Once known for pineapple plantations and fishing villages, the small Hawaiian island of Lanai now caters incredibly to tourism. The island’s surrounding ocean is a major draw for visitors, and the waters are famous for their spinner dolphins and turtles. The 30km coastline offers a wealth of marine life, culture, and history – including a grounded, rusted over WW11 ship on Shipwreck Beach.
While we’ve established that your snorkel is a must-pack for your trip, you may wonder, where should you snorkel to experience all Lanai has to offer? With so many tours and trips for sale online, it is easy to feel lost in the seemingly endless snorkeling options.
But, not to fear – we have curated a helpful list of Lanai’s best snorkeling spots to simplify your choice. Whether you want to spot turtles or snorkel reefs, this list will guide you to the best option for you.
On Lanai’s northeast, Turtle Haven is a perfect snorkeling spot known for high-chance encounters with green sea turtles. Green sea turtles can grow up to four-five feet long and, while they typically move serenely across reefs, they can swim at a speed of up to 20mph if needed.
Although, it’s not just the green sea turtle to spot. Hawaii’s waters are home to four more species of sea turtles, including the hawksbill, leatherback, loggerhead, and olive ridley. The sea conditions and corals at Turtle Haven create the perfect environment for turtles, meaning you can almost guarantee a sighting of one of the species. The site also houses expansive coral gardens, making it a scenic place to snorkel and take in Lanai’s underwater flora.
If swimming with turtles is a priority for you when choosing a snorkeling location, Turtle Haven should be at the top of your list.
Shark Fin Cove
Deriving its ominous namesake from a fin-shaped lava rock, Shark Fin Cove is one of Lanai’s best snorkeling spots. Shark Fin Cove, also known as Kaunolu, is located on the lower Southwest of the island. Compared to other snorkeling sites in Lanai, Shark Fin Cove is more remote and only accessible via boat.
But do not let the cove’s remote location stop you from visiting, as plenty of daily boat trips take visitors for a modest price. Framed by a backdrop of dark, towering sea cliffs, visitors can enjoy an underwater site that many reviews liken to a wild aquarium. The site is known for its resident butterflyfish, recognizable by their yellow dish-shaped bodies and thought to mate for life. Snorkelers can also spot parrotfish, tangs, octopus, manta rays, bottlenose dolphins, or even the gentle whale shark.
Geographically awe-inspiring and rich in underwater biodiversity, Shark Fin Cove is a must-visit snorkel spot for an introduction to Lanai, and Hawaii’s, most captivating underwater life. You’ll want an underwater camera if you snorkel at this spot.
If you arrive in Lanai by ferry, Manele Bay is the first spot you will see. Home to Lanai’s harbor, a short walk to the east of the bay treats you to a white-sand beach with shallow waters and excellent snorkeling.
The main benefit of snorkeling at Manele Bay is its accessibility, as visitors can snorkel from the beach without needing to book a trip or spend time on a boat. The shallow waters also make it perfect for those wary or underconfident snorkeling in deep water, including families who wish to cater to all members’ water abilities. On the beach, visitors can make full use of showering, toilet, and changing facilities.
Snorkelers will swim amongst vibrant shoals of tropical fish – likely including native wrasse and long, silver needlefish. If visiting, you should also keep your eyes peeled for a pod of spinner dolphins that frequent the bay. The spinner dolphin is the most common in Hawaii and is renowned for its impressive water jumps. They often spin mid-air before re-entering the water – making them an entertaining creature to spot while snorkeling.
Manele Bay is one of Lanai’s best snorkeling spots for accessibility and independent exploration. Overall, it is the perfect snorkeling option for those short of time, nervous about snorkeling in deeper waters or wanting a budget-friendly independent experience.
Not far from Manele Bay, Fish Rock is accessible by a short boat ride. True to its name, Fish Rock is identifiable by a large rock protruding dramatically from the water. Its circumference is surrounded by coral reefs and a diverse assortment of resident fish and marine life.
These larger members of marine life are what typically draw snorkelers to Fish Rock. Snorkelers have a high chance of encountering Spinner Dolphins at Fish Rock, and, in winter months, you can also spot Humpback Whales. Between December and April, Humpback Whales travel to Hawaii to breed and nurse their young, returning in the summer to Alaska. Lanai’s waters are particularly popular with the whales, and, better still, snorkeling at Fish Rock significantly increases your chance of sightings.
Fish Rock is a great option for snorkelers confident in deep, open water and wishing to spot larger marine life such as whales and dolphins.
On Lanai’s southeast coast, Sergeant Major is famous for its three lava ridges, creating a playground of canyons, caves, and arches to explore. The island of Lanai is formed from an extinct volcano, Palawai, the lava remnants of which now form characteristic underwater landscapes.
Popular with snorkelers and divers alike, the spot gets its name from its abundance of sergeant major fish, noticeable by their signature yellow and black striped pattern. Moorish idols are also commonly spotted on Lanai’s reefs, with their characteristic yellow, back, and white markings. Navigate lava rock structures, colorful coral reefs, and occasionally spot larger marine life such as turtles, white-tip reef sharks, humpback whales, and dolphins.
If you are confident swimming in open water, you should consider taking a snorkeling tour to Sergeant Major. Sergeant Major is one of Lanai’s best snorkeling spots for tourists looking to experience dramatic underwater structures.