Learn about Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is an underwater park in Oahu, Hawaii. The Bay is regarded as one of the best snorkeling spots in the state because of its diverse marine ecosystems.

Hanauma Bay History

Thousands of years ago, volcanic activity caused a volcanic crater. The crater became the sea floor, and waves from the oceans filled the volcanic cone, which later became Hanauma Bay. The Bay got its name from the words “Hana” (Hawaiian word for Bay) and “Uma” (Hawaiian word that means “curved”). Uma also implies the curved stem of a canoe, which is related to the Bay, as it was a traditional gathering place for canoes waiting for calm winds before crossing Molokai. Uma, in the Hawaiian language, could also refer to hand-wrestling, related to an ancient legend connected to Hanauma Bay.

1800s: The Bay is considered an entertainment and fishing site for Hawaiian royalty.

1928: A deed restriction limiting the use of Hanauma Bay was released after establishing Koko Head Regional Park.

1931: Little developments flourished in Hanauma Bay. These developments included paved roads, bathroom facilities, and guide rails for the steep passageway down to the base of the crater wall.

1950: After World War II, more construction enveloped the area. New restrooms with showers were established.

1952: Archaeologists were able to trace signs of fishing activity in the Bay because of several remnants found in the area. Some things found are ancient campfires, fishhooks, and other tools.

1956: A so-called improvement was introduced in the Bay when the County of Honolulu gave permission to the Hawaiian Telephone through an easement, the first leg of a new trans-Pacific undersea telephone cable. A 200-foot-wide swath was blasted through the reef, where tons of coral rock were removed. The removed rocks on the coral reef offered tourists more space to swim. Hanauma Bay became so famous that many crowds resulted in adverse impacts and damage to the Bay.

1967: Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve was declared a protected marine conservation area and underwater park.

1990s: The government formally preserved the area and reduced the impact of many visitors.

2002: Visitors must watch an educational video upon arrival to continue the legacy of the rich history of Hanauma. The video includes important information about marine life and the policies all visitors should know about when visiting Hanauma Bay State Park.

2016: Hanauma Beach was voted the best beach in the United States. The Bay limited the number of visitors to 3,000 daily or approximately 1 million per year.

2021: The City Officials launched a new online reservation system to help facilitate public entry in Hanauma Bay. Only 1000 guests per day are allowed to enter to lessen the impact on this beautiful natural resource.

The Legend of Hanauma Bay


Legend has it that there was once a beautiful princess named Princess Keohinani, whose father was the chief of the Bay. The princess’s father possessed magical power.

Many gentlemen, including two chiefs, Chief Koko and Chief Hana asked for the princess’s hand in marriage. But the chief was confused about whom to choose that he ordered the two chiefs to a challenge to win her daughter through an arm-wrestle. The determined men fought for hours, not wanting to give up. The hours turned into several days of arm wrestling. The princess felt anguish, so his father declared for the two chiefs to end the challenge. But the chiefs never wanted to be defeated. So, Keohinani’s father turned the two gentlemen into mo’o lizards, joined forever at their tails. Hanauma bay’s mouth is said to be the end of those tails.  

What to expect in Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve


Upon arrival at Hanauma Bay, the first stop is the Marine Education Center. This delicately designed assembly mimics the outline of a volcanic cave. Here, visitors can learn about the area’s biology and habitat and the mission of the reserve that protects it before setting foot on the Bay itself.

The center’s bright murals and the region’s geography and coral formations are visible. A short film about the region’s biodiversity will be shown before allowing the visitors to test their familiarity at an interactive fish identification station.

Then visitors can then challenge themselves to identify different species in the wild. They should bring their laminated fish identification chart from reception and head to the beach. 

The breathtaking wineglass-shaped Bay will undoubtedly take visitors’ breath away. The Bay is an excellent place for swimming and offers snorkeling gear rentals for those who want to try snorkeling.

Final Thoughts

Hanauma Beach is not only a well-loved destination for tourists just because of its beautiful view, but also because of its long and rich history, which became the foundation of what it has become today. 

Link to the 2016 Best Beach Award in the U.S.: https://www.travelweekly.com/Hawaii-Travel/Hanauma-Bay-Beach-Park-named-Americas-best-beach