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As I was editing our photos from our trip to Hawaii last week, I was particularly inspired by our shots from Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve.  It was not the quality or artistry of our photography, but looking at those snapshots brought me right back to the experience of being surprised & delighted by this natural gem in O’ahu.Image

So, Hanauma Bay:  If you are ever visiting Honolulu (even for a night before hopping on to another island) — Go!  Please.  In fact, I wish I would’ve planned an entire day around this place.  Rather, visiting was more of an afterthought:  “Oh yeah, someone told me to go to Hanauma Bay, something about good snorkeling?  Let’s try to swing by before lunch.”  So we jumped in the car, trying to squeeze a field trip in before hotel checkout.  We had a mere hour there on the day we were leaving the island altogether — not. enough. time.  Ah, at least I’m glad to have seen it.

First, parking is an issue.  Deliberate, I believe, on the part of local governing authorities, in order to limit the amount of visitors impacting this protected marine ecosystem.  The park opens at 6 a.m. and their lot fills up fast…once it’s full, there’s really no other options.  When our car was turned away at 10 a.m., we continued our drive along the main coastal road to stop at the various scenic lookout points.  Actually, my second cousin who has lived on Oahu for years recommended we take this drive, raving about the breathtaking vistas along Kalaniana’ole Highway, Route 72.  Excellent diversion — she was right!Image

We made stops at Halona Blowhole, Eternity Beach Cove, and Makapu’u Lookout before heading back to Hanauma Bay.  All beautiful and worth stopping at, even for two minutes to get out & take in the scenery.  Luckily, our second try around Noon got us in…folks left for lunch, I guess?  –There’s no food sold down by the bay, only at the gift shop area at the top of the hill.  In typical state park fashion, parking is cheap at one measly dollar.  (Admission to the beach area is $7.50 per adult.)

One thing they make you do before going in is watch their safety video.  We were annoyed at this notion, given our time crunch, and tried to skip it.  Don’t do this.  They will catch you.  And don’t think saying you saw the video on your last trip there will get you out of it…they keep a list of names.  They are very proud of their facilities (rightfully so) and want you to pay heed by watching their program as an entrance prerequisite.  I was very glad, in the end, to have seen the video because it’s a valuable overview of the reef’s inhabitants.  Later, I would be mentally checking off fish shown in the video with fish I was seeing firsthand.

OK, so you manage to nab a parking spot, pay admission, get past the educational film, walk down the big hill and YOU’RE THERE!  Not excited yet?  Neither was I.  It’s a pretty cove, but not the prettiest I’ve seen.  There’s a nice sandy beach, too, but the sand’s not the whitest you’ll find on the many local beaches at your disposal.  And as for the small circular stretch of beach that it is, it feels almost as crowded as Waikiki.  –Not the same vibe as Waikiki, though, and that helps, for sure.  Plus, what you learn to be actual living reef just looks like plain ol’ rocks from far away.  Or seaweed mush.  For a first-time snorkeler who doesn’t know what they’re looking at, it’s nice…but not hugely appetizing.Image

Plus, just as we were in line to pay the entrance fee, the skies suddenly turned grey and it began to sprinkle on us…and the little raindrops were quite chilly.  😦

We brought our own snorkel gear (all packed into my ONE carry-on bag, thankyouverymuch!) so we didn’t need to rent any.  But, that’s all ready & available for ya down at the beach if needed.  I’d recommend renting…looking back, I don’t know HOW I got six days worth of clothes plus two sets of snorkel gear into my single carry-on luggage?!?  –Guess I’m becoming quite the efficient packer!  Holla.

So, it’s raining-ish and the seawater feels cold (always does, at first, right?) and it’s still cloudy and I’m barely inching my body into the water when I spot the first one…

–a spritely little Convict Tang is inches from my shin!  I spin around in reaction to my husband (unwilling to get in the water) gasping & pointing, “There’s one!  They’re right here at your feet!!!”  Herein lies the beauty of Hanauma Bay:  you do not have to pay an arm & a leg for some ‘snorkeling excursion,’ take a boat off to some far off location, get seasick & worry about reef sharks; the huge variety of wonderous colorful tropical fish of Hanauma Bay are EVERYWHERE, swimming up to you even in knee-deep water.  Image

It’s simply amazing.  Aside from the previously mentioned Convict Tang (name’s appropriate — they are white with vertical black stripes, resembling being behind bars), here’s a short list of the fish I particularly remember interacting with:  Achilles Tang, Surgeonfish, Butterfly Fish, Sea Urchins and the Hawaiian State Fish:  the Humuhumu-nukunuku-apua´a, or the Reef Triggerfish.  Here’s a link to Hanauma Bay’s official Fish I.D. Card.  Might I point out, that this was my very first salt water snorkel experience…part of my amazement is likely due to the shock & awe of the much-loved hobby of snorkeling, period.  But, I’m convinced that this is still a very special place, indeed.  Image

It was just my husband and me, but I feel like this would be the perfect family destination…a place in which everyone from little kids to grandparents could enjoy.  There are lifeguards and a nice palm tree-shaded beach for sunbathers.  Oh, speaking of sun:  once I saw that first fish skim past my shins, I was all in!  That little sight of undersea wonder was all the motivation my pussyfootin’ butt needed to dive right on in.  The ocean was warmer than standing around in the rain, anyway.  Even so, the sun came back out in full glory within maybe ten minutes.  The fish were so plentiful, curious, hungry and all-up-in-yo-face.  I was taken aback at how close they would swim up to me.  I just loved it and didn’t want to leave…not Hanauma Bay, not Oahu later that evening.  I’m very glad to be nestled back home in my beloved Austin, Texas now, but I tell ya:  this natural wonder was such a treasure.  Hamuama Bay was the best part of my first-ever trip to Hawaii.