Most vacationers traveling to Waikiki (Honolulu, Hawaii) are there to enjoy some of the most world-class beaches on the entire planet. As close as you’ll get to paradise on Earth, the vibrant and laidback neighborhood of Waikiki is known for it’s surfside hotels, white sands, swimming with dolphins, and plethora of beach and water activities such as jet skiing and parasailing. Waikiki is part of the legendary ‘Gathering Place’ of Hawaii, and there are plenty of things to do in Oahu while hanging out at Waikiki.
What a lot of visitors don’t consider when chilling at Waikiki is that the local area is actually where one can experience some of the best scuba diving in Hawaii. There are excellent embarkation points (e.g. Kewalo Boat Basin and Maunalua Bay Beach Park) to travel out to majestic dive sites like shallow reefs and shipwrecks. In fact, there are dozens of shipwreck dive sites located all around Oahu, and particularly off the coast of Waikiki Beach.
There are also numerous scuba dive tour operators and PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) certified scuba training facilities for beginners to learn how to scuba dive and for experienced divers to join refresher classes before going out on more advanced dives.
Let’s check out some of the amazing scuba diving tours you can partake in around Waikiki:
||Afternoon Reef Dives (Beginner & Certified)||
Whether your a first time diver or an experienced “bottom-hugger”, going scuba diving in Waikiki is all about enjoying the nearby shallow reefs and incredible shipwrecks.
Dive sites are located near Waikiki Beach, the western side of the island, and the South Shore. You can access many amazing sites in less than an hour (many on a boat ride out of Kewalo harbor). The South Shore not far from Honolulu is where you can find some surreal shipwrecks like the Yo-257 and the Sea Tiger.
Swells, current, and water temperature are friendly to divers throughout most of the year so you can go scuba diving in Waikiki practically anytime you feel like it. You can get your scuba diving certificate at several tour operators in and around Waikiki if you’re a first time diver.
Let’s go over some of the main underwater diving attractions you’ll experience around Waikiki:
Shipwreck diving is one of the main underwater diving attractions in Waikiki due to the myriad of sunken Navy vessels, cargo, and fishing vessels scattered off the western side of Oahu (i.e. leeward coast), and the South Shore, in areas like the Ke’ehi Lagoon, Kewalo Boat Basin, and Mamala Bay near Waikiki Beach (Honolulu).
Wreck diving is a truly mesmerizing exploration of industrial relics juxtaposed with marine life, and many divers become addicted to the experience of exploring a new shipwreck each time they go out into the waters.
This underwater activity is usually reserved only for certified and / or advanced divers due to the relative danger they pose compared to shallow reef diving, and the need for divers to be apt at navigating tight entries / exits and the interior of large vessels. The typical dive depth ranges from 80′ to 120′ for most dive sites.
Here are a few of the most famous wrecks off Waikiki that you’ll be able to explore on the Wreck & Reef Dive:
SEA TIGER HAWAII
Located only 10 minutes from Kewalo Boat Basin in Waikiki, the Sea Tiger wreck is a huge shipping vessel that was confiscated by the U.S. Coast Guard from the Chinese (for engaging in illegal activities) and purposely sunk. It’s massive size and abundance of cargo holds and passageways, as well as the exotic marine life attracted to it, make the Sea Tiger a popular dive site for experienced divers wanting to immerse themselves in a mysterious hunk of junk.
The depth for this dive site is usually between 80′ to 120′. The vessel is largely intact and features many entries / exits, cargo holds and a large bridge to explore. There is always a chance to see eels, schooling fish, eagle rays, and the occasional tiger or whitetip shark.
Considered one of the top shipwrecks for diving in Oahu, the Yo-257 was a U.S. Navy refueling vessel from WWII that was sunk in 1989 by the Atlantis Submarine Company off the coast of Diamond Head (accessible from the Kewalo Boat Basin).
The 175 foot long Yo-257 shipwreck is one of the most beautiful and fun wreck sites near Waikiki. It features a lot more coral growth compared to other wrecks like the Sea Tiger. It also attracts more schooling fish and turtles (such as the iconic Hawaiian green sea turtle). Even though there aren’t as many penetration opportunities as the Sea Tiger, the entire stern is accessible and filled with incredible octocorallia growth on the ceilings.
The San Pedro dive site is closer to the Yo-257 site than any other wreck. Like the Yo-257, the San Pedro was purposely sunk by the Atlantis Submarine Company for the enjoyment of adventurous thrill-seekers everywhere.
