Kauai Scuba Diving: Everything You Need to Know

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Hawaii is known for its stunning wildlife and the beautiful island of Kauai is no exception. One of the best ways to see the Garden Isle’s biodiversity up close and personal is by scuba diving and exploring its underwater world, with vibrant coral reefs, seemingly countless sea turtles, and even some adorable monk seals. Here’s everything you need to know about Kauai scuba diving.

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Woman scuba diving in Kauai
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Let’s dive in (get it?!) and cover some of the basics of Kauai scuba diving.

What kind of wildlife can you see while scuba diving in Kauai?

I would be here all day if I listed everything that you could possibly see on a dive in Kauai—in fact, just counting fish, there’s over 400 species that call Kauai’s colorful reefs home!

But, at a high level (depending on the dive site, of course), you can expect to see all kinds of fish, like Moorish idol, butterfly fish, triggerfish, and barracuda; Hawaiian sea turtles; moray eels; and nudibranchs. Less commonly, you can spot small octopus; spinner and bottlenose dolphins; manta and spotted eagle rays; sharks; monk seals; and occasionally, even humpback whales.

Mother and calf humpback whale swimming underwater

If you go on an organized tour with one of the dive shops in Kauai, they almost always include a pre-dive briefing of the wildlife you’re likely to see in the area and the requisite post-dive freak out about all the cool stuff you just saw!

Best Dive Shops in Kauai

There’s about ten or so dive shops in Kauai. The majority of the shops are located along the southern coastline of the island in the Poipu/Koloa area, although there’s also a few sprinkled on the southwestern and northeastern shoreline, as well, if you’re planning on just renting gear and would prefer to find a shop near where you plan on diving. 

Man scuba diving in Kauai with yellow fish

While there’s a handful of cool shore dives on the island, many of the best dive sites in Kauai are boat dives. So, unless you are lucky enough to have a friend on Kauai with a boat (good for you! Can I be friends with y’all, too?) or want to rent a boat yourself, the most hassle-free way to go scuba diving in Kauai is to book a tour through a dive shop. 

Some of the best dive shops in Kauai are:

1. Dive Kauai

This shop, located in Koloa, has been offering scuba tours around the southern shoreline of Kauai for 25 years. 

They provide small group tours (never more than seven divers per divemaster and usually less than twelve divers in a group), including shore and boat dives, for all skill levels.

For example, beginners should check out this shore dive tour at Koloa Landing (you don’t even need to be certified!), where you’ll dive a maximum of 40 feet. Alternatively, intermediate divers can enjoy a two-tank shore dive at Koloa Landing and advanced divers can experience arguably the best dive site on the island, Sheraton Caverns (if conditions allow!), on this two-tank tour. If you’re a true newbie, they even offer a scuba certification course!

Woman scuba diver walking into Koloa Landing in Kauai on a shore dive

This is the dive shop that my husband, Justin, and I used during our time in Kauai. I LOVED the two tank shore dive at Koloa Landing—the divemaster provided a really helpful pre-dive briefing (and equally as important, killer snacks to enjoy between dives); the equipment was in good condition; and we saw so much wildlife, including over a dozen turtles, on our dive. Definitely recommend!

2. Fathom Five Scuba Diving

In operation for more than 20 years, this woman-owned shop offers dives on both the southern and northern shore of the island. 

Fish cleaning itself on coral while scuba diving in Kauai

They offer a variety of tours for different levels of divers as well. For example, if you’re a beginner diver or haven’t dove in a while, this two-tank dive at Koloa Landing is an awesome option. For more advanced divers with additional certifications, this three-tank dive (to depths of 105’) to the world-renowned waters of Ni’ihau looks absolutely incredible.

Plus, the divemasters with this shop are educational, funny, patient, and awesome at pointing out underwater flora and fauna that you otherwise might’ve missed!

3. Seasport Divers

Seaport Divers has been offering scuba diving tours and courses for over 35 years in Kauai.

The staff are well-organized and funny (while still focusing on safety). They also are incredibly adept at selecting from a myriad of sites for their daily boat dives, both for advanced divers (with at least 20 dives under their belt and diving to 100’) and more intermediate divers, based on the current conditions, weather, and customer preference.

