Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Electric Beach

When I was learning to scuba dive, one of my classes was over at a place called "Electric Beach."  I had never been there as this is a 40 minute drive from Honolulu.  It's named Electric Beach because of the Hawaiian Electric Power plant located across the street.  Anyway, it turns out the name of the beach is actually Kahe Point Beach Park.  This is one of the best snorkeling areas on the island and is located on the west side of O'ahu, just north of the Ko Olina Resorts.

The electric plant takes in the cold water and outflows clean warm water through two giant cooling pipes about 100 yards offshore.  At the openings of these pipes the water temperature is several degrees warmer than the surrounding ocean, which attracts scores of sea life. Electric Beach is arguably best suited for the intermediate to advanced level snorkeler as there is a moderate swim involved and no life guards are in the area.  If you have flippers, however, I think even beginners are probably okay if they go in a group.  The toughest part is that there is a strong current (created by the in/out flow of the pipe) that can present a challenge to swim against.

The water is about 30 feet deep at the opening of the pipes, giving you a bird’s eye view of the schooling fish. Large smooth boulders cover the pipes but most of the sea floor is made up of white sand and some coral flats. To get there you just take H-1 WEST until you pass Ko Olina resorts on your left.  Keep going another mile or two and the beach park is directly across from the power plant.  You can't miss it.  Enter the water at the small sand beach just to the right of the large pavilion. You'll see a bunch of scuba divers and people just hanging out and BBQ-ing on the grass and sand.  When we were there on Monday everyone was out with coolers and grills and big speakers enjoying Memorial Day.  

Word of caution: there’s certainly going to be some breaking waves near shore, so keep a hold of your mask and fins as you enter. The combination of the waves and sand beach make the water near shore very cloudy, but just keep swimming out and just past the waves the water will clear up dramatically. 

So you want me to jump in the big ocean and look for a couple of what? Pipes? Don't worry, finding these giant pipes is a lot easier than it sounds. Before getting in the water, look out into the ocean about 100 yards from shore. You’ll see what looks like two rivers colliding where the water is churning. It will look like a huge bubbling spring just off shore. Make a mental note of where the "spring” is located and how far out it is. When you get into the water you’ll be able to swim straight to the opening of the pipes.

The marine life out here is pretty awesome.  It really is like swimming through an aquarium.  There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of tropical fish swimming around in schools next to the pipe.  We saw eels, sea turtles, angel fish, and cormetfish.  There are also sea urchins and other cool stuff to see.  If you decide you want to snorkel and want to avoid the cost and hassle of going to Hanauma Bay where all the tourists go, then I highly recommend Electric Beach.  Just be aware that in addition to no lifeguard on duty, there are also no stores nearby to buy drinks or food so remember to bring a cooler with snacks.  You'll want to eat/drink something when you get out of the water.

Here is two-page list of fish you can expect to see in Hawaii with pictures of each fish (yes, the pdf is from Hanauma Bay, but the fish are seen at Electric Beach, too).

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