The San Pedro was a long-line fishing vessel used by the Koreans to catch tuna and swordfish. It was also repurposed as an inter-island cargo ship before being sunk. Now, the San Pedro is a wonderful little wreck to explore for moderately experienced divers. The main decks are about 60′ deep and the length of the vessel is about 90′.
Even though it’s not that big of a shipwreck, it does feature numerous passageways and cargo holds to swim through (and the occasional whitetip reef shark). Also, there are great photo opportunities since the bridge collapsed to create the quintessential image of a sunken vessel. Just be sure to bring adequate diving gloves because, like the Sea Tiger, there are plenty of rough spots and jagged edges which can injure you if you’re not careful.
Last, but not least, is the the Mahi shipwreck — one of the farthest out sites from Waikiki (approx. 45 minutes). Despite being so far out, it’s still one of the most popular wreck sites on the western side of Oahu because it offers experienced divers some of the best visibility, calm currents, and chances to spot amazing sea life like the eagle sea ray and puffer fish.
The Mahi was a U.S. Navy minelayer vessel which was purposely sunk in 1986 to transform it into an artificial reef! Over 150′ in length, the Mahi now lies submerged beneath 90′ of water (with its main deck at around 65′ in depth). Despite it’s collapsed bridge, this former minelayer features numerous hatchways and holes to swim through. The vessel is also encrusted with coral varieties that attractive endemic reef fish, octopuses, and whitetip reef shark.
Reef diving is the perfect opportunity for the beginner scuba diver on their first dive to jump into the beautiful waters around Honolulu to learn why scuba diving is such a magical underwater activity. Shallow reef exploration is also great for experienced divers needing a refresher.
Most coral reefs you’ll encounter around Waikiki are only 25 – 40′ deep (shallow enough for free diving and snorkeling). These amazing biodiverse ecosystems give adventurers the chance to witness many of Hawaii’s tropical endemic fish, exquisite coral gardens, and amazing marine life (e.g. octopuses, sea rays, urchins, crustaceans, eels, schooling fish, Pacific green sea turtles).
Let’s check out some of these shallow dive sites for beginner and experienced divers:
TURTLE CANYONS WAIKIKI
This dive spot has everything a first time diver needs. It’s located in Maunalua Bay off Waikiki Beach about 10 minutes west of the South East Shore’s Koko Marina. Once you get out to Turtle Canyons, you get to enjoy an amazing view of Oahu’s mountains such as Diamond Head before diving underneath the waves.
Turtle Canyons is home to tropical fish like the Moorish idol and butterfly fish, razorfish, urchins, reef snakes, eels, and of course the majestic Hawaiian green sea turtle. The sandy landscape at the bottom is a beautiful bright white color with ridges like waves. It’s only 35 to 40′ deep so Turtle Canyons is a great place for beginners to have fun and learn basic skills.
Just a short ride from the Kewalo Basin, Nautilus Reef is a staple among shallow reef diving tours in and around Waikiki (for beginner and advanced divers). The reef about 30 – 40′ below the surface and flanked by two similar sized reefs on both sides. The farther south you swim, the reef begins to slope downward at a steep angle and starts to resemble the rocky landscape of Mars. This is because the reef was formed by ancient lava flow and now covered by species of hard coral.
This large reef is a great place to relax after exploring the Sea Tiger with beginner divers and students. Nautilus Reef is home to an abundance of marine life and tropical fish such as black triggerfish, butterfly fish, Mu fish, moray eels, octopuses, Moorish idols, and sea urchins.
Horseshoe Reef is one of the best reef diving spots off the South Shore near Waikiki. Accessible by boat, around 1/4 mile from the Kewalo Boat Basin, this shallow horseshoe-shaped reef is about 50′ deep on average and very popular with beginner and experienced divers from around the world (so expect some friendly company when you head out there).
This is a dynamic reef with a variety of coral garden formations, clear water, and plenty of marine life to keep first time scuba divers very satisfied.
KEWALO PIPE / REEF
Diving around the Kewalo Pipe and reef is one of Waikiki’s unique scuba experiences. The Kewalo Pipe is actually an old storm drain (one of several around Oahu which are often referred to as “Super Mario” pipes) extending out from the South Shore into about 45 – 65 feet of water at the base of a coral garden (just west of Horseshoe Reef).
The pipe is covered with coral growth so it’s effectively become an artificial coral reef. You will spot many crustaceans, school of barracuda, moray eels, and stingrays living inside and around the pipe system. Overall, the Kewalo pipe / reef dive is great for beginners to experience a sense of exploration.
