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  • Writer's pictureScuba Steve

Exploring Makaha Caverns

Recently we had the chance to do some exploring at one of our favorite, West Oahu dive spots! Here's a short video of that day, and some good shots of my dive buddies.

Makaha Caverns is an amazing spot, filled with tons of wildlife, swim-throughs, and rock formations that you can spend an endless amount of time exploring. Some of the caverns in this area have holes or small openings in the ceiling, giving off some amazing photo lighting. Turtles are frequent residents in caves (napping), along with some massive puffer fish, spiney lobsters, and schools of fish.

Looking at a satellite image of the spot, you can see that the reef is split up into a north and south section, with a large sand channel running out to the ocean. For this trip, we explored the northern part of the reef, mooring our boat on one of the far northwest mooring balls. We took a northern route, swimming toward Kepuhi Point, and it definitely did not disappoint (we moored around the blue icon on the picture bellow, and our estimated route is in yellow). There were definitely some waves that day, but it was calm enough that we didn’t have any reduced visibility or underwater surge. We toured through several rock and reef formations, saw an entire school of puffer fish (which was crazy!) and caught a quick glimpse of an eagle ray.

Makaha Caverns Satellite Image
Overhead view of the Makaha Caverns dive spot. (Image courtesy of Google Maps)

One of the most striking things to me about this spot is how vibrant some spots of the reef are. Due to its location, this spot has fewer visits from divers and tourists than some other popular locations. It’s not hard to find swathes of reef teeming with wildlife. The caverns and swim-throughs also offer some amazing views as well, and sunlight shining through really sets some dramatic mood lighting. I wish I had gotten more video showing the insides of the caverns, but I was saving my camera lights for a another shoot that evening at E-Beach.

Dive Site Information:

We personally recommend taking a boat, kayak, or DPV out to the main cavern site. It’s about a quarter mile swim out to the main cavern areas on the north side of the reef, which is not too far if you are an experienced snorkeler or free diver. It can be quite a haul if you’re wearing scuba gear though, especially in the current.

Speaking of current, this is a popular surf spot too, because currents and winds can bring some decent waves. As a general rule of thumb, if you see a ton of surfers in the water, it’s probably not a great day for diving that spot. Large waves and currents here are problematic, because the resulting underwater surge can toss you around against the rocks and produce some terrible visibility. It’s best to go out when conditions are flat, or there are smaller long period waves. Also, be cautious when getting close to Kepuhi Point, because it does get shallower and more surge-y the closer you get.

(Random side note: I’ve recently discovered the Windy iphone app for forecasting dive site conditions, and I highly recommend it. I paid for the upgraded version and use it in the “sailing” profile so it shows a lot of information on the wave and surf conditions.)

Be sure to bring a dive flag and/or buoy, since there are normally a lot of boats going in and our of the area. If you plan on surface swimming, be sure you bring something tall and bright enough to be spotted by boat traffic, especially if the wave swells are higher. We also recommend bringing a good dive light (and back up) if you plan on exploring some of the caverns or swim-throughs (if it’s within your training and ability level). As always, make sure you have a buddy, signaling device (like a whistle), and a surface marker buoy.

There are numerous day use mooring balls (managed by DLNR) scattered throughout the area that you can use. Just beware that may face some competition from tour operators during popular times. If you are having trouble finding a mooring ball, you can also anchor since it’s only about 40 feet deep. If you choose to anchor, be sure to only drop the anchor in the sandy area in the center of the two reefs to avoid damaging any coral.

Mooring Buoy Grid Coordinates (about 15 ft underwater):

We hope to see you in the water soon!!

- Scuba Steve

(Note: There are no paid endorsements in this post. Any products, businesses, or organizations mentioned are simply based off personal opinion.)


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