The Best Diving Spots In Hawaii And How To Prepare

Hawaii is arguably one of the most beautiful places on the planet, and thanks to its volcanic origins and isolated location, there are countless scuba diving opportunities to explore. 

Its incredible underwater topography provides a home for a myriad of marine life. From grazing turtles, to migrating Humpback whales, Hawaii has an underwater world like no other.

The Best Diving Spots in Hawaii and How to Prepare

If you’ve been planning a diving trip to Hawaii, it’s important that you’re prepared before you go. To help you out, we’ve compiled a list of the best diving spots that Hawaii has to offer.

We’ve also put together some other useful information, like how to get between the islands, when’s the best time of year to go diving and any risks you need to think about. 

The Best Diving Spots In Hawaii

Below is a guide to some of the most beautiful and interesting dives the islands of Hawaii have to offer. Each of these is ideal for different experience levels, so whether you’re new to diving or have numerous dives under your belt already, there’s something for everyone.  

Manta Ray Night Dive, Kona Coast

This is possibly the most famous diving experience in Hawaii nowadays, and it’s not hard to understand why. This is unlike any other dive experience, as when you head out on one of these dives you will be met by massive schools of manta rays. 

It’s known as the ‘night dive’ as you’ll watch the manta rays feed on zooplankton under the cover of darkness. It’s quite a sight to behold, as hundreds of them come out to feast.

At times, they’ll swim around you, putting you in the middle of it. Although it’s always a wonderful experience to see manta rays glide through the water, there’s something so magical about how they move at night. 

There is no guarantee that you will see manta ray on a dive, so most dive tours will offer you a free second dive if you don’t see anything the first time. You will use lights, however, to first attract the plankton and, more often than not, the manta ray follows. 

What You Will See:

  • Manta Ray

Molokini Wall, Maui

It may be a 40 minute boat ride from Maui, but the Molokini Wall is definitely worth it. Molokini is a partially sunken volcanic crater, which spans down an impressive 300 ft. Despite it’s incredible drop, you should only expect to dive to around 80 feet.

From there you will find an abundance of reef sharks - white tip, black tip and gray reef sharks. If you’re lucky you might even run into some dolphins and manta rays, and turtles are also known to swim by on occasion. 

In total, there are over 250 fish species catalogued in this area - for some species, this is the only place in the world where you can find them. The Molokini Wall is an ideal spot for any underwater photography enthusiasts, as it boasts some extraordinary coral reefs that are bursting with life. 

In winter Humpback whales make their way through this area. You’re more likely to hear them than see them, but it is an extraordinary experience that shouldn’t be overlooked. 

It’s worth noting that this is a two-tank dive; the first dive takes you outside the crater to the dramatic back wall. As the back wall opens onto the deep ocean, this is the area that is teaming with a variety of pelagic marine life.

The second dive takes you inside the crater itself. As the Molokini Crater has been a Marine Life Conservation District (MLCD) since 1977, it is home to some of the most pristine hard coral reefs in Hawaii. 

This is not a dive suited for beginners, so only experienced and certified divers should apply. However, if you are an experienced diver wanting to go on a dive trip to Hawaii, this is a must-see location. 

What You Will See:

  • Coral Reefs
  • Manta Rays 
  • Dolphins 
  • Black Tip Sharks, White Tip Sharks and Gray Reef Sharks 
  • Humpback Whales (December-April only)

Black Rock, Maui

If you’re in Maui, you definitely want to check out Black Rock as it’s one of the best shore dive spots across the state. Situated on the north end of Ka’anapali Beach - just 10 minutes north of Lahaina - this is an easy dive for both beginner and intermediate divers.

Black Rock was one of the last places that was formed by underwater lava formations that make up the island. Ancient Hawaiians believed this is the place where their spirits jumped off to join their ancestors forever.

It is believed that unlucky souls who were not shown their way to their families attached themselves to the rocks in the area. This is where the “it’s bad luck to take a Hawai’ian lava rock” superstition comes from. 

With depths up to 32 feet, you can expect to see all kinds of marine life, and the area is particularly rife with turtles and rays. You might even come across some monk seal relaxing on the rocks.

The way in which the rocks were formed caused a natural outcropping and the area is teeming with marine life, but be wary as the current can be pretty strong here. 

Black Rock also offers the opportunity to go night diving. Most of the activity famously goes off after the sun has set, and you can watch eels, lobsters, crabs and turtles on the hunt for food. You might also see White tip Reef sharks patrolling the reef!

This is also a great spot to go snorkelling and cliff jumping too.

