I’ve already written about Shark’s Cove, which is part of Pupukea Nature Preserve. The other side of this park is called Three Tables, due to three flat rock formations out in the water.
This is a great place to go snorkeling between April and September. I don’t recommend it in the fall or winter months because the surf is too high. If you’re not sure, you can always check Surfline Oahu for updates on how high the waves are.
You want to be careful not to get too close to the rocks in Three Tables. People sometimes get smacked into them by a wave, and this can be bad because there are sea urchins hiding inside all the cracks in the rocks. It hurts a lot more than you might expect to rub up against them.
However, if you keep your distance from the rocks, this is a nice place to snorkel because the turtles come eat algae off the rock formations. You can get a front-row seat to watching them munch; though it’s challenging to get a good picture because the water is so churned up.
This is also a great place to see schools of surgeon fish, and octopus. It’s fairly sandy at the entry point, so you don’t need boots. However, it’s not as deep as the Shark’s Cove side, so I don’t recommend it for divers.
The sand is round on this beach, which means you really sink into it. I’d keep your towel up in the trees or over on the rocks. You wouldn’t want it to be eaten up by the sand. Even if you’re not going in the water, this is a lovely beach to just sit on and relax. Pupukea is beautiful, and Three Tables is the best spot to enjoy it.
Part of the Pupukea Nature Preserve, Shark’s Cove is an amazing place to go snorkeling from April to September. The North Shore is better known for surfing in the fall and winter months, but in spring and summer, the waters are calm enough to visit with the turtles and fish.
There is a paved parking lot above Shark’s Cove, and there are restrooms to change. There’s even a bit of a makeshift shower (outside) where you can rinse sand off your flippers and out of your hair.
The path down to the water is dirt, but it’s not too steep so it’s pretty easy to get down it. Everyone leaves their towels and car keys on the rocks, and the instance of theft is very low.
The entry point is rocky, so you’ll want to have boots. The currents can be strong, so longer fins are advisable as well. There are some tide pools to play in, and those are great for kids. However, in the deeper water, you’ll find a rocky landscape full of caves.
If you dive, this is a great place to do some swim-throughs. Just make sure the passages you choose are wider than you and your gear!
On the right-hand side (if standing in the parking lot facing the cove) there is a turtle cleaning station at the mouth of the cove. This is where surgeon fish come up and eat algae and parasites off sea turtles’ shells. That makes this an ideal place to see turtles.
Just remember: You’re not meant to get close to them. They are endangered, and you should never feed or touch one. However, Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles are magical to catch a glimpse of.
Ko’Olina Resort is one of the more famous resorts on the Leeward side of the island (that’s the desert side.) It’s a big place that is reserved for hotel guests, but there is a small parking lot that is open to the public.
Paradise Cove is very shallow, but there is break in the reef that you can swim through. DO NOT do this if the ocean is not calm. The break in the reef is small, and swimming in and out is hard.
I like to snorkel first thing in the morning. There are two reasons for that:
1. It’s not like when I lived in Guam. It’s very crowded here. It’s better to go early before the tourists and everyone else is up. The crowds scare away the turtles.
2. The turtles swim into the cove to eat algae off the rocks in the morning. It’s nice to catch them during breakfast. Sometimes you can even see them crawl up onto the rocks to get at the algae.
It’s really a very shallow spot so I recommend trying to go at a time when the tide is high in the morning. Snorkeling is all about watching all the factors like weather, tide, surf height, and jellyfish. Make sure to check everything before you go.
I’ve been trying to get out and see as many beaches as possible since I moved from Guam to Hawaii. Oahu is a beautiful island, and it will take a long time for me to explore it all.
One of the most famous beaches is in a town called Kailua; it’s called Lanikai Beach. Off the coast of the beach, there are two islands you can kayak to. They are a bird sanctuary, and tours are offered. However, it’s a little dangerous to swim to them (since it’s past the wave break.)
I only went as far as where the waves break. It seemed wise since I’d been warned about currents and rip tides.
So far, this is the beach with the most coral. It’s shallow for hundreds of feet out, and the corals are beautiful. (Though you can see evidence of bleaching- same as everywhere.)
