Under Hawaii’s Crystal Seas

Ko Olina Ocean Adventure snorkel tour

A forty minute drive away from the bustle of Waikiki and just steps away from the luxurious Ko Olina Resort, is a place where locals come to relax with some of the best waters around O’ahu. Today we weren’t there to just relax in the beautiful waters of Hawaii, we were there to have fun things to do on Maui – to swim with turtles and maybe, just maybe, some dolphins would join us as well.

I dislike waking up at 6 am on the best of days, even less when the skies are still dark and the coffee shop isn’t open. Wearily I trudged through the Outrigger Reef on the Beaches‘ lobby but Remi, the Japanese blogger I was travelling with, seemed to sense my tiredness and greeted me grinning widely and eagerly asked me if I was excited to see the turtles and dolphins. My mood immediately perked up at the thought that in just over an hour we might be swimming with dolphins!

After the forty minute drive to Ko Olina Marina – a complimentary shuttle is available for guests staying in Waikiki – we were soon signed in, had stocked up on snacks and ready to get on – and in – the water.


USA-Hawaii-Snorkel-Tour-Landscape Captain Mark wanted to get us onto the water as quickly as possible so we de-flip-flopped – they stayed on the pier lined up perfectly awaiting our return – and settled into the boat, donning life jackets, being fitted with snorkel gear and going over safety instructions before quickly heading out of the harbour. If you are looking for a new snorkel mask check out these snorkel masks reviews.

I undid my hair from the ponytail I had quickly fashioned it into when I was onboard the shuttle and let the breeze splay my hair in whichever direction it cared to travel. The wind whipping my hair over my face, as the boat speed off on an adventure, was a brilliant sense of freedom.


Just a few minutes on the boat and we were already arriving at a place the crew called ‘Turtle Town’, a turtle cleaning station. Each time the crew mentioned the name I began to hum the version of ‘Car Wash’ from Sharks Tale (below) much to the amusement of the kids sitting next to me.

Putting on our fins and face mark we had the option of either gracefully sliding into the water at the back of the boat or take a plunge off the side; both Remi and I took the plunge, awkwardly climbing over the railing before jumping into the ocean!


Remi was like a fish in the water easily diving down to the sea floor and I ended up following her from the surface, being the ever vigilant photographer, enjoying another type of freedom as I floated in the clear seas.

We’d been told that the area is a common place for turtles who come to the area to be cleaned by the small fish that inhabit the coral and that if we saw one surfacing we should stay away from it and allow it to rise. If we waited for it to rise it might be a little more tolerant towards us coming closer to observe and photograph, but if we came closer as it was rising it would disappear to the sea floor again.

As we spotted our first turtle a few people did get a little bit excited and the turtle dived back to the sea floor but, when most of the group were distracted by the colourful schools of fish, he began to rise again and swam past my left shoulder. Remi came swimming up to me, tapping my arm and pointing at the turtle that was speedily swimming away from us and, now he had taken a breath, heading back down for some more time in the car wash.




Deciding to let the rest of the group spend time on turtle patrol I swam over to the schools of fish flocking the other snorkelers who seemed lost inside the swirling motion. Oh, how I wish my little Panasonic DMC-FT4 took photos as well as the trip photographer who came snorkelling with us because some of these fish were so beautiful! The long silvery blue fishes glinted silver, iron grey and blue as they swam away from us quickly, the light reflecting off their scales; while the black fish had this brilliant electric blue stripe along the fin line. The yellow fish were such a bright cheerful colour but also cheeky if you put your fingers in front of you, like you were holding some food out to them, and they would swarm up close and nip at your fingers until they realised that you were tricking them and swam away to find someone who was actually holding some food! It was a great little trick to get them to come close so you could take a few quick photos of them.






All too quickly we were back on the boat and on another search for an animal a little bigger and a lot more playful than a turtle. Dolphins!

We were in luck as another sightseeing boat had some out and together we managed to find them a little further down the coast. A group of spinner dolphins and a baby were making their way through the area and back out to sea. As the boat stopped we bobbed around, lining up along the port side of the boat and waiting to see them appear.

A fin cut through the water, then a second, a third, a blow hole spurted water in the air and we cheered. It happened again as they continued to swim around us, then past us as they headed away from the beach. Instead of chasing them or revving his boat like another – “It makes them jump,” Captain Mark said as one leaped from the water, “but we don’t want to disturb them so lets go and see if we can get you swimming with them.” Captain Mark decided to head closer to shore where a group of paddle boarders were sitting patiently on their boards in wait of something.



We spotted them again as their fins pierced the surface of the water before diving under, shallow enough to see a dark mass moving. A group, maybe twelve, and at least two babies. The crew got us in position as we lined up on either side of the boat ready to slip into the water when he gave the signal. The hope was we could slip in the water and that they would come close enough to watch them.

