Hanauma Bay


View of Hanauma Bay by Barry Inouye.

Hanauma Bay, located on the southeastern tip of the island of Oahu along Kalanianaole Highway, has been for many years one of the most popular beaches in all of Hawaii.  It has been recognized by some as one of the best beaches in the entire US and is considered by many as one of the best places in Hawaii to observe, by snorkeling or scuba diving, undisturbed underwater Hawaiian marine life.  The bay’s popularity as a beach stretches far back into ancient Hawaii when it was an exclusive recreation spot for Hawaiian royalty.

According to one Hawaiian legend, the area that surrounds the area was formed as a result of two suitors who were fighting for the hand of Princess Keohinani. Because the battle went on and on without a victor, Keohiani begged her father who was a magician to end the struggle.  Keohiani’s father ordered the men to end the battle, but neither obliged.  In anger, he used his magic to turn the combatants into lizards with interlocked tails.  But Keohiani, who loved both men, appealed to the gods and the gods then turned the lizards into two mountains that today watch over the bay that Keohiani loved so much.  That bay was Hanauma Bay.

In addition to such colorful ancient legends, Hanauma Bay’s geologic make-up contributes to its overall appeal.  Over 40,000 years ago a series of volcanic cinder cones that erupted in the area.  The crater that forms the bay today was created by six separate cinder cones. The seaside walls of the crater were eroded by the sea, which eventually created the scenic semi-circular bay and its secluded, but picturesque beach.  The shape of the bay and reefs contributes to the calm waters that can be found in most parts; but visitors should be aware of strong and sometimes dangerous currents on the other rims of the bay.

Not only has Hanauma Bay been a great beach since ancient times, it was once a popular place to fish.  It eventually became too popular a place to fish.  In response to overfishing, in 1967, the bay was designated as a Marine Life Conservation Area prohibiting fishing and protecting all forms of marine life in the bay.  Hanauma Bay is known today as a breeding ground for the endangered Hawaiian green sea turtle or honu.

Even with the ban on fishing, Hanauma Bay became so popular the City and County of Honolulu had to introduce an admission fee for non-residents to control the crowds in 1997.  The bay, like many popular parks throughout the county, was literally being loved to death.  During the 1980s, there were over 10,000 visitors coming to Hanauma Bay each day.  Visitors were unwittingly killing its reefs by walking on them and the amount of sunscreen that was in the water was also doing the same to the parts of the reef that were closest to the beach.

The admission fee for non-residents did help to control the crowds and the money was used to improve park facilities.  One visitor actually tried to sue the City in a class action lawsuit in 2001 because she and her attorney thought it was discriminatory to do so.  The admission fee at the time was $3.00.  The City won the case in Federal court ruling the fee involved was only incidental to the plaintiff’s enjoyment of the park and was even upheld on appeals in 2004.

Today the entrance fee to Hanauma Bay is $7.50 per person for each non-resident 13 years or older. While the parking is only parking is $1, there are only 300 parking spaces available.  So it is important to arrive early to get a parking space.  As paring space become available, cars are allowed into the lot.  First timers are required to watch a 9 minute video about Hanauma Bay before entering the park.  Depending upon crowds, it can take up to an hour or longer to see the video.  Except on Tuesdays, the bay is open daily from 6:00 am to either 6:00 pm or to 7:00 pm, depending upon the season.