What You Will See

  • Coral Reefs
  • Turtles 
  • Manta Rays 
  • White Tip Reef Sharks 
  • Eels 
  • Lobsters
  • Monk Seals 

Fish Rain, Molokai

Located on the south shore of Molokai, Fish Rain is a gorgeous reef which boasts over forty different dive sites across the 30 mile reef. As its name suggests, Fish Rain is teeming with marine life, and is arguably one of the best dive sites in Hawaii.

The coral is packed with an array of colorful sea life -  from Parrotfish and Triggerfish to Butterflyfishes and Hawkfish, Fish Rain really has it all. However, if you’re a fan of big fish, this is definitely the spot for you.

Keep your eyes peeled for a whole manner of sharks, such as the Galapagos Sharks and Whale Sharks. You can also head out to the Mokuhooniki Rock to get up close and personal with Hammerheads. You may even stumble across some tiger sharks and monk seals too!

There's one huge downside to Fish Rain, and that’s getting there. There’s no easy way to get to this spot as no roads roll out in this direction.

It takes almost an hour to get there from Lahaina Harbor - combine that with the rough seas and you’re in for a tough dive. Fish Rain is recommended for more advanced divers as it’s a challenging (but rewarding) dive. 

What You Will See:

  • Hammerhead Sharks
  • Whale Sharks
  • Galapagos Sharks
  • Monk Seals
  • Mahi-Mahi 
  • Rare Pelagic Species 
  • Coral Reefs

YO-257 Wreck, Oahu

If you’re fascinated by wreckages, then the YO-257 wreck in Oahu is a perfect dive for you. The 175-foot long navy oiler was purposefully reefed in 1989 by the Atlantis Submarines.

Today, it is an exceptional artificial reef which is teeming with marine life. At around 75 feet down, you’ll spot turtles laying on the main deck, and schools of spotted eagle rays have been known to cruise past the ship. 

Just 70 feet away from the YO-257 is the San Pedro wreckage. Like the YO-257, the San Pedro was purposely sunk by the Atlantis Submarines in 1996. The decommissioned hospital ship is 125 feet long, but sits in shallower water.

Like the YO-257, it’s bursting with marine life like puffer fish, octopuses and white tip reef sharks. Due to the deteriorating conditions of the San Pedro, swim throughs are not advised. 

On your way out to the wreckage sites, you will have a stunning view of Diamond Head (Lēʻahi), the volcanic crater. However, the currents that wrap around Diamond Head can often make the site a more challenging dive, so for that reason it is recommended that only advanced divers try this dive out.

What You Will See:

  • Artificial Reef (Wreckage)
  • White Tip Reef Sharks
  • Turtles 
  • Puffer Fish 
  • Eagle Rays 
  • Octopuses 
  • Frog Fish 

The Cathedrals Dive Sites, Lanai

These stunning caverns were formed by collapsed lava tubes. Sun rays shine through the ceiling from gaps where rocks have fallen through, and illuminate the clear water below.

People often liken the light coming through to high windows in an old church, which is where the nickname the Lanai Cathedrals came from. 

The sites are a display of incredible topography, as each volcanic formation is unique. The caverns, lava shoots and arches are perfect for swim throughs. As dives range from 15 feet to 65 feet, there’s something for everyone to experience at these dive sites. 

However, there’s more than underwater rock formations to admire, as the Hawaiian marine life has really taken to the area. Sharks, turtles and dolphins can be found swimming through the Cathedrals. At times whales have even been spotted in the area!

There are two separate cathedrals in the area, which are two separate dives: cathedral one and cathedral two. Out of the two, cathedral one is definitely the better dive, but if you have the time don’t skip out on the second one. 

What You Will See:

  • Beautiful topography 
  • Sharks 
  • Turtles
  • Dolphins
  • Whales 
  • Rays
  • Tropical Reef Fish 
  • Colorful coral heads

Turtle Pinnacle, Kailua-Kona

As the name suggests, you can expect to see this place packed with Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles, but what you probably don’t know is that turtles gather here for a very specific reason. 

This isn’t a nesting nor feeding ground, it’s a cleaning station! As bizarre as that sounds, turtles come here for a little bit of pampering.

The surgeonfish (otherwise known as tang) who occupy this area love algae, so when turtles arrive they swarm around them to clean their shells. It’s a win-win situation, as the fish feast and the turtles get a thorough cleaning. 

Although it’s strange, it’s an incredible experience, and is one of the few places in the world that lets you get so close to turtles. However, it’s important you keep your distance.

Turtles may be gentle creatures, but they're also a protected species in this region - harming them in any way is against the law. 

