With the beautiful beaches on your doorstep, we’re sure that relaxing in the Hawaiian breeze will be one of your first ports of call!
But, whilst there is no end to the majesty of the O’ahu beaches, you should take some time to plan a spell on or in the water, rather than only enjoying it from your lounge chair!
To help you on your way, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most awesome things you can do in the water whilst visiting the amazing island of O’ahu in an attempt to assist you to sidestep one of the most typical missteps when visiting Hawaii- chilling out so much at the beach that you forget to go out on the water!
Make sure you don’t get to the end of your holiday and realize that you haven’t made the most of the limitless possibilities available for exploration on this island packed with activities and adventure just beyond the shore!
From romantic grottos to swimming with sharks, O’ahu is teeming with fun water activities to get stuck into that you’ll struggle to find all in one place anywhere else!
Let’s get exploring!
Let’s start with the most accessible, and probably the most popular activity available for you in O’ahu, snorkeling!
This is a great way to wash off that beach coma and get yourself a little active whilst getting up close and personal with some of the incredible sights and sounds of the underwater coastline.
As long as the weather conditions are balmy, you’ll be in for a trouble-free time, and you don’t need to be an expert to enjoy this incredible experience.
Where To Go?
With a whole coastline to explore, and beyond, there’s no shortage of incredible places to set up shop and spend the day on a snorkeling adventure.
Here are a few places to think about visiting:
- Hanauma Bay – Also known as the Backdoor Lagoon, the north-eastern side of Hanauma Bay is probably one of the most popular spots to get a taste for snorkeling along the coast. In terms of quality, there’s a bit of sacrifice for the convenience of the location, and as it is so accessible, there’s always a tonne of people about. This location is, however, absolutely perfect for small children and families who are not looking to hire a boat out to do some snorkeling. You also have access to the amazing Waikīkī Marine Life Conservation center which makes for a fantastic day out if you’re looking for something educational and exciting to do with the family for an afternoon.
- Kaena Point State Park – On the most northwesterly end of the island, you’ll find the state park right on the brink of the Ka’ena Point Natural Area Reserve. Here, you’ll need a permit to go to the area and be instructed on what gear you are allowed to bring. Once there, you’ll find one of the most incredible coastlines that are perfect for a snorkeling expedition. This area is not usually crowded, and it is only accessible via hiking.
- Shark’s Cove – Named because of its similarity in structure to a shark, this cove is teeming with reef life and has been named one of the best scuba diving spots in the world. For snorkeling, you can have just as much fun. The reef can be sharp, so reef shoes are highly recommended if you want to avoid any injuries.
It goes without saying that Hawaii is a worldwide surfers destination, bringing in some insane waves in the winter months.
O’ahu has by far the highest number of great breaks and the longest cultural history as a surfers paradise.
Millions of people flock to Waikiki Beach for the opportunity to try surfing every year.
Whilst the pros tend to go for the big waves at Pipeline, Waimea Bay, and Sunset Beach, all on the north shore.
Despite its metropolitan vibe and high population, O’ahu is still the king of surfing in the Hawaiian islands.
Where To Go?
- Pros- Pros should head over to the North side of the island to get the best and biggest surf. It’s worth getting involved with the local scene and broadcasting as there are usually daily updates about the surfing forecast and where you can go for some perfect waves. The winter months are the times where the weaves get the biggest, though you’ll still be in for some opportunities during the summer as well.
- Beginners- There are so many opportunities to get started with surfing on O’ahu, with one of the most popular being Waikiki Beach. There are lots of instructors you can hire, surf schools, and places you can rent gear from for the day as well.
3. Scuba Diving
Synonymous worldwide with the O’ahu coast and surrounding reefs, there are plenty of life-altering opportunities to go scuba diving nearby.
Whatever your skill level, there are tonnes of boat trips you can take to grottos, caves, bays, and reefs filled with wildlife to look at.
Where To Go?
- Shipwrecks- Scuba diving on the reefs not only has a huge range of wildlife to explore, but you can also go on dive trips to see sunken ships. The kind of stuff dreams are made of.
- Kewalo Basin- on Waikiki Beach you’ll be able to take boats out to the Kewlao basin to explore fish, turtles, octopus, and dolphins all in their natural habitat.
- Haleiwa (North Shore) – Haleiwa Beach Park is a great family-friendly beach with all the expected facilities. Snorkeling is good here, but the diving requires a decent swim of around 150 Yards.
4. Whale Watching
Throughout the winter months, Humpback whales take residence around Hawaii, with over 10 000 migrating to give birth in the warmer waters away from the Alaskan coast. While the majority of whales are headed for the ‘Au‘au Channel off of the west coast of Maui, there can be sightings from all of the island shores from November to March, including O‘ahu.
Where To Go?
- From the shore – Ka’ena Point and Makapuu Lighthouse are both well-known for their frequent sightings of whales, perfect if you’re not keen on going on a boat tour to see the whales up close, although out on the waves is by far the best place to see these majestic beasts.
- Whale-watching tours- it is highly recommended that you go for a whale-watching boat tour that is of small size, holding around 10 people. These boats will allow you to be up close and personal with the whales, but more importantly, it’s far more respectful of the environment.
They also usually have a strong focus on teaching about the local ecosystem, and the whales themselves, making it fascinating from a conservational and learning point of view.
Whilst there is no shortage of tours to go on, we recommend some of the small tours taken by Nani Kai Ocean Adventures in Hale‘iwa and Pink Sails Waikīkī.
5. Sailing Tours
We think you simply can’t miss going on a sailing boat when out on the island.
There are so many wonderful things you can do on the open ocean and experiencing it by sailboat is the way to go.
