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The Ultimate Guide to Scuba Diving Hawaii

Find stunning seascapes, big animals, endless endemics, verdant volcanoes and the Aloha State's best places to submerge.
By Brooke Morton | Authored On October 26, 2020
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The Ultimate Guide to Scuba Diving Hawaii

Don’t worry—you don’t have to cross an entire ocean to experience the thrills, curiosities and color that Pacific diving is known for. Cue Hawaii. The flight is just six hours from LA, as opposed to the 22 or more necessary to reach other Pacific locales.

Hawaii Island dives are known for abundance, from schools of exotics to endemic reef fish, plus weird wonders including frogfish, eels and the leaf scorpionfish, a critter not found in the Caribbean or closer to home for most American divers. These islands also pack daily big-animal encounters. The most common sightings include spinner dolphins, whitetip reef sharks, and of course, giant manta rays, found reliably off the Big Island.

There is no best Hawaiian island for scuba diving—every island packs its own flavor. The Big Island offers the greatest number of dive sites, as well as sweeping biodiversity on reef dives, from manta rays to nudibranchs. The island of Kauai delivers the biggest numbers of green sea turtles. Wreck divers will appreciate the options Oahu offers. For those on a budget or simply seeking additional adventure, Maui is a good pick for shore diving and unique day trips.

As for the landscape, much of the underwater terrain is cooled lava. Former flows are responsible for creating labyrinths of tunnels, arches and craters. Plus, the stuff is nutrient-rich, with hard and soft corals that support thriving communities.

Best Dive Spots in Hawaii

Whether you are looking to go reef diving in Hawaii, to explore shipwrecks on Oahu and Maui or take in the sights on the famous manta night dive or pelagic magic dive in Kona, it is always diving season in Hawaii.

Big Island

  • Crescent Beach
  • Manta night diving
  • Blackwater diving

Oahu

  • Sea Tiger
  • Mario World
  • YO-257
  • Navy Tug

Kauai

  • Vertical Awareness, Niihau
  • Sheraton Caverns, Kauai
  • Turtle Bluffs/Fish Bowl/General Store
  • Koloa Landing

Maui

  • Five Caves at Makena Landing
  • Molokai — Hammerheads
  • Molokai — Black Wall
  • Lanai Cathedrals

Planning Your Hawaii Dive Vacation

We’ve broken down the best diving in Hawaii island-by-island to make planning your trip an ocean breeze. Each Hawaiian Island has something unique to offer for scuba diving and topside excursions. If you are looking for a laid-back vibe, then a Hawaii dive vacation on Kauai or the Big Island might be your preference. But if it's limitless diving and nightlife you are after, consider Oahu or Maui when planning your scuba diving trip to Hawaii.


Explore amazing Hawaiian dive vacations HERE.


Divers Guide

When to Go
Hawaii is a year-round destination, with the presence of whales offering the biggest difference between winter and summer months. November through May, humpbacks return to the islands to mate and calve; peak viewing is January to March. Divers won’t likely see whales underwater, but they do hear them; booking a whale-watching trip is not to be missed. Value seekers note that September through November offers the biggest discounts, although this is the tail of hurricane season.

Water Temps
Year-round conditions remain consistently favorable. Expect summer water temps to be around 83 degrees, with winter averages slightly chillier at 76. “What to wear depends on what you’re used to,” says Laurel Steenhuis of Kona Honu Divers. “We all wear 5 mm fullsuits, but cold-water divers will be comfortable in a 3 mm.”

Average Viz
Visibility averages 60 to 100 feet. The west coast of the Big Island isn’t known for storms, but the island is subject to occasional afternoon showers in the summer.

Hawaii Travel Tips
Local operators hold themselves to a high standard; one way this plays out is rental gear. To stay competitive, operators trade out their gear frequently, so expect new, top-rate equipment. If you want to skip bringing your own gear and travel with just carry-on, you’re covered. Keep in mind that all of Hawaii has banned sunscreens that harm the reefs—most notably, formulas with oxybenzone or octinoxate. You can buy reef-safe sunscreens on island.

Hawaii Insider Travel Tips

Kauai and Niihau

  • Bring your camera to Kauai’s Waimea Canyon— the Grand Canyon of the Pacific—where breathtaking vistas line the long valley.
  • Head to Kauai’s Puka Dogs in the Poipu Shopping Village for true Hawaiian-style hot dogs, complete with secret sauce, one of six original tropical relishes and a tasty passion fruit mustard.

Oahu

  • Three miles outside of Oahu’s Haleiwa are a series of buoys where operators take guests to swim with sharks. You will get face-to-face encounters with an assortment of feisty sandbar and looming Galapagos sharks. If you’re lucky, tiger sharks sometimes make an appearance.

Maui

  • At Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa, enjoy the nightly sunset lighting of the Pu‘u Keka‘a Black Rock torches— complete with live music, narration, hula and cliff diving—or visit January through April for prime humpback whale-watching from outrigger canoe and oceanfront guestroom balconies.
  • At Maui’s Fairmont Kea Lani, not only can you snorkel from the hotel beach, but on-site Wailea Scuba Surf & Paddle offers an adrenaline-spiked scooter dive. Explore the home reef or head to nearby Five Caves for swimthroughs and caverns filled with over a dozen sea turtles and whitetip reef sharks.

Island of Hawaii (Big Island)

  • Don the Beachcomber Bar shakes up the best mai tais on the Big Island. Head to this hotspot in Kailua-Kona at sunset for the classic cocktail that helped launch tiki culture into 1950s and ’60s mainstream America.
  • For a fun, easy way to sample a mix of Big Island flavors, try a walking food tour. Kona Tasting Tours highlights vendors who take advantage of the bounty of local fruits, veggies, seafood and spices. Sample goodies from poke of the day to dragon fruit gelato.

2020 Readers Choice Winners
Our readers named these operators and liveaboards Hawaii’s best in our 2020 survey.

Operators
+ Big Island Divers
+ Jack’s Diving Locker, Big Island
+ Kona Diving Company, Big Island
+ Kona Honu Divers, Big Island
+ Seasport Divers, Kauai
+ Dive Maui
+ Maui Dive Shop
+ Scuba Shack, Maui
+ Dive Oahu

Liveaboard
+ Kona Aggressor II, Big Island

Editors Choice
These are favorites of our editors.

Operators
+ Jack’s Diving Locker, Big Island
+ Kona Honu Divers, Big Island
+ Seasport Divers, Kauai
+ Dive Oahu
+ Maui Diving Scuba Center

Liveaboard
+ Kona Aggressor II, Big Island

Resorts
+ Royal Kona Resort, Big Island
+ Whalers Cove, Kauai
+ Aston Kaanapali Shores Resort, Maui
+ The Surfjack Resort, Oahu
+ The Laylow Resort, Oahu