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Kaohikaipu Island

Guide Author: Marc D.

Dive Site:

Dive Type: Shore Dive (Requires Diver Propulsion Vehicle or DPV)

Difficultly: Advanced

Average Depth: 20 - 30 feet on the north/northwest side, dropping to 35 - 60 feet on the South/Southeast side

Ideal Wave Conditions: 0 – 2 foot waves or lower (beach entry conditions are rough with high surf).  The Makai Pier is a calmer alternate entry but also a longer DPV run.  Battery and air management are crucial here. 


GPS Address: Makapu’u Beach, 41 HI-72, Waimanalo, HI 96795 (Google Maps)

Amenities: Public bathrooms, rinse shower.

Parking: 40-ish parking spaces that fill up quickly.  This is a very popular spot for photo shoots and ceremonies because of the picturesque backdrops of Makapu‘u Lighthouse and Rabbit Island. We recommend arriving early.

Family-Friendly: The beautiful beach with a DLNR Life Guard on duty make this a super friendly spot for beachgoers.  Families won’t mind waiting for you to complete your dive here.  There is a bathroom and a rinse shower available.  Clean white sand and almost no submerged rocks make for an easy entry to the water.  The surf and break here are short and high making this a great spot for body boards and body surfers.  8 years old and up should have a great time here playing in the fast water but small children should be closely supervised in the surf.  


  • REQUIRED safety gear: Diver Propulsion Vehicle (DPV), Surface Marker Buoy (SMB), Delayed Surface Marker Buoy (DSMB) snorkel, flashlight, and compass.

  • To circumnavigate the Kaohikaipu Island State Seabird Sanctuary a DPV of good quality is required.  Do no try this with a DPV-like toy.  There are strong currents and long distances to cover.  

  • When in doubt, don’t go out. The beach entry will be a challenge if the surf and swell are over 2 feet. 

  • The walk from the parking lot to the beach is 150 meter walk. This can be difficult with a heavy DPV in hand so make multiple trips if necessary.

  • A compass is a must here.  The azimuth from the beach to the north side of the bird sanctuary is roughly 0 to 10 degrees once you are in the water and 100m of shore.  A 180-degree azimuth will get you back to the eastside of the beach from the east side of the bird sanctuary side and a 240 will get you back to the lifeguard stand from the south east side of the bird sanctuary.

  • An SMB is must.  There are small boats that traverse the gap between the two islands and a big swell could lead to a chance encounter if you are not properly marking your position. Consider adding a piece of shock tube or bungee to your line to help with any swell if you tow your SMB.

  • DPV Notes: The divers who scouted this used a Tusa and a Blacktip with AL80s.  Dive time was 106 minutes with the majority of dive in the 25’ to 35’ range.  They spent 10 minutes at 45’ checking out 3 resting Whitetip sharks.  Average gear speed on the Blacktip was 2-4 with short sprints up to speed 6 and 7 on entry/exit and when overcoming strong currents.  The Blacktip completed the dive just as the battery dropped to 1 bar.  The Tusa had over ½ battery life remaining.  A SMB was towed for the duration of the dive for safety but possibly added to the load slightly.

  • Be conservative with your planning and be cautious not to task overload. Consider the possibility you may need one DPV to tow another if you experience a total DPV malfunction. Take this into consideration when monitoring battery life. We also do not recommend towing other divers on a single DPV.  It’s a long swim back to the beach.

  • There is a fair amount of navigation but there is no shame in “turtle navigation” to prevent costly mistakes.

  • Be alert for fishing lines when on your DPV. The clear monofilament lines will make short work of your DPV.  

  • This Dive Guide was conducted clockwise around the bird sanctuary.  In retrospect, counter clockwise would have provided more deep sites early on however, air consumption would have increased but that could be mitigated by larger tanks, doubles or rebreathers.

Dive Site Maps:

(Base map courtesy of Google Maps) 


Dive Guide:

Entry Type: The beach entry depends on the conditions.  This beach is known for its big waves even with a small smell. If you want to practice beach entries in varying conditions this is the place because there are almost no submerged rocks or obstacles but plenty of surf and waves.  This would be a great spot for a Rescue Diver Course.  The best tips for DPV diving from this beach are;

1. When entering, ensure you have your mask on securely, regulator in, BCD aired up and fins securely clipped to your front.  Take the waves head on (hold your mask) and dive under them if need be.  Hold onto your gear as you enter the water. A regulator necklace is a great piece of equipment to add to your kit before this dive. 

2. Enter immediately following a big set and get moving fast on your DPV until you clear the surf zone. You should already have your DPV secured to you prior to entry.

3. Once in open water (~100m out) stop, empty the sand from your booties, put your fins back on and catch your breathe on the surface.   

Summary: This dive is not often frequented because of the DPV requirement, complexity and experience required but for those who do go, a treat is in store.  If you have boat access and a calm go straight for east side of Rabbit Island.  A drift is ideal but with a DPV you can dive into the current and easily get back to an anchored boat..


West Side: The west to southwest side of the bird sanctuary averages 25 feet and is generally flat with sections of undulating terrain.  The coral here is abundant and healthy with some unique colors not seen in other locations.  All of the usually suspects of native fish species are here and views are spectacular. 


North Side: The north east side of the bird sanctuary is essentially part of the Rabbit Island drift dive route on the easterly edge. It is averages 25’ and has a strong current because it channel the water between Rabbit Island and the bird sanctuary.  There is less coral here and more rock outcropping.  Be careful not to drift to close the island as big swell will easily lift you up on the rock.

East Side: The east side is where the ledge and big drop are.  The water becomes distinctly blue as you dive down.  You will notice less coral but huge cut-ins, valleys, and caverns to poke your head in to. Once you start heading east between Rabbit Island and the bird sanctuary you will notice the increased surge and surf.  The depth here is about 60 feet and the wall runs north to south along the east side of Rabbit Island.  The bottom is rock and sand.  Because of the constant water flow here expect good visibility and spectacular color hues in the deep blue range. This is your half-way point following this route.  Our scouts were at 1500psi by this point.  From the eastside of the bird sanctuary head towards the lifeguard stand – 240 degrees then cut to 180 degrees to roll straight in to the beach. 

Be On the Lookout (BOLO): Turtles, reef fish, sharks, octopus, purple coral, huge coral trees, and crown of thorns starfish (COT).

Note: never poke or harm a crown of thorns starfish.  They are a native a species and part of the local marine ecology but will release millions of spores if you damage them.  If you encounter more than 20 in a small area there is a reporting procedure for that. 

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