back because once you start gazing below, your head may not come back up for hours.
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve. What Waimea Bay is to surfing, Hanauma Bay in southeast Oahu is to snorkeling. Easily the most popular snorkeling spot on the island, it's home to more more than 250 different species of marine life. Due to the protection of the narrow mouth of the cove and the prodigious reef, you will be hard-pressed to find a place you will feel safer while snorkeling. 7455 Kalanianaole Hwy., Honolulu, HI, 96825. PHONE: 808/396-4229.
Queen's Surf. On the edge of Waikiki, Queen's Surf is a marine reserve located between Kapahulu Groin and the Waikiki Aquarium. It's not as chock-full of fish as Hanauma Bay, but it has its share of colorful reef fish and the occasional Hawaiian green sea turtle. Just yards from shore, it's a great spot for an escape if you're stuck in Waikiki and have grown weary of watching the surfers. Kalakaua Ave., Honolulu, HI, 96815.
Electric Beach. Directly across from the electricity plant—hence the name—Electric Beach is a haven for tropical fish, making it a great snorkeling spot. The expulsion of hot water from the plant raises the temperature of the ocean, attracting Hawaiian green sea turtles, spotted moray eels, and spinner dolphins. Although the visibility is not always the best, the crowds are small and the fish are guaranteed. Farrington Hwy., 1 mile west of Ko Olina Resort, Kapolei, HI, 96797.
Shark's Cove. Great shallows protected by a huge reef make Shark's Cove on the North Shore a prime spot for snorkelers, even young ones, in the summer. You'll find a plethora of critters from crabs to octopus in water that's no more than waist deep. When the winter swells come, this area can turn treacherous. Kamehameha Hwy., across from Foodland, Haleiwa, HI, 96712.
Equipment and Tours
Hanauma Bay Rental Stand. You can get masks, fins, and snorkels right at the park. 7455 Kalanianaole Hwy, Honolulu, HI, 96825. PHONE: 808/395-4725.
Hanauma Bay Snorkeling Excursions. For those who are a little timid about entering these waters, this outfitter provides a tour with a guide to help alleviate your fears. For just $18, this tour package includes all your snorkeling needs, including transportation to and from Waikiki hotels. PHONE: 808/306-3393. www.hanaumabaysnorkel.com.
Honolulu Sailing Company. The Kahala Kai sails out of Kewalo Basin Harbor in Honolulu—very convenient if you have other plans in town. Take a two-hour sail out to sea turtle breeding grounds, where 50-foot-plus visibility makes for great snorkeling. There's loads of sea life, from turtles and reef fish to dolphins and, in the winter, whales. Kewalo Basin Harbor, 1125 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu, HI, 96814. PHONE: 808/239-3900. FAX: 808/239-9718. www.honsail.com.
Snorkel Bob's. This place has all the stuff you'll need—and more—to make your water adventures more enjoyable. Bob makes his own gear and is active in protecting reef fish species. Feel free to ask the staff about good snorkeling spots, as the best ones can vary with weather and the seasons. 700 Kapahulu Ave., Honolulu, HI, 96816. PHONE: 808/735-7944 or 800/262-7725. www.snorkelbob.com.