We also highlighted a really cool ‘Night Dive’ tour (which is a popular type of scuba diving activity in Waikiki). So let’s learn a little about night diving and what to expect from this unforgettable diving experience:
Black water diving, also known as “pelagic diving”, is scuba diving in the open sea at night (as opposed to the coastal / inland shores). It’s called black water diving because at night, in the open ocean, there are no surfaces to reflect light (and no light!), so it’s like you’re swimming in outer space.
Needless to say, you and your experienced dive buddies want to be completely comfortable with scuba diving before you head out on a pelagic night dive outside of Waikiki. These type of dives are always conducted on the western side of Oahu because the boat rides out to sea are more comfortable (a good thing at night).
Divers are tethered to the anchored vessel before diving to about 40′ below the surface to begin an otherworldly journey of spotting exotic marine life which cannot be seen closer to shores (e.g. larval octopuses, sea palps, jellyfish). Pelagic night diving presents amazing photographic opportunities.
Let’s move on to the 3 highlighted scuba diving tours you can choose from to experience scuba diving Waikiki at amazing dive sites:
No experience or certification is required for this safe and relaxing shallow reef diving excursion for beginners (and experienced divers)! This is an intro dive tour which does not require a scuba diving license. It’s also perfect for divers needing a refresher tour after a hiatus (or every time you come back to Hawaii).
The Afternoon Reef Dives is all about providing a relaxing experience for those who want to have fun swimming with tropical fish and other cool marine life at two natural reefs around Waikiki. You can expect to see endemic reef fish, octopuses, eels, and one or two Hawaiian green sea turtles.
The dive sites include:
Angler Reef — Also known as Octopus Heaven, this straight ledge reef is home to spotted eagle rays, frog fish and a general abundance of biodiversity
Nautilus Reef — Another great shallow reef for spotting exotic marine life like eels and sea rays
Kewalo Pipe/Horseshoe Reef — A large drainage pipe to explore within a coral garden and a fascinating reef with even more exotic marine life.
The Wreck & Reef Dive departs from the Kewalo Boat Basin and takes certified divers (only) on a gorgeous guided tour of two popular dive sites off Waikiki. This is a great opportunity for experienced divers to experience Oahu’s majestic seascape.
Each tour will be led by a PADI certified guide and starts off at a famous shipwreck off the coast of Waikiki. The wreck dive is then followed by a guided tour of one of Honolulu’s best reef diving sites where you’ll be able to immerse yourself among exotic marine animals like octopus, crustaceans, sear rays, moray eels, tropical reef fish, and sharks.
The Wreck & Reef Dive is truly the complete way to discover scuba dive attractions for anyone visiting Hawaii or diving in Oahu. Comfortable and stylish dive boat charter included.
This one-of-a-kind pelagic night diving experience is for the serious scuba diver. Dive certification is required. Departing before sunset (around 5:30pm), you’ll venture westward off the shores of Waikiki into the open sea to experience a majestic ‘black diving’ tour at a favorite dive spot with a PADI certified guide.
As described earlier in this guide, night diving is not for the faint of heart or the inexperienced diver. But this is one of the best boat dives for finding creatures that cannot be found closer to shore within an environment that can only be described as “floating in outer space.” Discover scuba diving in the open sea with this amazing experience.
Surely you are convinced that scuba diving Waikiki sounds like a pretty cool adventure? The 3 scuvbba dive tours presented in this scuba diving guide offer beginner and experienced scuba divers with a complete diving experience filled with amazing sights and biodiversity. Get ready to discover scuba diving in Oahu at its finest!
Hawaii is a destination you can travel to during any time of the year. That’s one reason why its considered paradise on Earth and absolutely amazing locale for water activities. This includes underwater diving activities like scuba diving. Conditions are always favorable for diving during any season. Most dive sites on the leeward side of Oahu are friendly to divers in the sense that swells and currents are typically manageable (and calm most of the time).
Favorable throughout the year. Summer water temperature averages around 83 degrees Fahrenheit. Winter averages around 76 degrees.
Water visibility averages between 60 – 100 feet. This means you’ll be able to see the bottom of most dive sites off the shores of Waikiki (and the incredible beauty of the surrounding seascape). Stormy weather is uncommon.
It’s best practice to bring what you’re accustomed to wearing to the beach and during water activities. As previously stated, Hawaii’s weather is generally favorable throughout the year. There are no extreme weather events around Waikiki (except occasional afternoon showers).
Here’s a useful checklist of items to bring:
We hope you enjoy some of the best scuba diving in Waikiki!