Since Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve reopened just last month, the rules have been changing. Last week, the county banned walk-in visitors due to a safety concern along the Kalanianaole Highway. Starting today, however, the iconic bay will again be allowing walk-in entry. We are still awaiting an online reservation system as well, which has thus far not been launched. Starting December 13, 2020, TheBus added a stop at Hanauma Bay on Route 22.
As for the latest change, here’s what the county just said. “Providing a safe & enjoyable experience for bay visitors, while keeping the preserve’s conservation and fiscal sustainability objectives in mind, continues to be our ultimate goals…The ticketing system and increased access to the preserve’s parking lot proved to be the solutions we needed… We appreciate the patience and flexibility of the public while we make these adjustments to our Hanauma Bay operations during this pilot program period. ” –DPR Director-Designate Laura H. Thielen.
Once you arrive at the park entrance, visitors are being directed to the parking area where tickets for specific entry times and mandatory educational video viewing are obtained. Visitors can then either leave and return 15 minutes before their appointed time or have the option to remain in the parking lot and upper area of the preserve while they await their time. The county said that “Over the weekend, many visitors were seen enjoying the upper areas of the preserve, including picnicking on the upper lawn areas or enjoying the scenic views. This is encouraged.”
New regulations created long waiting lines: 720 visitors per day allowed and 120 per hour.
Access to the parking lot is limited to 30 cars at one time and access to the bay is limited to 30 people every 15 minutes. Waiting times have been as much as 2 hours and more. What’s needed, and will soon be coming, is an online reservation system. Something like Kauai implemented with timed access to Kee and Haena Beaches.
There is also an educational video in the theater that is now mandatory. Face masks are required at Hanauma Bay.
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve was closed for 9 months due to COVID.
Hanauma is the spectacular cove located inside a volcanic crater that is packed with fish and is just a 25-minute drive from Waikiki Beach. It is always one of the state’s primary snorkeling attractions for both visitors and residents. In the past, throngs came there to see the beauty both above and below the water that appeared to outnumber the marine creatures.
Hanauma is the first Marine Life Conservation District in Hawaii and is considered one of Hawaii’s most breathtaking natural resources. Now you can be part of preserving and protecting one of the state’s rarest locations. The bay features both a deep outer reef and a shallow inner reef for protection, which results in calm, sparkling-clear waters.
Tip: Be aware that there is an unofficial website that looks official which is hanaumabaystatepark.com. We won’t link to that one. Here is the official state website for Hanauma Bay.
Visitors and locals previously imperiled Hanauma Bay.
Before COVID, Hanauma Bay saw up to 6,000 visitors per day, but will now be limited to 720 per day. Prior to the first efforts to limit visitors, it saw many times more. After it was closed due to COVID in March, the bay started to heal following decades of abuse. Water quality and clarity improved without the visitors, their sunscreen, and the bread and other food they fed the fish.
The marine ecosystem and its plethora of colorful coral and fish have since clearly begun to restore. Endangered species found there including sea turtles and monk seals have been seen in greater numbers.
Friends of Hanauma Bay.
That is the not for profit organization that closely monitors everything happening within the bay. Their president, Lisa Bishop, said that water visibility has improved 64% since before the shutdown. She also noted that it is the first time in four decades that dangerous sunscreen chemicals have not been in the water.
Since the closure, larger species and an abundance of tropical fish have returned making it worth the wait to enter.
Pristine ecosystems in recovery
More than a decade ago, new efforts got underway to restore Hanauma Bay. Due to long-term abuse and overuse, with millions of annual visitors, 30 years ago Honolulu unveiled a plan to restore the bay by implementing restrictions including visitor counts, and the creation of educational programs. Then in 2002, the Hanauma Bay Marine Education Center opened. It is there that visitors watch a short video supporting efforts to restore this special place when we visit. Further back, in 1967, Hawaii first designated the 100 acre Marine Life Conservation District.
New opening hours (Closed Monday and Tuesday).
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is now open from Wednesday through Sunday. Entrance is permitted from 8am to 2pm, and the preserve closes at 4 pm. Check online for changes or call them at (808) 768-6861.
Updated entrance and parking fees.
The cost of admissions is $12 per person for those 13 years and above, while it is free for those up to age 12. Hawaii residents are offered free admission with proper identification. Parking is $3 for visitors and $1 for residents.
There are no commercial activities at Hanauma Bay, which means that commercial vehicles, taxis, and tour groups cannot enter.
Bring your own snorkeling equipment and food.
At this time, the food concessions, gift shop, education center, snorkeling vendor, and lockers remain closed. Those wanting to snorkel must bring their own equipment with them.
Bathrooms and showers are open.
These facilities remain operational.
Online reservation may be next.
Very long lines have been ongoing with people trying to get into the park. It has been suggested that in addition to greatly limiting visitors to the bay, an online system be implemented to help both the bay and its visitors in planning.
Sunscreen at Hanauma Bay.
Starting next month, Hawaii will ban sunscreens deemed unsafe. There will be a prohibition on the sale and distribution of sunscreens which contain oxybenzone and octinoxate. These are chemicals that are found in thousands of sunscreens. This new law becomes effective on January 1, 2021.
“Our natural environment is fragile, and our own interaction with the earth can have lasting impacts…. This new law is just one step toward protecting the health and resiliency of Hawaii’s coral reefs.” — Governor David Ige.