8 Things You Have to Do In Hawaii (In USA Waters: Part 1)

I studied in USA for 4 years before returning to Singapore in June 2016. It was a great opportunity for me having tons of breaks to travel around and explore. Some of my most memorable experiences came from being in the waters of Hawaii. There, I got to snorkel, see beautiful beaches, get up and close to various marine animals, and also try other activities like surfing.

Here is a collection of my 8 most treasured memories and exciting experiences while I was in Hawaii. I highly recommend these activities if you visit some day.

I visited three islands over a course of 5 weeks – Big Island, Kauai and Maui.

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Big Island

1) Snorkeling with Dolphins

Approximate cost: USD 135

Before this trip, my impression of swimming with the dolphins was going to an aquarium, paying some extra premium price, and getting to spend some time with 1 or 2 dolphins in a small habitat as they perform some tricks and provide some photo ops. But do you know that you could actually go out into the open seas and swim with an entire pod of wild dolphins?

The 4-hour long tour started early in the morning as we boarded a small boat and the guide brought us out to sites where the dolphins have been known to pass by on the way to their rest sites. We spent some time searching for the pods and once we spotted one, the guide would approximate the course they were traveling and drop us off into the waters a little in front of them. Sometimes the dolphins would swim around us in the boat.

It was quite an interesting experience as once we were in the water, the dolphins might change their direction. The guide would shout at us from the boat, ‘There! They’re heading there!’, while pointing into the distance and we would frantically start swimming over so we wouldn’t miss the pod.

Once there, it was incredibly magical. There were hundreds of dolphins, stretching into the distance as far as I could see. As they surrounded me, there were dolphins far below me, on both sides of me, and some so close I could have reached out and touched them.

In the water for the first time in my life, I could hear them clicking as they approached, and hear their calls fade away as they left me behind.

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Here’s a short clip to watch the dolphins swim and hear them

2) Beaches: Black Sand and Turtles

Approximate cost: FREE

Hawaii is well known for its black sand beaches, which is made up of small grains of lava and volcanic minerals as the lava flows into the ocean. It is a pretty unique sight as it can only be seen in areas that have volcanic activity! The most well known black sand beach is Punalu’u beach and it is definitely a must-see attraction if you’re used to seeing the normal brownish and white colored sand at other beaches.

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While exploring some of the beaches in Big Island, I also stumbled upon a couple of the famous Hawaii green sea turtles. Some of the best beaches to find turtles include Kahalu’u Beach Park and Kiholo Bay. You can see them laying in the sun on the beach, in the shallows, or if you snorkel, off in the waters feeding on seaweed.

And what could be better than putting 2 attractions together?! Black sand beach and lovely turtles~

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There is actually quite a high chance of seeing turtles at a black sand beach as the color helps in heat adsorption, so the sand is warmer and turtles like to bask there.

3) Night Snorkeling/Diving with Manta Rays

Approximate cost: USD 115-125

An approximately 3 hour long trip starts with a beautiful sunset ride along the Kona coast to Keahole Bay where groups of resident manta rays converge nightly to feed on the phytoplankton that gather there.

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Once there and the darkness sinks in, we don our provided long wetsuits and venture out into the black seawater. Each group of us, together with a guide, would hold onto one of the platforms lighted up with underwater dive lights. After a while, plankton would gather to absorb the glow from the lights.

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The manta rays would then be attracted by the groups of plankton and show up. As they feed, the mantas perform a barrel roll, swimming up to the lighted platform before rolling backward, giving us a perfect and extremely close up view. The most interesting part was looking into their mouths, which were larger than my face.

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Check out my video of the mantas feeding.

There is also a diving option for certified divers to follow a dive guide down to the sandy bottom with dive lights to see the manta rays swoop past above their heads.

Note: This is perfectly safe as the mantas have no stings or sharp parts to bite or scratch you with 🙂

4) Navy Assault Boat & Snorkel

Approximate cost: USD 160

-This is for the thrill seekers who want to enjoy an exciting and fast boat ride-

The tour uses a decommissioned US Navy Special Warfare assault boat to provide you with 4 hours of fun! We started off meeting at the marina where our guides and captain met us for a briefing before setting the boat into the water.