Unfortunately, Lanikai is very sandy. This means the water quality isn’t often as good as it would be in a rockier place. The day I went, the visibility was only about 15 feet, and I wasn’t thrilled with it.
I saw three turtles. Two sped away pretty quickly. Maybe it was too early (it was shortly after sunrise.) But one let me swim with it and take some pictures, which was cool.
There are showers nearby at the Kaulia Beach Park, but I went to Lanukai Beach specifically and there are no amenities there. I suppose you could drive over to Kaulia Park after you swim, since it is only about a half mile away.
There is no parking lot, but your GPS will take you to a neighborhood that has street parking available. There are no lockers. If you don’t have a car key that is separate from the key fob, I suggest getting a keypad door lock for your car. Snorkeling in Hawaii is great, but it’s not a good place to hide your key somewhere on your car.
Anyway, if you’re here on vacation, make sure to check out Surfline to make sure the waves are not too high, and to also check the jellyfish report. As always, be safe!
Anyway, I went through MDA. The class was $200, and involved three nights of videos and two days of practice in the water.
I have nothing but good things to say about MDA. If you are thinking of getting your dive certification, it’s an affordable and professional organization.
The camera I bought when I got my certification is an Olympus Tough TG-4. It is supposed to be waterproof to 50 feet, but I try not to take it down that deep. On deeper dives, I go without a camera.
Mostly I dive around 25 to 30 feet. The pictures are a little dark and blue, as you can see. You need a flash and a better camera to get good pictures deep down.
However, it serves me extremely well for snorkeling.
I guess I hit the lottery. I had a blood vessel in my ear burst during my dive class, which is supposed to be extremely rare. My doctor assured me that it was a very uncommon response, and that it would probably never happen again.
However, diving with my friend later, a vessel in my nose burst and my mask began to fill with blood. I had to surface early.
The next time I dove, I also got a bloody nose. This time it was after I surfaced. I was with my husband and he freaked out because I guess there was blood all over my face.
Eventually I thought about it honestly. A few burst blood vessels doesn’t sound like a big deal if you think about it as something that only happens inside your ear or in your nose. However, I couldn’t help but realize that the next time, it could be in my brain.
That is when I stopped diving.
It’s a shame, because it’s really affordable here. A complete gear rental for two is only around $50. It’s such a good deal…
I also wish I was better at diving because of the way the fish react to humans snorkeling. They swim away so quickly.
When you are diving, the fish just swim with you as though you are one of them. They never seem frightened, or like they want to flee in fear. It’s so much better!
It’s nice to feel like one of the “in” crowd instead of feeling like a pariah.
The water here is so warm that it feels like getting into a bathtub. That’s one of the wonderful things about being on the equator.
My dive instructor, like most of the guys here, went diving in shorts and a tank. I see the appeal. The water feels lovely on bare skin.
I tend to wear long pants and a long-sleeved rash guard when snorkeling. Jellyfish hang out near the surface of the water and there is also a big risk of sunburn. But diving, it’s nice to wear a little less.
However, as I have said before, most of the dives are off of a boat. There are a lot of historic sites, such as the sunken WWII ship the Tokai Maru. We also have our own Blue Hole. And there are quite a few reefs where you can see cool marine life.
It really is a great place to scuba dive. I wish my veins were stronger so I felt like I could safely do it more.
This will be my last Australia post. I think I have finally covered nearly all the things I wanted to say. There are just a few loose ends that I will sum up here.
The main takeaway is that you should definitely go to Australia. I felt like I stepped into a parallel universe where everything was the same; and yet just a bit off. It’s not like England were even the recent immigrants and decidedly English.
It’s actually shockingly like the US (in that they lack an established culture), while somehow simultaneously being nothing at all like anywhere else on Earth. I know that sounds crazy, but when you get there, you will see.
The big highlights to note from the trip are:
1. Stay at YHA hostels if you are by yourself and on a budget. They are mostly wonderful, and extremely affordable. Make sure to buy through their website, and look into package deals (sometimes they run a special on a set amount of days like: 10 days for $200.)
I stayed at the YHA in Bondi Beach, Railway Station Sydney, and the one in Cairns. All were good, with the usual hostel bothers (sharing a room with a stranger) and the usual perks (kitchen to cook in and knowledgeable staff.)
