Scuba Diving on the Big Island

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Scuba diving on Hawaii is a great way to get away from the crowds and enjoy the Big Island underwater paradise on your own. Especially because the underwater world around all Hawaiian Islands is a #1 destination for Scuba divers world wide!

The abundance of sea life in each color of the rainbow is amazing. You  can spend your whole vacation exploring the many sea caves, as well as the coral belt that surrounds the Island.

First of all, both snorkeling and scuba diving are great fun. Scuba diving is the more expensive alternative (both in time and money), but also has big advantages. If you snorkel, you are constrained to the surface most of the time. If you dive, you can stay underwater for a long time and get – and stay – close to the fish and coral. You will also have the 3-dimensional freedom of movement that snorkeling never really gives you.

Scuba diving is however not without risk. Have a look at our 4 scuba diving safety tips for details.

Diving conditions: “location, location, conditions”

“Location, location, location” is a phrase often heard from realtors, but it is definitely also appropriate for diving spots. However, for a truly memorable dive we need to change this phrase with one word into: “location, location, conditions”. Even if you would be diving in Neptune’s treasure trove itself, you would not be able to enjoy doing so if you couldn’t see anything.

Diving locations around the Big Island can be split roughly in two: Those on the Kona side and those on the Hilo side. In general, diving conditions are better at the Kona side with less murky waters and more sunshine. Water visibility over 100 ft. is common here. Dive conditions depend of course on local weather conditions. The best season for diving is from spring through fall, when the surf is lower and thus has less impact on visibility conditions.

Diving spots on the Big Island

There literary isn’t a place on the Big Island coast where you are more than a mile away from a good diving spot. Most visitors to the Big Island choose to go on a diving tour, which safes them the hassle of finding good dive spots and getting there. More on these dive operators here.

If you want to go out and explore the Big Island scuba locations yourself, we recommend to stay on the west  (Kona) side of the Big Island. Some outstanding locations are Pukao, Kealakekua bay, Pu’uhonau o Honaunau (place of refuge) and “mile marker 4” (just south of Kona). For more info and dive reports on these and more diving spots, see the excellent shorediving guide to the Big Island.


What certification do you need for Scuba or Snuba diving?

To rent scuba gear and go scuba diving you need to be either PADI or NAUI certified.

If you are not yet certified but want to go scuba diving anyway, you have two choices: Either get certification during a course on the island, or go ‘snuba’ diving:

  1. For beginners, there are so-called “Resort Courses” that qualify you for an introductory scuba dive in hours. During the resort course you get diving instructions for a couple of hours in a swimming pool and afterwards you are certified to go on a guided dive. There is of course also the opportunity to take a full certification course. What better place to learn how to dive than in Hawaii?
  2. If you don’t care for a resort course but still want to go deep under water, consider SNUBA diving. Snuba divers breathe underwater by means of a 20 foot air line which is connected to a standard scuba tank. The tank is mounted on a raft on the surface that follows your every movement. Every Snuba tour is guided by a diving professional.

Scuba diving gear and diving tours on the Big Island

Dive shops around the island offer rentals for offshore scuba diving around the Big Island. Most also offer dive tours and provide food, transport and equipment. Big Island Divers and Jacks Diving Locker are some of your options to rent gear or take courses in Kailua Kona.

If you want to go scuba diving on the east side of the Big Island (Hilo, Puna) have a look at the Nautilus Dive Center in Hilo.

The manta ray night dive

Another very exciting dive adventure on the big island is the Manta Ray Night Dive. Imagine floating in the dark ocean holding only a flashlight, and being surrounded by the playing benign giants swirling around you!

scuba diver and manta ray swim at the waters of the big island, hawaii
A female scuba diver swims with a young male Manta ray in the Kona district / Big Island. By Steve Dunleavy from Lake Tahoe, NV, United States – Nick and Isabelle, Kona Hawaii, CC BY 2.0, Link

Scuba diving safety tips

  • Have the proper qualifications: To rent diving gear, you should be either PADI or NAUI certified. If you have not dived for a while or are inexperienced, dive with an instructor and consider a “Resort Course”.
  • Be prepared: Always rent high quality equipment. You don’t want your gear to fail 20 feet below the surface! Also, plan ahead. Check the local weather conditions, wear shoes, gloves and a wetsuit to protect you from the cold and sharp coral and lava rocks. Do not fly or travel to high altitudes (e.g. Mauna Kea or Mauna Loa) within 24 hours after your dive
  • Be careful: Always check your entry and exit points before diving. Never dive alone or use up all the air in your tank. Completely check out the dive location before choosing whether to make the dive.
  • Have fun!: Take in the spectacular underwater world around Hawaii. Consider taking along an underwater camera for some spectacular shots.