The author Mark Twain called Hawai‛i “the loveliest fleet of islands that lies anchored in any ocean.” And one of the most memorable ways to view the islands is from the ocean. Distractions melt away. There’s only the seashore, the lapping waves, the mountain tops…and you. Each of the Hawaiian islands is unique. From the ocean you can see each island’s character and get a sense of its aura. Tour companies on each island offer visitors a wide assortment of ocean experiences. Here are a few of my favorite boat tours that will give you spectacular views of the islands as well as a stunning ride.
Photo courtesy of Hilton Hawaiian Village
There are no shortage of boat tours on O‛ahu. The Spirit of Aloha is a 54 foot catamaran that departs from Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki. The catamaran offers lunchtime, dinner, and snorkel sails, along with the popular Sunset Fireworks Dinner Cruise on Friday nights.
The Atlantis Submarine tours are offered near Diamond Head, but also on Maui and Kona on the Big Island. The submarines descend to 100 feet underwater and give visitors a glimpse of the abundant marine life such as sea turtles, eels, and reef fish.
If you want to get out of the Waikiki area, Ocean Joy Cruise’s catamaran will take you to the Wai‛anae Coast on the west side of the island. You will often spot dolphins, whales (in season), sea turtles, and flying fish along the way. After an hour of snorkeling in pristine ocean waters, you’ll enjoy their lunch buffet on the way back down the coast.
On the eastern side of the island, Kualoa Ranch offers a very popular 90 minute ocean voyage tour. It is a narrated tour of Kaneohe Bay, Mokoli‛i Island (Chinaman’s Hat) and more. Knowledgeable guides provide the historic and cultural background of this area of O‛ahu, and the sublime blue-green waters and Koolau Mountain range provide a backdrop that is perfect for photos.
Big Island of Hawai‛i
Photo courtesy of Lava Ocean Tours
There is no shortage of adventure in the waters of Hawai‛i’s youngest island. Boat tours offer night-time scuba diving, snorkeling, deep-sea marlin fishing, and whale-watching. There are also lava-viewing tours where you can be a witness to the spectacular ocean entry of flowing lava from Kilauea Volcano.
Boat tours off the Island of Hawai‛i leave from Hilo on the eastern side of the island or from world-famous Kailua-Kona on the western side.
Kailua Bay Charter’s Glass Bottom Reef Tour is the perfect adventure for families with young children, or those with mobility issues. You can explore the gorgeous Kona reefs and its marine life without even getting wet! View the underwater world from the comfort of your own seat.
Lava Ocean Tours offers first class seats to view lava entering the ocean. Kilauea Volcano is pumping lava and creating new land as lava sizzles into the sea and hardens. They offer sunrise, daytime, twilight and sunset tours, but this force of nature is exciting to witness no matter what time it is.
Photo courtesy of Hawaiian Paddle Sports
To explore Maui by ocean, boat tours depart from Lahaina harbor and Kaanapali Beach on the west side, the more centrally-located Maalaea harbor between the Kahului Airport and Lahaina area, or Wailea Beach on the south shore. Smaller motorized vessels may use the Kihei boat ramp on the south side or Mala Wharf in Lahaina. During whale season on Maui, there are two-hour whale-watching trips in addition to the usual charters. Most of these trips will have narration by a naturalist onboard, along with a hydrophone so that you can hear the humpbacks singing on their way to warmer waters.
The Pride of Maui has been doing charter tours for a long time, and they offer an array of tours including snorkeling off the southern coast at Molokini Crater. In fact, they have a 5-hour snorkeling tour that takes you to Molokini and Turtle Town, which is a long stretch of coastline teeming with turtles.
If you want to experience more private boat travel, Hawaiian Paddle Sports offers outrigger canoe tours limited to just six on a canoe. The guides will keep you away from the crowded snorkel cruises, and it’ll be a much calmer ocean experience with narration about the cultural significance of the places you pass.
Photo courtesy of Captain Andy’s Na Pali Raft Cave Patrol
There are few sights more spectacular than the Na Pali Coast of Kaua‛i. And most boat tours will feature the Na Pali Coast from the ocean. Captain Andy’s has been doing ocean tours on Kaua‛i for decades, and they specialize in Na Pali Coast exploration. They offer lunch and dinner cruises, and snorkeling tours. But one of their more unique tours is the Na Pali Raft Cave Patrol. Departing from Kekaha on the west side of Kaua‛i, the 24 foot rigid hull raft takes visitors on a 3 hour adventure darting in and out of sea caves, plunging under cascading waterfalls and experiencing majestic Na Pali in a memorable way. There is no snorkeling on this tour.
Holo Holo Charters will not only take you to Na Pali, but they will also give you a glimpse of the Forbidden Island of Ni‛ihau from the ocean. Their 7-hour Super Tour includes exploring the Na Pali coastline, snorkeling in Ni‛ihau waters, a continental breakfast, and lunch buffet. Since Ni‛ihau, a privately-owned island, is only accessible by invitation, this snorkeling tour is a rare opportunity.
The beauty of the islands is that whichever boat ride you choose, you are in for an enjoyable and relaxing ride.