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Oahu, Hawaiian Islands

Oahu, also called “The Gathering Place,” is the pulsating heart of Hawaii. While it’s famous for its laidback surf towns, dramatic landscapes, and bustling city life, beneath the waves lie some of the best scuba diving sites in all of Hawaii and the Pacific—many of which are only a short boat ride away.

Geography of Oahu

Oahu is a US island in the Central Pacific and the third-largest in the Hawaiian archipelago. It lies between Kauai and Maui, and is known for iconic landmarks such as Pearl Harbor, Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head, and the state capital of Honolulu. Oahu has 5 main regions, and each has its own distinct character and collection of world-class scuba diving spots.

North Shore

There’s more to Hawaii beyond the surf. Discover a technicolor world beneath the legendary winter waves of the North Shore:

Turtle Heaven

An in-shore Oahu scuba diving and snorkeling site, Turtle Heaven, also known as Haleiwa Beach Park, lives up to its name. The channel features a mild current and warm, shallow waters with excellent visibility, making it a safe spot for beginners. Beyond the channel lies a steep vertical drop, which is great for multi-level divers. If you’re lucky, you can catch 40 to 50 friendly turtles resting on large coral mounts. The arches and overhangs are also home to an abundant variety of fish and colorful coral.

Waimea Bay

Waimea Bay transforms from a popular big wave destination to a fun-filled diving spot when the waters and winds are calm. The south point of the bay boasts a heart-thumping wall dive at 35 meters deep with lots of swim-through lava tubes and caves where myriad sea creatures take up residence. In summer, the site is frequented by green sea turtles and spinner dolphins.

Leeward Coast

Beyond the Leeward region’s sweep of arid, rural landscapes and picturesque towns is a marine wonderland waiting to be explored.

Makaha Beach

Makaha Beach is believed to be one of the places where big wave surfing was pioneered. Be prepared for some intense finning as the site extends to about 450 feet. Though marine life is not as diverse and abundant here, the mystical lava-formed caverns and solitary giant turtles swimming about are sights to behold.

Tech Reef

Tech Reef is one of the best reef dives in Oahu. The site is located a few miles off Kahe Point Beach Park. Fin out from the entry lagoon, descend until you’re 25 meters deep, and you’ll find a sandy bottom with a plethora of caves, swim-throughs, and various sea life. Turtles and white tips are frequent visitors here. Exit to Electric Beach for some relaxed snorkeling—just watch out for the outflow pipes from the HECO electric plant.

Southeast & Windward Coast

The Windward Coast of Oahu boasts calm shores and evergreen valleys punctuated by sheer rock cliffs that drop to the sea. Take the plunge and you’ll see what makes this volcanic island a gem in the Pacific ocean.

Maunalua Bay

Several multi-level dive sites can be found near Maunalua Bay. Angler Fish Reef is one of them and is accessed via a 10-minute boat ride from the shore. This shallow site boasts an advanced diving feel with its coral-encrusted lava rock plateau and circular craters formed when Koko Head erupted 10,000 years ago. The site’s warm waters attract droves of marine life including green sea turtles, morays, octopus, snapper, striped belly puffer, scorpionfish, and schools of reef fish.

Pukano Point

A rewarding spot for beginner and experienced divers, Pukano Point features an extensive coastline bursting with life. Expect a warm, well-lit dive when the tide is low and the wind isn’t strong enough to interest a surfer. Overall, the dive is shallow with the deepest point a mere 30 meters, but there are several caverns and tunnels to peer into. The trail leading to the entry cove is a bit rocky, so take caution.

Vought F4U Corsair Wreck

Wreck diving opportunities in Oahu are plentiful. Survey the underwater wreckage of the WWII American fighter aircraft, now a playground for garden eels, stingrays, and jacks, approximately three miles off the Hawaii Kai Marina. The site can only be accessed by boat and its unpredictably swift and strong currents make it an advanced dive. The sandy bottom and clear viz make it a joy to observe the coral-covered wreck and abundant reef fish feasting in the grassy meadows.

South Shore (Honolulu)

Oahu’s South Shore is a tourist magnet due to its bustling city life, world-class dining, and eclectic charm—but it doesn’t fall short on underwater adventures either. Check out these fantastic shore dives:

Magic Island

To get better visibility, swim beyond the silty boat channel and descend up to 60 feet to spot rare biological jewels thriving under the lava ledges. If you’re a beginner, swim westward along the shallow coral wall and follow it out to the open water until you find deep coral canyons. This spot is a good last resort when there’s a weather advisory up north, and the best part is it’s only a few minutes’ drive from Waikiki.