Not only can you experience stunning views looking back onto the island, but you’ll also be able to get a crystal clear view of the wildlife around you, all with the wind carrying you on your way.
Where To Go?
- Waikiki Beach – is a great place to start your adventures from. You can set sail straight from the sandy shore in a catamaran and traverse the island, complete with happy hour cocktails as you take in the Hawaiian sunset.
Be sure to take in the views of the Ko’olau Mountains, the Honolulu skyline, and Diamond Head, not to mention the beautiful fish beneath your feet.
If you’re looking for a little adrenaline boost during your relaxing stay, kayaking makes a great choice.
It’s not only a perfect activity for a day of fun, but it’s also easily accessible and affordable as well.
You can easily take up a kayaking adventure with a pretty minimal rental fee, and it requires little to no previous knowledge or experience to get going.
Kayaking is a great way to explore the surrounding beaches and enjoy the playful waves along with the stunning shallow reefs.
Where To Go?
- Kailua Beach – This is a great place to start. It’s super easy to rent one from the local shops just across from the beachfront, and there’s a little bit of everything that you could want just offshore.
- The Mokulua Islands- are a great place to paddle to, around a mile or so’s ride from Kailua Beach shores. There are also guided tours if you’d rather not paddle alone.
- Waikiki – This is another perfect opportunity to experience some small waves as you kayak, which is also heaps of fun. Treat yourself by paddling out to the skyline and enjoy the view of the Honolulu coast.
- Kualoa Beach Park – Good for so many reasons as we’ve mentioned before, the beach park is in the calm waters of the bay, making it perfect for some long leisurely paddles down the coast.
Fishing of course plays a huge part in local life on the islands and for good reason. O’ahu is surrounded by some of the most beautiful shallow reefs and the deep ocean, making the types of fish available some of the most abundant in the world.
From the verdant Hawaiian shores. You’re able to catch a whole host of species.
For just fishing off of the shore, you won’t need to get a permit, and you’ll be able to find local fishermen to point you in the right direction for advice or the best places to score a catch.
However, if bigger catches are on your agenda, you can always hitch a ride on a deep-sea fishing charter.
You can hire one out privately for some intensive deep sea fishing, or you can buy a spot on a public tour where you can have a few drinks and chat to other enthusiasts whilst you try to land a catch.
Where To Go?
- Anywhere along the coast – is good for fishing, wherever you see the local fishermen, go over there! They are the ones that know the area best and will be able to point you in the right direction depending on what you’re after.
- Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens – If you are looking for a fishing trip that’s perfect for the whole family, the botanical gardens are a great choice! They have an excellent catch-and-release program that gives you a chance to get to grips with fishing in a family environment. The spaces fill up fast though as they are lonely held on the weekends, so you’ll want to book this one quick!
8. Swim With Dolphins
There are many that frown on swimming with dolphins, and a lot for good reason.
Many tour operators, unfortunately, ignore health and safety regulations that have been put in place to protect dolphins from tourists.
What you can do if you want to safely and consciously see dolphins is either choose a snorkeling operator that adheres strictly to dolphin SMART safety guidelines or interacts with captive dolphins, though this of course has its own set of dubious wildlife concerns.
What Is Dolphin SMART?
It’s a list of guidelines to keep wild dolphins and their habitats undisturbed by the many visitors that try to see them every year.
Whilst you may dream about getting right close and stroking a dolphin, you should leave them alone, and enjoy them from afar.
That is how you should behave as a responsible steward of the environment and lover of animals.
- Stay back at least 50 yards from dolphins.
- Move away cautiously if dolphins show signs of disturbance.
- Always put your engine in neutral when dolphins are near.
- Refrain from feeding, touching, or swimming with wild dolphins.
- Teach others to be Dolphin SMART.
Where To Go?
- From a boat – This is the most responsible way to see dolphins, and swimmer dolphins will often approach your boat and swim right up to you! We would only recommend going on dolphin tours that adhere to dolphin SMART regulations. These cruises mentioned below are all dolphin SMART and though you won’t be swimming with dolphins with most of them, you will get to see them up close and personal in their natural environment without disturbing them or their habitats.
- Ocean Joy voyages – let you explore the incredible Waianae coastline where dolphins, turtles, and additional Hawaiian sea life play and thrive. The tour includes an hour of snorkeling.
- In the pool/aquarium – If interacting with a dolphin is a die-hard must-do item for you on your bucket list, going to see dolphins in captivity is the way to go. It is a fun, family-friendly, and safe environment to see well-trained dolphins.
9. Shark Swimming and Cage Diving
If dolphins aren’t quite doing it for you, sharks might be more up your street!
Get your blood pumping and the adrenaline going by taking on an exciting and educational trip to see some sharks!
There are a huge number of tour operators that can fulfill this bucket list wish, with many of them being located on the North shores.
- Cage diving – is something many people want to experience at least once in their lives, and there are many curated cage diving experiences, but you should be aware that many of them differ with the amount of actual time you’ll spend in a cage, so do double-check this before booking. Many also offer discounts online as well so it’s worth booking online.
- Swimming with sharks – Hawaii Adventure Diving offers snorkeling and freediving tours as does Island View Hawai‘i. The tours go approximately three miles offshore into 25-foot deep water so these types of tours are not for the faint of heart. But it’s not just about the thrill, these tours are also highly educational, and you’ll be accompanied by seasoned professionals who will change your mind about these greatly misunderstood creatures.
We hope this list has encouraged you to do a little more than lounge on the beach during your vacation, and get out onto the water!
With so many incredible once-in-a-lifetime experiences available to you on O’ahu, it’s well worth taking the time to prepare a few excursions and see what’s on offer!