Hanauma Bay


Hanauma Bay on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, is a natural inlet that has formed in a volcanic crater. Over 30 thousand years ago, volcanic activity on the ocean floor led to the formation of a crater. Eventually wave erosion cut through the wall of the crater and Hanauma Bay was born.
Its name is dervided from two Hawaiian words, “hana” which means bay and “uma” which means curved.
The bay was used by Hawaiian royalty over 100 years ago for entertaining and fishing. In the mid to late 1900’s, the oasis that is Hanauma Bay was no longer a secret reserved only for royalty and it suffered from overuse. Steps were taken to preserve the area and limit the number of visitors. The bay is also closed on Tuesdays to allow the habitat a day of rest—a Sabbath for the ecosystem.

Present Day

Hanauma Bay is referred to as the snorkelling capital of the world and is one of the most popular tourist destinations on the island, with millions of visitors flocking to the bay yearly to snorkel the shallow waters and see hosts of marine life feeding on the coral in the calm waters.
But Hanuama Bay is also considered the deadliest beach in Hawaii. Many people underestimate the dangers in the water when snorkelling. This is due in part to the shallow waters and the physical toll the act of snorkelling takes. Sadly, all it takes is a small wave to fill the breathing tube and overwhelm a person snorkelling. While there is a life guard in the station located on the beach, with hundreds of people simultaneously in the water face down, it is difficult for a lifeguard to discern when a person is in peril.

On This Day

The first thing I wanted to do before taking in some snorkelling, was walk the Hanuama Bay Ridge Hike, which goes up along the ridge of the crater. This trail, as is the case with many trails on the island, has a “no trespassing” sign. These laws do not seem to be enforced and seems more of the case that if something grave were to happen, the state can wash its hands of responsibility, sort of like the law against road hockey in Canada.
One of my main tools for preplanning shoots is the TPE (The Photographer’s Empharitus) app on my phone. Using this I knew that the sun was to rise between the two points of the bay.

TPE App Screenshot

A screen shot of the The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) app showing the location of the sunrise at Hanauma Bay. The TPE app is an invaluable tool for photographers when preplanning shoots especially in unfamiliar locations. You can get the app here: App Store, Google Play, or free for Desk Top

In my mind I saw that getting the sunrise here was going to be spectacular.


The view of Hanauma Bay from the ridge trail at sunrise.

Sometimes reality does not match the vision, as the picture is good from a far but far from breathtaking.
After the sun rose, I continued on the ridge trail to the radio towers at the peak. From this elevation there are good views toward the west with a view of Diamond Head and back towards the bay.


The view of Hanauma Bay and Koko Crater from the Hanauma Ridge Trail.

We descended back down the ridge trail and got ready for some snorkelling. Upon entry of the bay, as part of the preservation efforts, you must spend 15 minutes listening to a spiel and watching a video about the history of the bay, preserving the bay itself, and some safety tips. After that you can go and snorkel to your heart’s content.


Waiting for the 15 minute presentation has some perks, like the views of the bay from this vantage.


There are also some good views of the bay as one descends from the Visitor’s Centre to the beach.

The bay is a delight for snorkelers with an abundant number of brightly coloured tropical fish. Here are a few shots of the sights underwater. Please forgive the quality, as underwater photography is not my forte.

Hanauma Bay FishHanauma Bay Fish 3 Hanauma Bay Fish 2Hanauma Bay School of Fish

After we spent some time on the beach, we decided to head back up the ridge trail again. I wanted to get another shot of the bay with the sun higher, so the turquoise waters would be lit up, as would the corel beneath the waters. At this time, there were big clouds blocking the sun. So we had to patiently wait for them to part and let the light light up the bay. Once it did I quickly took the five pictures I needed for the panoramic image below, the best shot of the day.


The mid day view of Hanauma Bay from the ridge trail.  Five pictures were used to create this panoramic image.  Purchase a print of this image in the shop.


A close-up of the turquoise waters and reef of Hanauma Bay

If you are planning a trip to Hawaii and if it isn’t already on your list, you might want to add a stop at Hanauma Bay on your itinerary…it is unforgettable.

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