Unicornfish seen while scuba diving in Kauai

They also offer a variety of other dives, like a twilight/night dive at Sheraton Cavern or three-tank dive to Niihau (up to depths of 120’ and only for experienced divers with 30 or more dives). 

Tip: Before booking a tour, be sure that you have the requisite skill, necessary certifications, or dives under your belt for that particular dive (prerequisites are usually pretty obvious on whatever booking platform is being used). For the avoidance of doubt, most scuba tours require you to be, at a minimum, a certified open water diver. 

There’s some REALLY strong currents and swells around several of the popular dive sites in Kauai, many of which involve diving at 100 feet (or deeper!). If you show up for a dive and a divemaster doesn’t think you’re appropriately qualified to complete the dive, they’re entitled (and really, obligated) to not allow you to join it—almost always without providing you a refund. 

And remember that you should have an 18 hour buffer between your last dive and getting on an airplane, going on a helicopter tour in Kauai, or heading to high elevations around the island, like Waimea Canyon.

Best Time to Go Scuba Diving in Kauai

Kauai is awesome because you can scuba dive year round, but, of course, there’s pros and cons to different times of the year. 

Summer comes with warmer waters (80-81°), decent visibility (usually between 60-80 feet) and the ability to enjoy dive sites on the north side of the island. 

Manta ray swimming underwater

While winter in Hawaii comes with colder water (71-72°) and more rain, you’ll enjoy better visibility on non-rainy days (up to 100 feet!) and a better chance to see some really cool animals, namely manta rays and humpback whales. Most humpback whale sightings happen while you’re getting to and from dive sites, but if your heart is set on seeing one underwater (it’s one of the top things on my bucket list!), try to time your dive in January or February, when the whales are most active here.

Best Dive Sites in Kauai

There’s dozens of incredible dive sites in Kauai, located all around the island. As mentioned above, though, some sites are better-suited for more advanced divers.

Boat Dive Sites in Kauai

Forbidden Island of Ni’ihau

Good for: Advanced divers

Arguably, the most famous dive site in Kauai isn’t actually on the island itself, but on the Forbidden Island of Ni’ihau, located a two and a half hour (usually choppy!) boat ride away from Kauai. Nihua is an extremely unique island, which is a privately-owned island that’s closed to the outside world and is solely inhabited by a small, private colony of 150 Native Hawaiians. 

Because of its remoteness, incredible visibility, and unique underwater topography of lava tubes and arches, Ni’ihau offers some of the very best scuba diving in the world, with sea turtles, monk seals, hammerhead sharks, and manta rays regularly swimming through its waters. 

Underwater sea turtle

However, Nihua has unpredictable sea conditions, strong currents, and significant depths (most tours’ first dives are usually at 100-130’ in depth) and accordingly, is appropriate for advanced divers. If you don’t consider yourself an advanced diver yet (*raises hand sheepishly*), there’s a handful of Kauai snorkeling tours, like this one, where you can still observe its stunning wildlife without worrying about whether you should be diving with Nitrox or not.

Sheraton Caverns 

Good for: Divers of all skill levels

Located on the south side of the island near the Sheraton Kauai Hotel’s beach, this site, usually accessed as a boat dive, features partially collapsed lava tubes and arches that create lots of nooks and crannies for sealife to hide in. This dive site is AWESOME for turtle lovers—there’s soooo many honu that like to hang out in the caverns here. Beyond our adorable shelled friends, you’ll also see lots of species of fish, eels, and occasionally, even white tip sharks.

Sea turtle sleeping in coral in Kauai

The actual diving here isn’t particularly challenging, but entering and exiting the site, especially as a shore dive, can be tough, due to gnarly ocean swells and the long distance from shore. From a boat, though, Sheraton Caverns is suitable for divers of all skill levels.

Turtle Bluffs, Fish Bowl, and General Store

Good for: Intermediate and advanced divers

These sites are located right next to each other and are usually done together as a drift dive.