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Instead of sitting, like on normal rafts, we had standing rests with bars in front to hang on to.

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The boat first took us flying over the deep open waters to search for wildlife such as whales, sharks and dolphins. We were able to go much further than any of the other tour boats as we moved so quickly. Unfortunately, we did not manage to spot any this time round. We then went to explore some snorkel sites along the Kona coast.

One of the snorkel sites we visited was Captain Cook monument:

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It is an absolutely beautiful underwater marine sanctuary with chances of seeing dolphins and sea turtles, amongst other marine life such as fish and corals. It is hard to get to by land and is best accessed by a boat tour (like this one!.. or a more gentle one aboard a catamaran) or a kayak tour.

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When the guide goes freediving and you can only watch on with envy…

After we were done snorkeling at a few sites, it was time to return. This time, on the way back, we hugged the shoreline to look at the amazing formations along the coast, such as lava tubes and sea caves.

Kauai

5) Surfing in Kauai

Approximate cost: USD 180

I booked a 3-day surf clinic at Kauai hoping that one day I would be able to catch waves on my own and look like one of those cool surfers riding in a hollow. I had my 1.5-hour-long lessons at Poipu beach where I learned the basics before entering the waters.

The sea was really shallow there and the instructor was able to wade out with me quite far and still have the waters at waist height. There, he would wait for an appropriate-looking wave to approach, get me to start paddling, and give me a slight push at the back of the board to provide some momentum to catch the wave.

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Then it became my responsibility to stand up and try to balance until I reached the beach. Which was rather challenging. So I fell many…many… times.

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But sometimes I make it to the beach and it feels awesome!

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The 3 days were definitely way too few for me to pick up surfing and I plan to take a couple more lessons in the future.

6) Cruise to Nā Pali Coast

Approximate cost: USD 120

The 4-hour cruise departs from the port in the afternoon and takes us along the Na Pali coast.

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This coastline is one of the most breathtaking formations I have ever seen.

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In the afternoon light, the sun starts to set, casting shadows which bring out the sharp edges and grooves of the ridges and valleys of the coastline. The colors are a rich green and reddish brown, contrasting with the blue waters below and skies above.

One of the more relaxing and sedentary tours I took this summer, it nonetheless held my attention until the last moment.

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7) Snorkel & Kayak at Turtletown

Approximate cost: USD 70

This trip combines 2 fun water activities – kayaking and snorkeling! Early in the morning, the guide takes us on a relaxing paddle to the snorkel sites before tying together our kayaks and letting us snorkel and explore the sights below.

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One of the sites was at turtle town, which is made up of underwater lava formations that arose due to eruptions of submarine volcanoes. The reefs there are now home to dozens of tropical fish species, and of course, the Hawaiian green sea turtle. There, we spotted many of them (more than 10!). The visibility was great and I was able to follow the turtles as they swam around below feeding, or as they swam gracefully past me and emerged from the surface to take a breath.

While we are always reminded to be mindful of their space and never touch or chase them, the turtles would sometimes initiate close encounters as they swim close by.

8) Trap Shooting

A little off the topic of water activities, but I had so much fun with this that I had to include it! Trap shooting is one of the disciplines of clay pigeon shooting using a shotgun.

After it was decided which gun I should use, I was brought to the shooting area. The clay targets were launched away from me in various directions. It was quite hard to get the targets as it was moving and sometimes I would undershoot or overshoot. But that made it all the more satisfying when I hit the target and saw it break apart and fly off in all directions 😀 It also made me feel pretty cool holding and shooting a shotgun, which I never had an opportunity to before this.

I enjoyed it so much I went back on 2 separate occasions.

So that’s all for Hawaii!

Which activity sounds the most fun to you?! What other fun things have you done in Hawaii? Would love to hear from you in the comments 🙂

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Look out for my next installment where I share my experiences in FLORIDA and ALASKA!

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