Last Updated: June 7, 2023
There are tons of diving opportunities worldwide, and it isn’t easy to talk about the best ones without omitting somebody’s top choice. No matter how many times you have gone on the most exotic and unique dive explorations, there will always be a hidden gem waiting to be discovered.
Perhaps that place is Kauai.
Visitors to the Aloha State often go to the more popular tourist destinations in Oahu due to their accessibility and recreational amenities. But if you want something less crowded and a little rustic and natural, Kauai is your bet.
Known for its lush greenery, pristine beaches, glorious mountains, scenic waterfalls, and sugarcane fields, to name a few, the Garden Isle offers a wide array of island activities for the out-of-the-box adventurer.
It is one of the oldest Hawaiian islands and the second wettest area on earth, with a small population of more or less 73,000.
About the same size as Oahu but 15 times less its density, Kauai is small, raw, and rural as it gets. The majority of the island doesn’t even have roads, yet this is where you’ll find the most beautiful sights, such as the Waimea Canyon or Kokee State Park.
Kauai remains unmatched in its naturally beautiful surroundings, a place worth visiting and telling your friends about.
Kauai Scuba Diving
Kauai diving is less popular than on the other Hawaiian islands like Oahu, Maui or Big Island, despite what it offers. But all the more reason it should entice divers looking for less-dived spots to discover.
From endemic reef species to collapsed lava tubes and volcanic ridges, Kauai, alongside its adjacent island Niihau (The Forbidden Island), will not disappoint even the most seasoned divers. Who doesn’t want to dive side by side with Hawaiian green sea turtles? These fabled creatures have unusually heart-shaped shells, adding to their many adorable traits.
You’ll notice that diving on Kauai is land-based, meaning there are no dive resorts to take off from. Instead, dive tour organizers partner up with hotels in case some guests want to engage in the activity.
Once underwater, you will marvel at the thriving corals, rock formations, and gorgeous topography of Kauai undersea.
Best Scuba Diving Sites in Kauai
There are five primary dive areas in Kauai:
- North Shore,
- East Side,
- South Shore,
- West Side,
- and Niihau (the Forbidden Island).
Take a look at some of the best sites below.
1. Vertical Awareness, Niihau
Niihau, the Forbidden Island, is home to several endangered species, limiting access to the locals and their invitees, thus the name. Here, rarely-seen Hawaiian monk seals reside in peaceful surroundings and are always curious when divers are around. Since this dive site is prone to strong water currents, it necessitates advanced diver skills to maintain neutral buoyancy and depth perception.
Vertical Awareness features a lava shelf covered with eccentric nudibranchs and houses overwhelmingly massive schools of fish. Other must-see creatures, such as sandbar sharks, tunas, wahoos, and octopuses, also make a grand appearance.
This dive spot has a depth of about 100 feet and a steep 280-foot wall, albeit relatively small. Nonetheless, you will have a spectacular time at this dive site.
2. Sheraton Caverns
Another incredible sanctuary for marine life, Sheraton Caverns surely packs a lot of punch for divers. As Kauai’s premier dive site located on the south side, it has sea turtles, mollusks, eels, and other reef creatures hanging out in collapsed lava tubes while feeding on algae.
Look closely at the tunnel ceilings, and you will likely spot turkey fish and dwelling crustaceans. It has depths ranging from 20 to 70 feet, with archways and overhangs that provide perfect swim-throughs for skilled divers.
Note that this is a popular spot; hence you may see many other dive boats and divers who are just as excited to explore the underwater caverns here.
3. Koloa Landing
Also on the south shore, Koloa Landing is one of the few open water dive spots you can access from a dive resort, making for an easy entry point. Brace yourself as this shore dive drops up to 50 feet. The vast aquatic life comprising dragon morays, sea green turtles, eagle rays, and other rare critters is impressive. There is even a U-shaped reef with a sandy bottom where flounders like to stick around.
Koloa Landing used to be a trading port, but due to the unpredictable tradewinds, it was closed down and is now a popular dive site. During winter, while you are not likely to see migrating humpback whales in the area, you may hear them sing from afar.
4. Mana Crack
On the west side, Mana Crack is a huge sunken barrier reef 11 miles long and located at the farthest offshore spot from the Napali coast. It has no mooring lines and requires a live boat dive.
Only advanced divers are allowed here since the currents are strong and unpredictable. But once you’re underwater, you will be greeted with a wide array of sea life. There are white-tip sharks, spotted eagle rays, puffers, surgeonfish, barracuda, uluas, and much more.
The large fissure cracks provide easy swim-throughs allowing you to explore the place fully.
5. Tunnels Reef
A wall dive on the north shore, Tunnels Reef is near Makua Beach, which also provides an ample snorkeling area. For divers, the large coral formations and overall bottom topography 55 feet below make the trip worth taking.