Turtle Pinnacle is not a particularly deep dive, with an average depth of 12 meters and a maximum depth of 18 meters, so it’s a great dive to experience if you’re a beginner.

The area is also pretty popular with moray eels and octopuses. On occasion, Manta rays and pods of Spinner Dolphins will pass through too. 

What You Will See:

  • Green Sea Turtles
  • Coral Reef
  • Surgeonfish/tang
  • Moray Eels
  • Octopus
  • Manta Rays
  • Spinner Dolphins

Three Fingers, Kauai

Often referred to as the Garden Island, Kauai is also home to some spectacular underwater landscapes, like the Three Fingers. Tucked away inside the island, the Three Fingers is a tranquil dive site which has a plethora of marine life. 

Turtles frequent the area, and you will find dragon morays, anthias, wrasse and more. The clear waters offer visibility of up to 60 feet, so it’s perfect for any underwater photography enthusiasts. However, keep your eye out for south swells, as these can significantly reduce your visibility. 

There are parts of the Three Fingers that are pretty shallow, but there are also some more complex locations, making this an ideal location for beginners and experienced divers alike. 

What You Will See:

  • Blue Striped Grunts 
  • Angel Fish 
  • Wrasse
  • Anthias
  • Dragon Morays 
  • Turtles 
  • Coral Reefs 

Kahuna Canyon, Oahu

You can find Kahuna Canyon on the north shore of Oahu, near Mokule’ia. It’s most famous for its bowl-shaped crater that looks like an underwater version of the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

The Kahuna Canyon is technically not a canyon but a volcanic crater that extends 100 feet downwards. Half of the crater is missing, which creates a canyon down to the depths. 

It’s home to a stunning array of marine life, and you will see Moray eels, parrotfish, amberjacks, lobsters and more in the clear waters. If you’re lucky you may see sharks passing along the canyon, so keep your eyes peeled. 

The best time to go diving here is during the summer months, as this is when the visibility will be high. Avoid diving in winter as the water will be too choppy. 

What You Will See:

  • Coral Reefs
  • Parrotfish
  • Unicorn Surgeonfish
  • Ulua
  • Amberjacks 
  • Moray Eels 
  • Lobsters
  • Sharks 
  • Octopus

Risks of Diving in Hawaii

Although Diving in Hawaii can be a magical experience, and the risks of getting hurt are pretty remote, there are some dangers you need to be aware of. 

One of the biggest dangers of diving in Hawaii is Tiger Sharks - or any other potentially deadly shark. They are usually docile, however, there’s always a risk that something may go wrong. Always head out into the water with an experienced dive crew. 

While scuba diving, watch out for sea urchins. These creatures may look beautiful, but get too close and their micro-needle-like spines can end up piercing your skin.

Wetsuits won’t protect you either, as sea urchin spines are so sharp they pierce your skin better than any syringe. Although it’s not serious, removing a sea urchin spine can be a nuisance. 

Green Sea Turtles are a protected species in Hawaii. Although they are commonly seen across the state, and watching them is a truly mesmerising experience, you must keep your distance. It is against the law to harm these creatures in any way. 

There is also a slight risk you can develop compression sickness when diving in Hawaii. This is because the islands are fairly remote, so the only way to travel between them is via an airplane.

To reduce the risk of compression sickness, make sure you have been on land for at least 24 hours before you fly again. 

When To Dive In Hawaii

Thanks to the subtropical climate, diving can be enjoyed year-around in Hawaii. The average water temp lies somewhere between 75-80°F (24-27°C), and reaches its peak in September. 

For the ultimate diving experience, Humpback whales make an appearance off of the shores of the Hawaiian islands to breed and give birth from December through to April.

However, keep in mind that the waters can become pretty choppy in the winter months, so diving is not advised in certain places. 

It’s also good to think about the busier tourist months. Hawaii’s off-season stretches from mid-April to mid-June, and resumes again in September until the holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas etc) come around.  

How To Get To Hawaii

Getting to Hawaii isn’t much of an issue, it’s more the cost of travel. Honolulu International Airport is the main international gateway.

There is also Kona International Airport on the Big Island, Kahului Airport on Maui and Lihue Airport on Kauai that receive both international and inter-island flights. 

If you’re flying from the US, LAX (Los Angeles) routinely flies out to Hawaii, and offers some of the best flight deals. 

Anything Else You Should Know

  • Currency: USD ($)
  • Languages: English, Hawaiian
  • Timezone: Hawaii-Aleutian Standard Time (HST)
  • Plug and Voltage: A and B, 120 V

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