Diving on Kauai is dictated by the weather. In winter, when heavy swells and high winds hit the island, diving is generally limited to the more protected south shore. Probably the best-known site along the south shore is Caverns, located off the Poipu Beach Resort area. This site consists of a series of lava tubes interconnected by a chain of archways. A constant parade of fish streams by (even shy lionfish are spotted lurking in crevices), brightly hued Hawaiian lobsters hide in the lava's tiny holes, and turtles swim past.
In summer, when the north Pacific storms subside, the magnificent North Shore opens up. You can take a boat dive locally known as the Oceanarium, northwest of Hanalei Bay, where you'll find a kaleidoscopic marine world in a horseshoe-shaped cove. From the rare (long-handed spiny lobsters) to the more common (taape, conger eels, and nudibranchs), the resident population is one of the more diverse on the island. The topography, which features pinnacles, ridges, and archways, is covered with cup corals, black-coral trees, and nooks and crannies enough for a dozen dives.
Because the best dives on Kauai are offshore, we recommend booking a two-tank dive off a dive boat. Bubbles Below Scuba Charters, 6251 Hauaala Rd., Kapaa (tel. 808/332-7333; www.bubblesbelowkauai.com), specializes in highly personalized, small-group dives, with an emphasis on marine biology. The 35-foot dive boat, Kaimanu, is a custom-built Radon that comes complete with a hot shower. Two-tank boat dives cost $130 ($30 more if you need gear); nondivers can come along for the ride for $80. In summer (May-Sept), Bubbles Below offers a three-tank trip for experienced divers only to the "forbidden" island of Niihau, 90 minutes by boat from Kauai. You should be comfortable with vertical drop-offs, huge underwater caverns, possibly choppy surface conditions, and significant currents. You should also be willing to share water space with the resident sharks. The all-day, three-tank trip costs $310, including tanks, weights, dive computer, lunch, drinks, and marine guide (if you need gear, it's $30 more).
On the south side, call Fathom Five Adventures, 3450 Poipu Rd. (next to the Chevron), Koloa (tel. 808/742-6991; www.fathomfive.com).
Great Shore Dives from Kauai -- If you want to rent your own equipment for shore dives, it will probably cost around $45 to $60 a day. Try Fathom Five Adventures, 3450 Poipu Rd. (next to the Chevron), Koloa (tel. 808/742-6991; www.fathomfive.com).
Spectacular shoreline dive sites on the North Shore include Kee Beach/Haena Beach Park (where the road ends), one of the most picturesque beaches on the island. On a calm summer day, the drop-off near the reef begs for underwater exploration. Another good bet is Tunnels Beach, also known as Makua Beach. It's off Hwy. 560, just past mile marker 8; look for the short dirt road (less than a half mile) to the beach. The wide reef here makes for some fabulous snorkeling and diving, but again, only during the calm summer months. Cannons Beach, east of Haena Beach Park (use the parking area for Haena, located across the street from the Dry Cave near mile marker 9 on Hwy. 560), has lots of vibrant marine life in its sloping offshore reef.
On the south shore, if you want to catch a glimpse of sea turtles, head to Tortugas (located directly in front of Poipu Beach Park). Koloa Landing has a horseshoe-shaped reef teeming with tropical fish. Sheraton Caverns (located off the Sheraton Kauai) is also popular, due to its three large underwater lava tubes, which are usually filled with marine life.
For rental equipment, see the locations of Snorkel Bob's.
For great shoreline snorkeling, try the reef off Kee Beach/Haena Beach Park, located at the end of Hwy. 560. Tunnels Beach, about a mile before the end of Hwy. 560 in Haena, has a wide reef that's great for poking around in search of tropical fish. Be sure to check ocean conditions -- don't go if the surf is up or if there's a strong current. Anini Beach, located off the northern end of Kalihiwai Road (btw. mile markers 25 and 26 on Kuhio Hwy., or Hwy. 56), just before the Princeville Airport, has a safe, shallow area with excellent snorkeling. Poipu Beach Park has some good snorkeling to the right side of Nukumoi Point -- the tombolo area, where the narrow strip of sand divides the ocean, is best. If this spot is too crowded, wander down the beach in front of the old Waiohai resort; if there are no waves, this place is also hopping with marine life. Salt Pond Beach Park, off Hwy. 50 near Hanapepe, has good snorkeling around the two rocky points, home to hundreds of tropical fish.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.