From snorkeling to sailing, there are oodles of fun water activities in Hawaii!
Let’s face it, you can’t visit the Hawaiian islands and not dip a toe in the turquoise waters, right? So haul out your swimsuit, ‘cause there’s an ocean of watery fun just waiting for you in the Aloha state.
5 fun water activities in Hawaii
1. Hawaii sailing adventures
There’s something almost mystical about gazing up at the 4,000-foot emerald cliffs of Kauai’s unspoilt Na Pali Coast from the deck of a sailboat.
Ribboned by cascading waterfalls, this 17-mile stretch of gob-smacking scenery is right out of Jurassic Park (filmed here, along with King Kong). Sailing trips on large catamarans are popular. Spinner dolphins like to race along at the bow, and a snorkeling stop is often included – keep an eye out for sea turtles.
2. Hawaii whale watching
Want to see whales?
Thousands of humpbacks migrate each winter from Alaska to the warm shallow waters off Maui to mate and give birth. Between December and April, you can take a whale watching cruise.
Sometimes the whales come so close to your boat you can even smell their fishy breath.
We like the non-profit Pacific Whale Foundation, which supports its research with trips on catamarans and high-tech rafts, led by marine naturalists. Some vessels have hydrophones, so you can listen to whale songs too.
Ask anyone who’s visited Hawaii, and they’ll tell you that whale watching is one of the best Hawaii water adventures.
3. Surf’s up!
Catch a wave on world-famous Waikiki Beach.
Ever since Duke Kahanamoku and fellow “Waikiki Beach Boys” introduced surfing to the world in the 1920’s, Waikiki has been known as one of the best spots in Hawaii to learn to surf.
The waves are gentle – and you get great views of Honolulu’s iconic Diamond Head volcano as you’re gliding into shore. Choose from plenty of surf schools, which have staked their colorful boards in the sand. Lessons usually run two hours. And instructors promise you’ll pop up and ride a wave by the end of your first lesson. Really!
To watch big wave surfing, head to Oahu’s north shore in winter. That’s when pro surfers tackle 30-foot monster waves at Pipeline, Sunset beach and Waimea Bay.
On Maui, it’s fun to watch windsurfers and kiteboarders somersaulting in the waves at Hookipa Beach Park, near funky Paia town.
4. Hawaii snorkeling adventures
Rainbow-hued parrotfish. Bright gold racoon butterflyfish. Black tangs. You see galaxies of tropical fish while snorkeling around the sunken volcanic crater of Molokini, two miles offshore southwest Maui.
You might even see graceful manta rays and a white tip reef shark (don’t worry, they won’t bother you). Molokini’s crescent-shaped rim poking up above water is a seabird sanctuary; underwater, it’s a marine conservation area protecting over 250 marine species. The waters are usually crystal clear too. Catamaran snorkeling tours provide noodles and flotation devices, so you feel comfortable in the water.
“Turtle Town,” where Hawaiian green sea turtles congregate, and Olawalu Reef are also popular places to snorkel on Maui.
On Oahu, Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is a beautiful snorkeling cove with a white sand beach and fish galore. Watch a short video first at its Marine Education Center, then snorkel to your heart’s content. You can rent gear there.
On Hawaii’s Big Island at Manta Heaven, we snorkeled at night with mammoth manta rays doing backflips just inches in front of our snorkel masks – an almost other-worldly experience!
5. Basking on a Hawaii beach
Shaking your towel out on a beach might not count among a true definition of “Hawaii water adventures.” But swimming definitely counts!
And swimming and beaching go hand in hand, right?
Hawaii boasts dozens of enticing beaches, but some standouts always make the “best beaches” lists.
Lanikai Beach near Kailua on Oahu gets raves for its soft sand, calm clear water (ideal for kids) and swaying palm trees.
Poipu Beach on Kauai’s south shore is also favored by families for its generally calm shallow waters. Endangered Hawaiian monk seals like to nap on this beach too (as do we) – to see monk seals is one of the reasons to visit or revisit Kauai (which offers a Monk Seal Education Program). The surf picks up on Poipu in the summer months, so for calm swimming, you might want to head to beautiful Hanalei Bay on the north coast then.
Close to Kauai’s cruise ship dock is the gold sand crescent of Kalapaki Beach (just a short walk from Nawiliwili Harbor). Protected from the surf, it’s another superb swimming beach.
At wild Makena Beach on Maui, the waves are just right for body surfing. And if you find yourself on Lanai’s Hulupoe Beach, watch for the spinner dolphins which twirl about in the bay.
Read our magazine article on Hawaii water activities
This post is based on our travel feature “Get Wet: Hawaii’s best water adventures,” published in the Fall, 2014 issue of Compass magazine (click on the image below for the link to a PDF of the complete print article).
Have you been to Hawaii? What Hawaii water adventures did you get up to?
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We’re Janice and George Mucalov, professional award-winning travel writers, sharing tales of luxury travel with a twist of adventure.