Tropical fish in Kauai while scuba diving

Turtle Bluffs has several ledges, with a turtle cleaning site, so you’ll usually see lots of cute turtles here and occasionally, white tip reef sharks. Fish Bowl, on the other hand, has large piles of rocks and other volcanic structures and, given all of its nooks and crannies, has become renowned as one of the best sites on Kauai to see fish. Finally, General Store also has a wide variety of fish and is home to “Pele”, the decayed ruins of a freighter that sank here in the late 1800s. Due to the deeper waters (90+ feet), it’s not unusual to see larger creatures, including dolphins, here.

Between the depth and the intense currents here, this trifecta is more appropriate for intermediate or advanced divers.

Mana Crack

Good for: Advanced divers

This site, along Kauai’s north shore, is along an 11-mile long sunken barrier reef and an awesome place to see much larger fish than you would at most other dive sites on the island. This is the furthest offshore dive site in the entire state and, due to its remoteness and the level of clarity here, you have a good chance of spotting bigger wildlife, like spotted eagle rays, white tip reef sharks, and gray reef sharks.

This site is also conveniently located near the Napali Coast, known for its towering green mountains, rugged sea caves, and pristine beaches. Oftentimes, tours will take you to see the jaw-droppingly beautiful coastline, during your surface interval between dives (so much bang for your buck!).

Aerial view of the Napali Coast in Kauai

The currents are quite strong here and most dives here use nitrox, so this is only suitable for advanced divers.

Pssst... while you're on the North Shore, I'd recommend checking out some of the incredible hikes on this side of the island, like the incredible Hanakapai'ai Falls Trail or the Okolehao Trail.

Shore Dive Sites in Kauai

Tunnels Beach

Good for: Divers of all skill levels

Located on the north shore of the island, near the Napali Coast, Tunnels Beach is probably the most beautiful beach I’ve ever been to and an excellent shore diving spot, with collapsed lava tubes and underwater caverns. 

Woman looking at the mountains on Tunnels Beach in Kauai

The reef here is volcanic and thus, less colorful than the other most popular shore dives on the island, but nonetheless, you’ll get to see tons of fish and, if you have any luck, a sea turtle or two. 

A few things to keep in mind about Tunnels Beach, though. Due to the huge winter swells that the north shore gets, diving here is only accessible during the summertime. Additionally, while Tunnels Beach has really cool underwater topography, I’ve read that, if your primary goal is to see wildlife, Koloa Landing is generally a better shore diving option. For what it’s worth, I snorkeled (but did not dive) at Tunnels Beach and was blown away by how many fish I saw at the reef (no turtle friends, though!), so if your heart is totally set on diving here, I wouldn’t be discouraged.

Koloa Landing

Good for: Divers of all skill levels

Voted one of the best shore dives in the Pacific by Scuba Diving Magazine, this site, formerly the busiest harbor in Kauai, now offers incredible wildlife sighting opportunities. During our dive here, we saw tons of fish, eels, over a dozen sea turtles, and nudibranchs. I’ve also heard that you can see everything from monk seals to even whales here! 

Sea turtle seen while scuba diving in Kauai
This little guy swam right over Justin’s head while we were diving in Koloa Landing. Cowabunga!

This was my first ever shore dive and entering and exiting the site was pretty easy. Occasionally, though (especially in the wintertime), you may get some nasty waves here (reaching over four feet) that you’ll need to be careful of.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you dive in Kauai without being a certified diver?

Yes, there’s several dive shops that offer tours to non-certified divers, which include learning the fundamentals of diving before committing to a lengthy (and expensive!) certification course and, usually, a shore dive to the maximum depth of 40 feet. For example, check out this one-tank dive for non-certified divers at Koloa Landing

Is Kauai good for scuba diving?

Kauai has incredible scuba diving. 

Compared to its Hawaiian Island brethren, though, it does not have as well-developed coral reef systems (and thus, a comparatively lower number of fish friends), due to the harsher underwater currents and swells that barrage the island. 

Sea turtle swimming underwater

That being said, Kauai, as the oldest Hawaiian island, makes up for it with its fascinating underwater world of lava tubes and caverns and plethora of larger sea life, like turtles, manta rays, and monk seals. In fact, on our last trip to Kauai, there literally wasn’t a single day of our 10-day trip where we didn’t spot either a sea turtle or monk seal!

I hope you have a better grasp on Kauai scuba diving—it’s an incredible place to explore underwater! Let me know if you have any questions about diving in the Garden Island in the comments below!

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