From snorkeling to sailing to SUP, 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, ‘coz there’s an ocean of watery fun just waiting for you in the Aloha state.
7 best Hawaii water activities
1) Sailing the Na Pali Coast, Kauai
One of the best things to do in Kauai is to sail the unspoilt Na Pali Coast.
There’s something almost mystical about gazing up at the 4,000-foot emerald cliffs 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) Whale watching in Hawaii
Want to see whales in Hawaii?
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 top things to do in Hawaii in winter.
3) Scuba diving in Hawaii
There’s also some great scuba diving in Hawaii.
In particular, the Molokini Wall (located a few miles off Maui) is one of the best dive sites in Hawaii. Chances are excellent you’ll see blacktip sharks on this drift dive!
At Lanai island, the lava tubes and caverns of the two Lanai Cathedrals are also awesome for a boat dive.
And scuba diving is one of the most popular things to do in Kona on Hawaii’s Big Island – especially the manta ray night dive!
4) 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.
5) Snorkeling in Hawaii
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 white-tip reef sharks (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 in 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.
“Manta Heaven,” located on the Big Island, is another one of the best places to snorkel in Hawaii. On a Hawaii UnCruise Adventures trip, we snorkeled with mammoth manta rays doing backflips just inches in front of our snorkel masks – an almost other-worldly experience!
6) Stand-up paddleboarding in Hawaii
Have you tried stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) yet? It’s a ton of fun. And it’s good core exercise too.
A great place to learn to SUP in Hawaii is the calm and tranquil Hule’ia River in Kauai. And if you happen to wobble and fall off? No worries, the water is bathtub warm.
Other best places to paddleboard in Hawaii include Hanalei Bay in Kauai, Lanikai Beach on Oahu and Makena Landing Park in Maui.
7) Basking on a Hawaii beach
Shaking your towel out on a beach to lie down on it might not count among a true definition of “Hawaii water sports.” 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 lists of the best beaches in Hawaii.
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.
Over on the Big Island, Mauna Kea Beach is a favorite beach.
At wild Makena Beach on Maui, the waves are just right for body surfing.
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.
And if you find yourself on Lanai’s Hulupoe Beach, watch for the spinner dolphins that twirl about in the bay.
So, you’re a beach baby? Then you’ll love these 10 beautiful beaches around the world!
Photo credits: 3 and 20 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | 17 Pacific Whale Foundation