The Bliss Of Going Back To Hanauma Bay - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Jane McCallister

Jane McCallister lives in Honolulu with her family.

There is a saying here: “Lucky to live Hawaii.” That statement was literally true for me when I was one of the few to visit Hanauma Bay the first day it opened to the public after being closed for eight months due to COVID-19 precautions.

How did I get so lucky? I am not a connected person. I do not know anyone in Honolulu Hale. I do not know anyone who works or volunteers at Hanauma Bay. My luck is that I live here.

Since the shutdown began in March, I’ve passed Hanauma Bay often, taking the only slightly longer scenic route. It got so I barely noticed the orange CLOSED signs posted at the gate — until one day they were conspicuous in their absence.

I rubbernecked and rear-view mirrored down Kalanianaole Highway. Sure enough, there were orange cones delineating a path and employees in masks pantomiming swimming motions.

I hustled home, proclaiming the good tidings. “The bay is open! Hanauma Bay is open!”

Hanauma Bay has reopened for 720 people per day. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

My parents, who are retired and enjoy snorkeling, grabbed their masks, fins and non-chemical UV protection shirts. My nephew, who is doing college online, decided homework could wait. It was about 12:30.

As we made the short drive over, we were as excited as kids approaching Disneyland. Would we be able to get in? Yes!

We paid our $1 parking fee, smiled behind our masks and threw shakas at the equally cheerful employees and volunteers. Following the inevitable arrows and social distancing dots on the ground, we showed our IDs at the ticket counter and were told to proceed to watch the video.

I asked if I needed to watch the video, since I had watched it within the year. I was told that everyone must watch the video every time they visit. That is new.

I expected an updated video, perhaps with social distancing and mask reminders, or maybe some before and after footage to show how the bay has improved without 3,000 daily visitors, but it is the same video we have all seen several times.

Don’t touch the coral or the animals.  Take only pictures, leave only footprints. Put rubbish in the bin. Aloha i ka aina.

It was jarring when the smiling actor shook hands with the lifeguard. I do not remember the last time I shook hands with someone.

A deja vu moment occurred when I remembered watching the video previously and thinking how lucky the cute family of actors was to visit Hanauma Bay when it was empty. Every other time I have been there, I have been one of a multitude of people.

We walked down the path and had to stop and take some photos. The beach was virtually empty of people. The water was virtually empty of people.

I stepped in the clear water, with no sunscreen sheen or stirred-up silt. Large kole and humuhumueleele swam right up to me.  I wondered if someone had been sneaking in and feeding the fish, or if that was normal behavior for fish that have had the water to themselves for months?

Fish are plentiful after months of having Hanauma Bay to themselves. Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

The uhu were the biggest I’ve ever seen. Schools of manini were browsing on the algae. A bluish-greenish fish that might have been an eel swam right underneath my nephew and me. We gave it a lot of space. It bared its teeth before undulating away.

I checked my watch. It was almost 1:30.  Early release from school day. I called my kids at home. Come over to the bay!

As I waited for them to arrive, I watched the people.

A group of three people speaking French were standing in the water with no swimsuits, goggles or fins. They looked as if they had wandered over after a hike of Hanauma Bay ridge or Koko Head stairs. I wonder if they knew how lucky they were to have stumbled upon one of the most beautiful places on planet Earth for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity?

I observed a group in brand-new swimsuits, one with the tags still attached. The mom, with a discernible East Coast accent, yelled and scolded the boy who was having a hard time with his goggles to, “Put your head in and enjoy the experience!”

A reporter stopped to talk to us. “Can I ask you a couple questions before I go to Mayor Caldwell’s press conference up there? It looks like the tourists have found the bay, but you look like you live here.”

My nephew and I talked about what it must have been like during the Hawaiian kingdom when royalty would come to Hanauma Bay to fish and camp. It was easy to imagine because there were so few people there.

My kids made it in just before the gate closed at 2. With the 720-person limit, this in itself was pure luck.

We swam out and saw more fish. Another eel, this one obviously a moray, probably five feet long, swam into a hiding place.  A little fish followed but did not emerge.

We stayed in the water until the lifeguards called everyone out at 3:30. We showered off.

A cat sat on top of the closed snorkel gear rental shop, like Simba at Pride Rock, surveilling its kingdom without a concern for the toxoplasmosis it might be spreading. We saw three other cats attempting to cross traffic on our drive out.

I wondered if someone had been sneaking in to feed the cats during the closure?

We talked about the fish we saw and the beauty of the bay on the way home and on into the evening. We wished that every resident could have had the same opportunity we did. We acknowledged that we just got lucky.

The next morning I attempted to drive my usual scenic route. The traffic on the highway before the Hanauma Bay gate was at a complete standstill well before the scenic turnout. I flipped a U-turn and went the regular pre-COVID way.

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About the Author

Jane McCallister

Jane McCallister lives in Honolulu with her family.

Latest Comments (0)

Great article. I lived in HK back in 70’s. Loved Sandy’s and Hanauma bay.  It was very peaceful at HB back in the day. I’m thinking we had it pretty good, toilet bowl was open, crowds were manageable  and no restrictions. Many eel and fish everywhere. Sunscreen wasn’t as popular so no sheen.  Hopefully I will be back in 2021, but sometimes the memory’s of the 70’s might be mobettah than today’s live performance.  

Hawaiikai79 · 2 years ago

Hanauma base was my favorite place on Oahu when we were stationed there in the 70's. It was free and we went several times a week. I am Native American and was mistaken for kama aina. The tourists loved to quiz me on Hawaii. I wish they had kama aina days for Hanauma Bay for the long time residents. Mahalo!

GeckoHiker · 2 years ago

The last time I went to Hanauma Bay, I was a kid and my Dad took me every weekend—it was open and free—no parking guards, no lines, no mandatory videos and no crowds!  Fast forward...I was REALLY looking forward to rediscovering Hanauma Bay when there were no tourists!  Just like my rediscovery of our Waikiki Beaches during the shut down!  But, the Bay was shut down.  I told my kids who never went there ever, because of the lines and tourists—when it finally reopens— we’ll skip school and work and go and enjoy the Bay like when I was a kid!  I AM SOOO MAD THAT KAMAAINA’s WERE NOT EVEN GIVEN THE OPPORTUNITY TO HAVE FIRST RIGHTS back!  It ANGERS me that because of the 1-day secret reopening,  I have LOST the only opportunity to NOT have to COMPETE WITH TOURISTS to go to Hanauma Bay!  LOCALS ARE NOT IMPORTANT!  Ever since the secret reopening, we have driven past when ever we have free time—ALWAYS BARRIERS, NO PARKING, TONS OF TOURISTS WALKING IN—BUT NO LOCALS IN SIGHT!  No ALOHA FOR LOCALS!  Thanks for nothing!  

Kamaaina · 2 years ago

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