2. Snorkeling and diving on the reef will be warm, but if you go around Manly Beach or other popular locations around Sydney (or anywhere south of Sydney); get a wet-suit. It was freezing in the middle of summer (January.)
On a side note, it was totally worth it. I hadn’t been in a cold-water environment since middle school, and the kelp dancing in the waves was magical. So were the groupers.
3. Go to the Blue Mountains, but maybe not with a tour (so you can hike around at your own pace.) I am sorry to say that I can’t recommend the company I took a tour with, though maybe you’d have better luck?
However, I do recommend the Blue Mountains. The land is wide and open like Northern Arizona, and it has the same stark and empty beauty.
4. If you’re going to Cairns for a reef tour, it’s worth it to go to the tourist town rain forest for a day. I got great pictures in Kuranda.
If you like shopping, they have oodles of that. I am not a shopping person, so we went to the butterfly garden and the wildlife park, and ate at a restaurant. The whole thing was really very nice.
We took the Skyrail up, and the train back. I definitely recommend that. Someone here in Guam told me to take a bus up to Kuranda, but if I had, I would have missed some of the best things I saw on the trip! Don’t settle for a bus. Take the Skyrail and the train. Getting there really is half the fun.
5. I did the live-aboard through Cairns Dive Center and stayed on a boat called The Kangaroo Explorer. It was the most affordable option, but the staff was amazing and the chef was top-notch. Seriously, he blew me away with the food. I had a great time! I cannot recommend these guys enough for kindness, fun, and really creating the best experience they could for all the passengers.
However, the impression I got was that tourists only ever get to see the parts of the reef that are the most damaged, and this is both good (for the reef) and bad (for you.) So… take from that what you will. But I see better turtles and coral in Guam on a Tuesday.
6. The Big Bus Tour was good. I mean, it’s better to see stuff by just taking the regular trains, because it is cheaper and you don’t feel rushed. However, I didn’t do it to see the sights. I did it to listen to the commentary and enjoy a day of sitting down (after all the walking as a tourist, and then all the running at full speed in the Blue Mountains.) For what I wanted it for, The Big Bus Tour was perfect.
If you, too, need a day of rest; give it a shot. You can do the central Sydney area and the Bondi Beach area all for $50 for the day. Sit on top (wearing a hat and sunscreen) for good pictures, or sit below in the AC and just watch the stuff go by.
As an aside, I have also done this tour in Paris and London. Both were good. Honestly, the Big Bus Tour was the only place I picked up those fun tourist facts (like how the guy who built Oxford Street was paid in rum because that was Australia’s first currency.) The locals don’t like to repeat that stuff over and over so they just stop telling people, but the recorded voice on the Big Bus Tour will say it over and over.
Most of the places I spent money on tourist stuff were great and I have almost no regrets on that score. As for the people, they were fabulous. I found Australians to be kind, well-intentioned, and welcoming. People gave me directions and helped me book trips and purchase things with ease as long as I stuck to the tourist spots.
Now, a few of the pubs I went to refused to try my (US) card and asked for cash. They were off the beaten track, and I imagine they don’t see many Americans (only 30% of us even have passports.) So, I don’t think that was too unreasonable.
Actually, I was surprised how few Americans I ran into. With the exception of the reef tour, I didn’t actually meet any at all. Unfortunately, that did not save me from having to think about Trump. Every Australian I met had a go at me for Trump. Seriously, all of them teased me about living in a country run by a madman.
Trump actually personally screwed me while I was in Australia as well. He shut down the government so that the value of the US dollar plummeted. The exchange rate (which is usually very favorable) dipped surprisingly close to 1:1. So, I guess I can’t escape US politics anywhere in the world, even down under.
Anyway, I would recommend the crap out of Australia if you were choosing a place to visit. I know the Maldives look attractive and Europe calls to everyone. I know Japan is top on all the anime-geeks lists. But, Australia has something about it that is magical, and I am really glad I took the time to go. You should, too.
And if you are worried about those stories you heard about Australia being dangerous, let me put that fear to bed right now. I saw nothing dangerous. Not one thing. Seriously, they say it’s dangerous, but it’s super tame in the cities, in the Blue Mountains, and even out on the reef.