A guide for scuba diving Rabbit Island and Kaohikaipu Island State Seabird Sanctuary (with DPVs)
Dive Guide Contributors: Marc D & Steven
Location Type: Shore Dive (Requires Diver Propulsion Vehicle or DPV)
GPS Address: Makapu’u Beach, 41 HI-72, Waimanalo, HI 96795 (Google Maps)
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 Research Pier is a calmer alternate entry but also a longer DPV run. Battery and air management are crucial here. Be very mindful of the currents; even if the waves are low, strong currents can pull you out!
Entry: There are two possible entries; the first entry is at the Makapu'u Beach (be warned, there is a decent walk from the parking lot down the hill). The second possible entry for this dive is the small beach to the right of the Makai Research Pier down the street.
Amenities: Makapu'u Beach Park has showers and a bathroom. The Research Pier entrance has no amenities.
Parking: There is usually enough (free) parking, but it gets crowded on weekends.
Family-Friendly: The beautiful beach with a 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.
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. The reef areas around the islands are filled with beautiful coral and tons of curious wildlife. 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.
If you are using standard aluminum tanks, we recommend snorkeling at least part of the way to the island to save air. This requires a towed dive flag like this one to ensure your safety. 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.
If you are going on this dive and entering from Makapu'u Beach, we recommend the following procedures:
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 breath on the surface.
At this location you can find a lot of diverse wildlife, including sea turtles, reef fish, sharks, octopus, purple coral, huge coral trees, and crown of thorns starfish (COT), spotted eagle rays, monk seals, eels, lobsters. Whales breach near the island during the winter months on the east side of the island.
Locations to Explore:
West Side of the Island
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 of the Island
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 of the Island
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.
REQUIRED safety gear: Diver Propulsion Vehicle (DPV), Surface Marker Buoy (SMB), Delayed Surface Marker Buoy (DSMB) snorkel, towed dive flag, flashlight, and compass.
This a DPV of good quality is required. DO NOT try this with a DPV-like toy. There are strong currents and long distances to cover. We recommend a professional product like Tusa or the Blacktip.
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 for underwater navigation. While you are going out, don't be afraid to use turtle navigation (popping your head up to look around at the surface) to ensure you are still on course. If you get too far off course, consider scrubbing the dive to ensure you have enough battery life to get back)
An SMB and towed dive flag 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 while towing 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.
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.
Since this dive is further on the east side of the island, we recommend renting gear and tanks from Honolulu Scuba Company or Aarons Dive Shop. At this time neither of them rent DPVs, so you'll need to find a friend with one or purchase one (recommendations coming soon).
After the Dive:
On the east side of the island, we like to hang out at Hawaii Kai after our dives. If we feel more like going to the beach, we'll head over further north to Waimanalo or Kailua.
Island Brew Coffee House (Hawaii Kai): A short drive to Hawaii Kai, this is easily one of our favorite coffee shops on the island. They have delicious drinks and homemade pastries, and they have a great outdoor seating area that overlooks the Hawaii Kai marina area.
Kona Brewing Company (Hawaii Kai): If you're in the mood for a beer after diving (after you've properly hydrated of course), check out this local-favorite at the Koko Head Marina. They have a great selection of locally-brewed beers and tasting flights, along with delicious flatbread pizzas and snacks.
Sea Life Park: Sea Life Park is right down the street and it's one of the only aquariums in Oahu. It's worth a visit to learn about all the local species in the ocean here, and to learn about how you can help conserve the beautiful reefs in Hawaii.
China Walls: An instagram-worthy spot located in Hawaii Kai, these beautiful cliffs are a great spot for swimming in calm conditions or watching the sunset. Beware the parking can be tricky, and make sure that you're respectful of the residential areas.