Hanauma Bay is one of Oahu’s most treasured venues, and few visitors come to Honolulu without snorkeling along its famed reef. But, according to the Honolulu Star Advertiser, some tour companies disguised as “taxi” services may ruin the nature preserve for everyone. And it’s important all Hawaii visitors are aware of the problem.

According to the newspaper, several tour companies are skirting the rules that prohibit any company from bringing more than six people (including at least one guide) into the nature preserve at any time. And, by bringing in more people than allowed, many tour companies are actually damaging the reef.

the beach at hanauma bay

Photo: WPPilot

The number of Hanauma Bay visitors peaked in the 1980's, which is why the state began prohibiting tour companies from bringing visitors to the area.

Apprently, the tour companies are dodging the rules in two ways: First, some tour companies are obtaining taxi licenses for large vans and “lying” to gate agents about how many passengers they have. According to the Honolulu Star Advertiser, the companies don’t charge taxi rates, but bring a steady stream of tourists who flood admission gates and contribute to long lines that discourage many residents from visiting and diminish the visitor experience for everyone.

But, the other way some tour companies skirt the rules is even more creative: The Honolulu Star Advertiser talked with San Francisco resident Ken Newberry, and he explained how he arrived at Hanauma Bay with his mother, wife and son on a recent Friday.

First, a shuttle bus picked up his family at a Waikiki hotel and dropped them off in a residential neighborhood near the bay. Then a taxi limousine picked them up and brought them into the bay’s commercial transportation drop-off area. Newberry didn’t pay the taxi driver. He paid the transportation firm $13 per person including snorkel gear and a scheduled ride back to the hotel.

“We’re all thinking, ‘Why are we getting in a limo?’” Newberry told the newspaper. “They kind of have a system going on here. Everyone seemed to know everybody between the limo guy and the van guy.”

a snorkeler with a shell

Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

Of course, you'll want to immediately start doing ocean activities in Hawaii the minute you land. But, experts say you should hold-off for a day or so to let your body adjust.

On the same day, the Honolulu Star Advertiser reports that another taxi firm, Kaimana Tours, pulled up in a van equipped with a rack of masks, snorkels and fins inside the rear door and dropped off 10 exchange students despite the official taxi passenger limit of eight. There were actually 40 in the group, according to the students who took four taxis into the preserve.

Why should you care? Even though visitor-flow is controlled through entrance fees and the mandatory film each visitor must watch before entering the park, too many Hanauma Bay visitor are still flooding the nature preserve. And, too many visitors means potential harm to the area’s wildlife. Not to mention many locals would rather stay-away from the venue than compete with the large numbers of visitors.

So when you consider which Oahu activities to book, make sure you only use reputable tour companies, such as Hawaii Aloha Travel, for your excursions. And if the price seems too good to be true, check and see if the company you choose is playing by the rules.


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