Sea Tiger

Divers with a taste for action shouldn’t take Honolulu out of the list as it has some of the best underwater wrecks. The Sea Tiger, a former Chinese trading vessel deliberately sunk in 1999, offers 150 feet of incredible drift dives and swim-throughs. The wreck, whose stern and interiors are decked by various species of coral, is prime real estate for myriad sea creatures like six-foot sea turtles, eagle rays, reef sharks, and massive schools of fish.

Marine Life in Oahu

  • Humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa - Or humuhumu for short is a species of reef triggerfish that can be found in massive schools throughout Hawaii. It’s the state fish for a reason.
  • Green sea turtles - Locally called honu, these gentle giants are loved throughout the Hawaiian Islands. Their favorite hangout spot is the warm waters of the island’s North Shore.
  • Spinner dolphins - Also known as naia, these playful mammals love to swim with the boats along Waianae Coast and Maunalua Bay.
  • Manta rays - Scuba diving in Oahu offers the chance to get up close and personal with these mysterious batoids, locally called hahalua. Their wingspans can expand up to 30 feet wide.
  • Hawaiian monk seals - These friendly mammals are endemic to the islands of Hawaii and used to frequent its rocky coastlines. But now the species is critically endangered, with sightings becoming rarer.
  • Humpback whales - On your way to deep dive entries, you might chance upon humpback whales cruising in Oahu’s warm and thriving waters.
  • Reef fish - With dense corals sprinkled around the island, it’s easy to spot unique species of tropical reef fish, including clownfish, angelfish, gobies, groupers, parrotfish, and more.

Other Attractions

  • Leahi (Diamond Head) - Take the trail to the summit of Diamond Head near Waikiki for spectacular views of the valley and Oahu’s South Shore.
  • Pearl Harbor - Soak up some sun and WWII history in perhaps the most famous landmark in Hawaii.
  • Paradise Cove - Your Hawaiian holiday won’t be complete without a traditional luau at Paradise Cove. Watch the sunrise, feast on local fare, and get entertained for hours on end.

How to Get to Oahu

As Hawaii is a US state, entry requirements for tourists are the same as that of the mainland. Only Australian travelers can travel in Hawaii for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa, which can be done under the Visa Waiver Program. Here’s how you can get there:

By Air
You can get to Oahu from just about anywhere in the world. The island’s major airport is Honolulu International Airport (HNL) and it serves all major domestic carriers and many international airlines.

By Sea
While there’s no ferry service from the mainland to Hawaii, cruises are a feasible option if you have plenty of time and cash. Typical cruises from the contiguous United States leave from Los Angeles or San Francisco and dock in Honolulu Port in Oahu.

Best Time to Visit Oahu

The climate in The Hawaiian Islands is mostly sunny and tropical year-round. The island only has two seasons: summer (kau), which runs from May to October, and winter (hoolio) from November to April. The daytime temperature averages at 29.4° C during summer and 25.6° C during winter, which is still warm, but the Westward Shore can get wet and chilly. Rates are lower during the low season (April through mid-June). Hurricanes are rare but sizeable storms can occur between June to November. Late summer weather and water temperatures prove to be the best conditions for diving.

Required Trainings & Certifications

Oahu welcomes card-carrying divers of all certification levels. But intermediate to difficult dive sites will require Advanced Open Water Diver (AOWD) or similar certifications. If you’re a novice diver and wish to enhance your skill, there are plenty of dive centers sprinkled throughout the island. If you’re planning to get certified in Hawaii, it would be wise to prepare beforehand and take an introductory scuba certification course online.

Miscellaneous Information

Currency
The currency in Oahu is the US Dollar. ATMs are available throughout Hawaiian towns, so getting cash is fast and easy. Most credit cards are accepted, as well as traveler’s checks.

Time Zone
Hawaii observes Hawaii Standard Time (HST) and does not follow Daylight Savings Time (DST).

Driving Side
Just like in the mainland, Hawaiians drive on the right side of the road. Expect busy freeways in urban areas and winding, cliffside roads outside Honolulu.

Calling Code
The 808 telephone area code covers Oahu, as well as the inhabited and uninhabited islands of the Hawaiian archipelago.

ISO 3166 code
ISO 3166 alpha-2 code “BS” is the entry for Oahu in ISO 3166-2.

Internet TLD
.us is the Internet country code top-level domain for Oahu and the rest of The Hawaiian Islands.