The signal was raised and one by one we began to slip into the waters quickly and quietly searching for sights of the dolphins coming towards us.



Through the murky waters I could make out grey shadows passing and then, finally, one came close enough that I could see the outline properly. I could make out the fins, nose and tail. I was just a metre-or-so away from a spinner dolphin!




Like any great experience it seemed all to soon that they were beckoning for us to come back to the boat. Captain Mark waved at me as everyone else had clambered onto the boat and I was still drifting lazily in the water, unsure if I wanted to return to the hectic schedule that had been set for the rest of the day. Taking my flippers with one hand and helping steady me as I climbed onboard he reminded me that lunch was waiting back on land. My stomach growled a little and we laughed.


To have the chance to see and swim with both turtles AND dolphins, as well as a bunch of crazy, hungry fish was such a great experience! Although it’s not a hands on “pat, touch and play” experience like in some parks I preferred this unobtrusive insight into the animals lives under Hawaiian waters.

Captain Mark and his crew offered the most amazing hospitality from the time we met before boarding the boat to the time we boarded the shuttle to head back into Waikiki. It’s not just the smiles, helping fit your equipment or making sure I had a photo Remi, and other members had photos with family and friends, that made the trip a great experience. All of the crew were well educated on the water, the animals, and stories of the lands from the local Hawaiians. They even took the time to pick up a few piece of trash floating in the water which impressed me as other companies I’ve travelled with just keep moving, overlooking what is a huge problem in seas around the world.

Along with the Captain and his crew, a photographer came onboard with us to take photos that we could purchase back on land but they didn’t go out of their way to be pushy and make you feel that you were forced to buy a photo CD. Their on-site store also offered waterproof cameras at cheaper prices than back in Waikiki if you prefer to take your own pictures. Along with two crew members and the photographer who came snorkelling with us, a Japanese translator came onboard to assist with safety and instruction for the Japanese guests. Such a great idea!

Back on land lunch was waiting. Chips, a soft drink or water, salad and fruit salad were sides to a burger that we pre-ordered in the morning. The pulled pork was delicious!


 Now it’s over to you

Which sea creatures would you like to swim with?

What are your favourite ocean activities?

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Ko Olina Adventures
Ko Olina Resort Marina Oahu, Hawaii
Tours cost:
Adult: US$139.00
Children (4-12): US$114.00
There are some discounts for Active U.S. Military and Hawaii Residents.
Tours begin at 6:15am and 10:45am.
Included in the tour is free return transfer from your Waikiki based hotel, drinks and snacks pre-trip, all snorkel gear, lunch, and a 3.5hour tour with experienced guides. Crews are equipped with sunscreen and iced bottles of water. Wetsuits are available for rent in the store. Remember to bring a towel and your swim suit!
A tour photographer does snorkel with you and will take photos which are available to purchase after the trip. I think the CDs were US$60 – US$68 with tax – or around that price. This included 349 photos, including a dozen or so stock photos.
Tips are at your own discretion but I was told that tips for this type of tour are generally around the US$20 mark.
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My trip with Ko Olina Adventures was complimentary and arranged by the O’ahu Visitors Board, Visit Hawai’i and Discover America. All thoughts and opinions are, as always, my own.

All photos have been taken by me with the exception of the post image which was taken my the photographer onboard from the CD I bought.

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  • Reply
    Sammi Wanderlustin'
    August 15, 2014 at 11:14 pm

    I want to do this 🙂

    • Reply
      September 24, 2014 at 3:38 am

      Hope you can one day! It’s amazing. 🙂

      Have you been snorkelling any where before Sammi?

  • Reply
    August 16, 2014 at 7:35 pm

    So fun! I have swum with whales in Tonga, and I have swum with dolphins in New Zealand. 🙂 I would like to Scuba Dive with sharks I think. 🙂

    • Reply
      September 24, 2014 at 3:39 am

      Oh wow!!! Swimming with whales would be amazing! How close are you allowed to get?

  • Reply
    August 17, 2014 at 3:25 am

    This looks amazing! My ultimate wish is to swim with sea lions 🙂

    • Reply
      September 24, 2014 at 3:39 am

      Aw, sea lions are gorgeous but they look like they’d be so cheeky in the water!
      Where can you swim with sea lions?

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    December 3, 2015 at 1:09 am

    “Car Wash” is not from Finding Nemo. It is from Dreamworks’ Shark Tale.

    • Reply
      December 3, 2015 at 7:17 pm

      Thanks for pointing this out, Grace! Must have had a brain fail on the day I wrote the post. 🙂

  • Reply
    May 31, 2016 at 9:58 pm

    I’m going to Hawaii in January and was’t sure if I wanted to do this, after reading your detailed article I will definitely be doing this! Thanks! ??

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