Hanauma Bay, on the southeastern tip of Oahu along Kalanianaole Highway, is one the most popular beaches in Hawaii. Some websites even recognize it as one of the best beaches in the entire US. While many consider it as one of the best places in Hawaii to observe pristine underwater Hawaiian marine life. The bay’s popularity as a beach stretches far back into ancient Hawaii when it was an exclusive recreation spot for Hawaiian royalty.
The Bay’s Legend
According to Hawaiian legend, a battle between two suitors fighting for the hand of Princess Keohinani formed this area. Because the battle went on and on without a victor, Keohiani begged her father, a magician, to end the struggle. Keohiani’s father ordered the men to end the battle, but neither obliged. In anger, he used his magic to turn the combatants into lizards with interlocked tails. But Keohiani, who loved both men, appealed to the gods. The gods then turned the lizards into two mountains overlooking the bay Keohiani loved so much. That bay was Hanauma Bay.
The Creation of Hanauma Bay
In addition to such colorful ancient legends, the bay’s geologic make-up contributes to its overall appeal. Over 40,000 years ago a series of volcanic cinder cones erupted in the area. Six separate cinder cones created the crater that forms the bay today. The ocean then eroded the seaside walls of the crater. And this eventually created the scenic semi-circular bay and its picturesque beach. Its shape and reefs contributes to the calm waters in most parts of the bay. But visitors should be aware of strong and sometimes dangerous currents on the outer rims.
Designation as a Conservation Area
Not only has the bay been a great beach since ancient times, it was once a popular place to fish. It eventually became too popular a place to fish. In response to overfishing, in 1967, the bay became a Marine Life Conservation Area. This prohibited fishing and protected all forms of marine life in the bay. Hanauma Bay is now also a breeding ground for the rare Hawaiian green sea turtle or honu.
Even with the ban on fishing, Hanauma Bay became so popular, the City had to introduce an admission fee for non-residents to control crowds in 1997. The bay, like many popular parks throughout the county, was literally being loved to death. During the 1980s, there were over 10,000 visitors coming to Hanauma Bay each day. Visitors were unwittingly killing its reefs by walking on them. And the amount of sunscreen in the water was also doing the same to the parts of the reef closest to the beach.
Visiting the Bay
The admission fee for non-residents did help to control the crowds and the City used the money to improve park facilities. One visitor actually tried to sue the City in a class action lawsuit in 2001 because she and her attorney thought it was discriminatory to do so. The admission fee at the time was $3.00. The City won the case in Federal court. The ruling was that the fee was only incidental to the plaintiff’s enjoyment of the park. Appeals court even upheld the ruling in 2004.
Today, the entrance fee is $7.50 per person for each non-resident 13 years or older. While the parking is only parking is $1, there are only 300 parking spaces available. So it is important to arrive early to get a parking space. As parking space become available, cars are allowed into the lot. First timers must watch a 9 minute video about the bay before entering the park. Depending upon crowds, it can take up to an hour or longer to see the video. Except on Tuesdays, the bay is open daily from 6:00 am to either 6:00 pm or to 7:00 pm, depending upon the season.