As a long time resident of Southern California, I can appreciate tourist destinations. Warm or temperate climates, plenty of glitzy attractions, palm trees—all attract snow birds or just those seeking a change of pace that is more comfortable and relaxed.
America’s top three tourist destinations are California, Florida and Hawaii. Center of the Hawaii tourism trade is Waikiki on the island of Oahu. Airfare is cheap, accommodation prices reasonable, choices varied and there are many attractions. While scuba diving is considered an attraction here, it is often overshadowed by Hawaii’s brother islands.
Oahu is surrounded by excellent dive sites, many that rival Kona’s or even some of the Pacific’s best. But when visitors come they are lured away by surfing, luaus, glitzy hotels and more. It is time to shed some light on some of the superb diving that lies right offshore from those distracting attractions —excellent dives that are underwater right off Waikiki and very close by.
Dive boats run right out of Kewalo Boat Basin, just a 5-to 10-minute drive to the west of Waikiki hotels. Dive operations will pick you up at your hotel. From here, great dive sites are only a 5-to 15-minute boat ride out. And there is even good beach diving very close by.
ALA MOANA, MAGIC ISLE AND RAINBOW REEF
Most visitors hear about Ala Moana as a fantastic place to shop. The largest mall in all the islands is here. But on the other side of the road is Ala Moana Beach park, only a few blocks from Waikiki, but much quieter and less crowed. A peninsula extends offshore at the east end of the park referred to as Magic Isle (although it is really only a peninsula). At the end of the peninsula is a wonderful little protected cove that is excellent for snorkeling or, at high tide and when the surf is down, water entry for a scuba dive in the deeper waters offshore. Just head out in the gaps between the small breakwaters at the cove’s entrance. Alternatively, you can enter off a small beach on the east side (left as you face the sea) of the peninsula along through the boat channel. Hug the rocks and descend once past the channel buoy. A dive flag and float is recommended for this dive. The park has free parking, showers and restrooms. It is a bit of a walk to the entry points but well worth it for a dive over coral with colorful tropical fish and an occasional turtle. This reef is known as Rainbow Reef and is also visited by dive boats. If calm, which it usually is, you can expect about 40-50 foot of visibility.
SEA TIGER WRECK
A 10-minute boat ride takes you to one of Oahu’s most popular dives, the wreck of the 170-foot-long Sea Tiger. Put down in 1999, this small freighter sits upright in 120 feet of water. Though deep to the bottom, much of this dive can be made in less than 90 feet. Coral dots the wreck and fish swirl about in abundance. Limited penetration is possible so bring a light. Look for moray eels hiding in the rotting deck planks on the bow.
YO257 AND SAN PEDRO WRECKS
This is unarguably the best wreck dive in the islands. These two wrecks lay side by side at about 100 feet, 100 feet from each other. The YO257 is 180 feet long and has been down for over 20 years. The Saint Pedro is a 150 foot long freighter ship sunk about 15 years ago. Both wrecks have lots of coral growth and large sea turtles. White tip reef sharks are frequently seen. Depths ranges from 55 to 100 feet and visibility averages 100 feet. This is an advanced dive because of frequent currents.
THE CORSAIR FIGHTER AIRPLANE WRECK
In 1946 a WWII Corsair fighter plane ran out of fuel and was ditched off Waikiki during a training mission.
It is the only real WWII wreck at recreational depth in the islands. This is an advanced dive as the wreck lies in 107 feet of water that is frequently plagued by heavy currents. It is on a more exposed area of the island and can only be dived on very calm days.
While diving on this large pipeline is interesting in of itself, its main attraction is the beautiful reef nearby in deeper water. The pipe is covered with hard coral growth that is home for a variety of colorful fish including hawkfish, moorish idols, and the always hard to spot camouflaged frogfish. As you head seaward along the pipe at 50 to 60 feet, the reef beside the pipe becomes more substantial. Low profile but prolific growths of healthy coral give way to tall mounds. Turtles are a common sight.
There are many other dive sites on the south side of Oahu that are just a shore boat ride from the Waikiki area. They include: Ewa Pinnacles (50/80′),
Pearl Harbor Wall (50′), and 100-Foot Hole (95′).
No doubt, Waikiki is one of America’s favorite vacation destinations with a lot to see and do—just don’t miss out on some fantastic diving.
Special thanks to Reef Trekkers in Honolulu for help in creating this article (www.reeftrekkers.com).
Read more on scuba diving in Hawaii in this article from our friends at Dive Training Magazine: https://dtmag.com/thelibrary/a-sense-of-place-in-the-pacific-exploring-the-hawaiian-islands/