Finding a good spot where to see turtles in Oahu (Hawaii) is not as simple as it is to snorkel, where at any of the popular reef it is fairly easy to find plenty of fish in clean, transparent water. So where should you go? This is what I found while there.
There are many tours in Oahu that can pretty much guarantee you will spot dolphins, sharks, whales (depending on the time of the year) and yes, turtles. In fact we were taken to a spot during our Best of the West dolphin watching tour in Oahu where turtles are always found. The experience was fantastic, as we had just swum with dolphins and it was the first time we were actually swimming with turtles as big as ourselves without them scared or intimidated. The drawback to this is that the fantastic 5 hour tour does not come in cheap, costing around 200 usd p/p everything included.
Hanauma Bay is very close to Waikiki. In fact 2.5 usd will conveniently take you by bus (forget about the 15 usd p/p charter vans, they aren´t worth price) and the beach is beautiful (check out the photos I took of the bay), outrageously photogenic and an ideal place where to spend the day. The water is very clean, there´s plenty of small fish swimming around and you might even see turtles, though this is not as common as you might infer from the brochures that promote the bay. In fact turtle sightings are much less common here than in Waikiki beach, where you will most probably spot a small one from a distance at some point. Hence, the if you are looking to swim with turtles, look elsewhere.
So where should you go if you want to swim with turtles in Oahu- for free? The answer is simple: Turtle Bay, close to Oahu’s northern most tip. The bay is set right in front of Turtle Bay Resort (www.turtlebayresort.com), there is free public parking and you´ll find all the facilities you will need during your day trip, including a shower where to rinse, snack bars and more.
What to bring:
Rashguard- water can get cool
Food- you’ll save some money
Surfboard- there´s some decent surf too when the swell comes from the right direction.
We were pretty excited about this because eventhough we had swum with turtles already we had not been around them as long as we wanted to. If we found them here again we would have the chance to take some more pictures and maybe even touch them (this is not allowed during the tours), or perhaps shoot some video which would make up for a great souvenir. The only setback we had was that we just had 1 hour before heading to Shark´s Cove for another brief snorkeling session and having to drive back to Honolulu as our departure flight was leaving that same afternoon.
We thus grabbed our gear (goggles, diving mask and snorkel, towels) and first decided to check the hotel as it seemed appealing in itself. There were a few interesting pictures of famous surfers in the lobby and the large windows reminded me of a similar hotel we had spent a few hours at during a typhoon we endured in Taiwan a few months before. But alas, it was the beach we were here for and quickly made our way to the sand. Just as we we were walking to the water we saw a group of people standing in a circle in waste deep water, looking under the surface and vividly speaking about something they had just spotted. A turtle? Could we be that lucky? Sure enough, a turtle it was. Easily 1.2 meters long and more than half a meter wide it was munching some algae and minding its own business while we observed attentively. I pulled out my underwater camera and shot pictures and video, some less than 20 cm away from it and hoping that the somewhat murky water (due to the rolling waves) would not ruin the session.
It was time for us to leave shortly after, and we were glad because the tip that had been given to us had turned out to be true. We were there for less than 1 hour and were able to see, photograph and film a wild turtle, very conveniently, and at no cost!
It is possible to go to Turtle Bay by bus, but it will take you a good couple of hours or more from Honolulu. I would recommend you rent a car (we found the cheapest car rental agency in Honolulu, no questions asked) and take the time to visit other places while there or along the way, including Sunset Beach, Shark’s Cover or Waimea Bay. The drive has some fantastic views and you are in a great time. I know we had it!
Do you like to snorkel? Have you ever seen wild turtles while at it? What made your most extraordinary snorkeling experience so memorable? Please share your experience in the comments section below, and this post too if you think others might find it useful!