Although a bit of a rip current flows continuously, it is weak and manageable. Its inner and outer reefs provide a layer of protection that stabilizes the waters.
The twenty-plus limestone caverns and underwater caves are breathtaking, especially when the different schools of fish swarm toward you. The excellent visibility is useful for spotting white-tip reef sharks, small critters as well as larger pelagics.
6. Hale o Honu
Hale o Honu is a boat dive with 11 moorings and has a lot to offer underneath. It is a Hawaiian term that translates to house of turtles. Hence it has a large coral reef with an active sea turtle cleaning station. You can also spot sea turtles on the surface since they need to breathe from time to time.
Due to its expansive size, it will take several dives just to cover the grounds in its entirety of lava crevasse and outcropping of rocks. It has depths of up to 65 feet and is a favorite spot of endemic species such as the Hawaiian lionfish and reef sharks.
7. Amber’s Arches
Completing my list of best Kauai dive sites is Amber’s Arches. You begin your dive by descending the mooring to a flat reef 40 feet below. Then you drop off to the most amazing rock formations, undercut ledges, and swim-through holes that divers can fully navigate.
You will notice the rich biodiversity of reef sharks, lobsters, eels, hermit crabs, and the ultra-rare longnose hawkfish stopping by.
There are bright orange cup corals and thick black coral stalks hugging the arch that are simply stunning. However, this site is limited to advanced dive skills due to the potentially rough conditions.
Diving Conditions and Best Time to Dive
You can dive all year round in Kauai and enjoy its best dive spots. However, you may want to change your plans if you’re looking at diving during winter on the north shore because of the expected larger swells. Note that this period also falls on a big-wave surf season; hence the waters are most likely rougher.
The temperate waters ranging from 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit for the better part of the year add comfort to divers wanting to maximize their bottom time. Although it’s warmer than other dive locations in Hawaii, you are always better off wearing a wetsuit to retain heat.
Some dive spots only require shore diving, and those with unpredictable conditions use boat access.
Divers enjoy relatively good visibility, with varying depths starting from 10 feet up to 130 feet.
Snorkeling is a great alternative to diving here, given that marine life is abundant even in shallow spots, particularly for those who still need to get more comfortable doing an intro dive.
Top Kauai Dive Shops
#1. Seasport Divers
Aside from organizing dive excursions in Kauai, Seasport Divers rent out dive essentials as well as beach chairs and boogie boards, among others. You can buy spearfishing equipment if you need to; this shop’s got you covered.
#2. Garden Isle Divers
Garden Isle Divers is one of the island’s best scuba diving tour operators. It focuses on organizing small dive groups under the guidance of certified dive instructors to ensure the participants get individualized attention.
#3. Dive Kauai Scuba Center
This dive center embodies the aloha spirit in its service to customers. Dive Kauai is a PADI 5-star dive resort; so, you can expect an unparalleled diving experience under their care.
#4. Fathom Five Divers
Located in Koloa, Fathom Five Divers has a PADI 5-star rating in Instructor Development Course, so you know you’re learning from the best. Expect a memorable dive with their knowledgeable and fun-loving divemasters. At the same time, they ensure your safety in and out of the water.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Diving Good in Kauai?
Yes. Endemic species, sea turtles, tropical fish, lush coral reefs, swim-throughs, caverns, volcanic ridges, and submerged lava tubes are front and center in many Kauai dive sites.
Can You Go Shark Diving in Kauai?
Yes. Several dive locations specialize in shark dives, such as Mana Crack and Ni’ihau, where white-tip reef sharks, sandbar sharks, and whale sharks can be found.
What Beach in Kauai Has Sea Turtles?
You can get your fill of abundant sea turtles on most Kauai beaches like Brennecke’s Beach, Poipu Beach, Kipu Kai Beach, Ke’e Beach, Tunnels Beach, Lawai Beach, etc.
Are There Tiger Sharks in Kauai?
Yes, there are tiger sharks in Kauai waters. Although a rare occurrence in this region, they are usually the culprit whenever there is a case of a shark attack on a human.
Where Can You Free Dive in Kauai?
Freedivers will have a field day; they can test their skills under the right conditions in practically all Kauai diving locations, such as Poipu Beach, Loa Bay, Tunnels Reef, Lawai Beach, and Sharp Stone Reef, among others.
My unbounded love for the oceans and everything it has to offer motivated me to pursue my passion and become a professional scuba diving instructor.
I keep reading, exploring, and learning more about scuba diving and the underwater world all the time, so I’m excited to share my knowledge with fellow scuba enthusiasts and hopefully contribute a little to your development as a diver. I want people to fall in love with the oceans with as much passion as I have. Read more about me here.