With an archipelago made up of eight islands, a handful of atolls, numerous seamounts and islets extending almost 1,500 miles (2,400km) into the Pacific Ocean, you know the best diving in Hawaii has to be good.
But with so many places to choose from, the answer to the question “where is the best diving in Hawaii?” isn’t exactly a one-destination answer. From a hammerhead dive in Maui to the manta night dive in Kona, this tropical paradise is full of world-class diving sites. Many of these sites offer year-round diving, too.
To help ensure you enjoy the best scuba diving in Hawaii, here are eight not-to-be-missed dive sites from a range of locations across the USA’s 50th state.
This little island got the nickname “The Garden Island” for good reason. Known as the oldest of the inhabited islands, it features lush green topside attractions and an equally thriving underwater landscape. The best scuba diving sites in Kauai include sheer drop-offs, memorable caverns and marine life-filled seascapes.
1. Three Fingers
Named for the three fingers of lava extending to about 30 meters (100 feet) outside of the harbor, Three Fingers offers crystal clear waters, visibility of up to 18 meters (60 feet) and a plethora of marine life, making it great for divers of all skill sets. Arguably, the best place to scuba dive in Kauai, this is truly a prime spot for underwater photographers, onsite critters include wrasse, damsels, anthias, dragon morays and even the occasional turtle or two.
2. Sheraton Caverns
Of all the Kauai diving spots, Sheraton Caverns may be the most memorable. Accessible from Poipu Beach but best dived by boat, the sunlit cavern-filled site starts at nine meters (30 feet) and descends to a maximum of 18 meters (60 feet). This depth range, along with its natural geographical protection from current and surge, make it suitable for both beginner and experienced divers. As divers explore the various arches and lava tubes by flashlight, it’s common to meet green turtles and schools of bluestripe snappers.
Black sand beaches, the Kona coast, aromatic lavender fields and playful manta rays make up the island of Hawaii — also known as the Big Island. Interesting fact: As a result of the effects of the volcanoes Maunakea and Maunaloa, this island is extremely unusual as a place where you can journey through 14 different climate zones in one vacation. It’s also home to one of the most famous Hawaii dive spots.
3. Manta Night Dive
A visit to the Big Island isn’t complete without experiencing the once-in-a-lifetime manta night dive. Come day’s end, as the rest of the reef starts to tuck in for the night, the nocturnal critters make their debut to the call of dive lights. Each evening, the combination of darkness and dive lights brings in plankton and hungry manta rays. Divers kneel on the ocean floor, a dive torch in hand, for one-on-one interactions with the graceful mantas as they weave in and out of the lights in search of their dinner. Needless to say, this dive site is one for the books.
From the waves of Waikiki to the iconic North Shore, Oahu offers visitors everything from the pumping life of a city to the laid-back Hawaiian vibe of days gone by.
4. Kahuna Canyon
This wall dive is loved by Oahu-based divers for its bowl-shaped crater that creates an almost Grand Canyon-esque feel. Passing sharks can often be seen in the open blue. Meanwhile, the canyon itself is home to lots of marine life, such as lobsters, crabs and octopuses. Furthermore, a plethora of parrotfish and unicorn tangs may dash along the coral scape.
If this were high school, Maui would most likely be voted as the “Most Popular” of the Hawaiian Islands. From whale watching to viewing the Hana highway, this tropical paradise truly has something for every type of traveler. Furthermore, with its impressive underwater variability, the best scuba diving in Maui has something for every type of diver, too.
5. Carthaginian II
As a ship that served as a museum in the Lahaina harbor before being sunk as an artificial reef system, the Carthaginian II is a Maui landmark. Resting in 30 meters (100 feet) of water since 2005, the wreck itself offers an abundance of life. This includes nudibranchs, pipefish and numerous other reef fish species. Typically done as a two-tank dive, divers are often granted almost 30 meters (100 feet) of visibility. There is also minimal current with numerous ways to access the hold. Plus, the variety of fish, which includes sergeant majors, trumpetfish and the usually elusive frogfish, definitely qualify this as one of the best Maui scuba diving sites.
6. The Black Wall of Molokini
Molokini’s Black Wall may impress you as much above the water’s surface as it does below. As your dive boat arrives at the site, you’ll be almost fully surrounded by a surface-breaking, crescent-shaped crater. Then, as you descend beneath the waves, you’ll get to explore the abundance of marine life that call it home. This is done in visibility which can reach more than 40 meters (150 feet) at its peak. As you search for marine life on the walls, such as nudibranchs, octopus or pipefish, remember that this may be the best diving in Maui for pelagic animal encounters. Don’t be surprised if you see dolphins, monk seals, mantas or several different species of shark passing by in the blue. Furthermore, December to May is Maui’s whale season, so at this time, many dives include a whale song soundtrack.
There are no traffic lights on this all-natural isle, which is home to fishermen and farmers. Similar to the topside physique, the south shore of Molokai has untouched pristine reef. Good news for divers: The reef runs for 30 miles (48 km) and has around 40 dive sites along the way.
7. Fish Rain
It’s all about seeing the big guys on this advanced Molokai drift dive, hence the name. In addition to Galapagos sharks and scalloped hammerheads, the wall reef is a picturesque landscape of coral that “rains down” fish, like colorful parrotfish and darting triggerfish. Other visitors may include tiger sharks, Hawaiian monk seals and whale sharks.
From its world-class resorts and golf courses to its raw landscape of hiking trails and untouched beaches and gardens, there are two sides to Lanai. It is located just nine miles (14 km) from Maui and listed as the smallest of the inhabited islands. It makes Lanai the perfect spot for travelers who like rugged adventures and resort-like amenities.
8. First Cathedral
Part of a dual pinnacle, First Cathedral is a pinnacle with moorings set at 35 feet (11 meters). Marine life includes turtles, reef sharks and dolphins, as well as smaller, crevice-dwelling critters, like nudibranchs. The west side has a large arch while the north side features a wall with caves and a swim through. A large cavern hits down to about 50 feet deep (15 meters) and boasts a 6-meter (20-foot) ceiling. And while the cathedral-like views are mesmerizing, exiting the cavern through the surge point from the south swells, known as Shotgun, makes for an impressive finale.
Support Maui’s Scuba Diving Community
PADI is committed to supporting those whose livelihoods have been uprooted by the devastating Maui, HI fires. We stand united with the dive community both above and below the surface of our shared blue planet. Join us with your support of relief efforts for the diving community.