Hanauma Bay

So people have asked, "What about Hanauma Bay?" And I say, "Yeah, what about it dude?" Seriously, I don't know you well enough to call you dude, so I'll stop and tell you about Hanauma Bay instead.

Hanauma Bay is the remnants of an ancient volcanic crater. One side of the crater collapsed into the sea long ago, forming a spectacular hidden bay full of living coral and beautiful tropical fish swimming Disney-like in its warm waters.

Now fast forward to today.

The bay is accessible by city bus or one of a zillion tour shuttle operators. A few years ago not much was done to lessen the effects of tourism on this lovely place, with predictable results: more trash, too much feeding of the fish, too many big ugly fish arriving and eating up the pretty little ones and so forth.

Luckily the folks in Hawaii who think about such things thought hard about Hanauma Bay and have made changes. The place is closed to everyone without gills one day of the week (Tuesday at present but check before you go). Everyone not a Hawaiian resident with a Hawaii driver's license pays a $3 admission charge, and pays $1 to park. The number of people allowed into the Bay, now actually a state park, is regulated and you can expect to wait for someone else to leave during the busy times, just like the bars in college. If you don't go early in the morning, consider later in the day, as predictably the crowds bunch up around midday and right after lunch.

The entry process is well-managed and efficient, and a new visitor's center carved into the bluff makes it work well. There are toilets and a snack bar, all dug into the earth and capped with very real-looking fake rocks, so it all blends together and does not like too Epcot-like. It is all about balancing access and preservation, and it feels right to us. Props to the folks in Hawaii who made this work.

Compared to other beaches Hanauma bay is still crowded, the food vendors still close up when they want to (usually around 4 pm) and it is still a long walk down a hot road to the beach. The best snorkeling is out beyond the inner reef, in water too deep and wavy for most kids. Fish feeding is prohibited.

The coral can be harsh on little and big feet. We recommend water shoes, caution and patience. Better yet, on your way down to the Bay, stop and look down at it from the bluff and mentally map out paths between the coral formations to explore (i.e., the light blue areas in the photos below).
Hawaii beach with children

To get there by bus, take No. 22 “Hawaii Kai-Sea Life Park.” On Kuhio Avenue in the Diamond Head direction, board the 22 Hawaii Kai-Sea Life Park and ride to Hanauma Bay.

Going home, you need No. 22, “Waikiki Beach and Hotels.” Board the 22 Waikiki Beach and Hotels bus. The 22 runs once an hour on weekdays, twice an hour on weekends. Approximate travel time is 40 minutes. The bus can get way crowded and some adults way to pushy fussing for seats, so watch the little ones and try not to end up in line for the last bus of the day.

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