Swimming with Turtles in Oahu, Hawaii


There is so much to love about Oahu. It has great beaches and a rugged beautiful landscape, yet the convenience of good shops and restaurants. The weather is mostly fabulous and the temperature averages a very pleasant 85F in the summer (78F in winter) so it’s never cold. The island has such a relaxed vibe – you never have to worry about what to wear in Hawaii because anything goes.
An unexpected highlight of our trip to Oahu has been my close up encounters with wildlife in their own habitat, namely swimming with turtles.

A fellow travel blogger, Mary from Bohemian Travelers, is living on Oahu currently and we read her recent post about her family’s visit to see a family of turtles on the west coast. There is a well know turtle watching area at Laniakea Beach on the North Shore where volunteers help protect the turtles from overexcited tourists, but not many people know about the turtle beach on the west coast.
The next morning we excitedly jumped in our car and headed out west to Waianae. It took close to an hour to get there. The highway was fine but I couldn’t believe how many traffic lights there were for the last 10 km! I had been curious to see what the west of Oahu looked like and I enjoyed the views of the western mountain range that was created by one of the two major volcanic eruptions that created Oahu. I read that in the beginning Oahu was two volcanic islands close together, one to the west and the other to the east, with sea between them. Gradually the sea between them was filled in with volcanic debris and Oahu became one island! Interesting, eh?
The foothills near the coast have the most amazing and unusual colours and textures.

Waianae foothills

We hadn’t expected there to be any decent beaches up the west coast but, from a distance, the ones at Waianae looked quite nice. Certainly there were wide stretches of golden sandy beach that were popular with the locals.

At the northern end of Waianae you turn left off the main road into Upena St. Then keep left on Upena St when it forks with Widemann St. Continue until you get to the far end of Upena St where it turns to the right. At that corner is a walkway that takes you between two private properties to the very small sandy beach.

Turtle Beach

When we first got there I couldn’t see anything resembling a turtle and thought perhaps we were out of luck. I climbed onto the volcanic rocks that border the beach and admired the view up the coast. From there I spotted my first turtle coming up for a breath.

It looks like a rock but it's really a turtle!
It looks like a rock but it’s really a turtle!

The trip was suddenly a success and I was very excited. I’d say there were about 5-6 turtles of various sizes in the bay. I’m only guessing but I think they might be a family. it was nice to think of them that way, anyway :-). We watched them from the rocks for a while, bobbing up to the surface and then disappearing under the water to reappear at another spot. A group of adults arrived about the same time as we did and they donned their snorkels and took to the water. We soon joined them. The day we were there the waves were quite large and surging in and out of the bay. There was quite a strong undertow so we only ventured a few meters in, but the water was lovely and warm. It was an absolutely magical experience. The turtles allowed themselves to float in with the tide, often right up to us, before swimming back out again. We stood in the water and watched them for over an hour. I couldn’t even drag myself away to put sun-tan lotion on, despite know I was getting burnt! During our 2 hours there another 2-3 groups of visitors came to see the turtles. Most were respectful of the turtles and just photographed them. It is very tempting to touch them when they come so close to you and some people did which was a concern. Once more people hear about this special place I think something will have to be done to protect the turtles. We didn’t have snorkels but I’d bring them if you can because it would have been even more amazing to watch them swimming whilst under water too. While we were there the turtles chose not to come onto the beach so I have no decent shots of them in the water. Take a look at Mary from Bohemian Travelers‘ post to see much better photos, including her gorgeous wee sons sitting next to a turtle on the beach!
I have also swum in close proximity to a few turtles at Ala Moana beach, a few hundred feet out from the shore which a thrill.mi look out for them each time I swim there but it’s more miss than hit.


  1. // Reply

    I am so glad to hear you two are enjoying yourselves on Oahu. I wish I had been around to invite you over to Maui 😉 maybe next time.

    The sea turtles of Hawaii are one of our greatest treasures and I would just like to implore your readers to enjoy them but please don’t touch them! Sadly these guys have a lot of issues to deal with due to our actions. A few ways you can help protect our endangered sea turtles is to… Please don’t leave litter on the beaches, wear environmentally friendly sunscreen and if you do happen to see one on the sand keep a distance.

    Help us protect the magic that is Hawaii by be conscious visitors!


  2. // Reply

    Absolutely Alex, I don’t think I’d thought about the sunscreen. Will Google that. Thanks for commenting! Maybe the Maui tourism board will invite us at some point!

  3. // Reply

    That must have been pretty amazing to actually swim with the turtles!

  4. // Reply

    Wow, what a great experience. I love it when you find yourself in the position to interact with animals in their natural environment!

  5. // Reply

    Great post! Swimming with sea turtles is so magical! So happy you are enjoying Oahu!

  6. // Reply

    It was a great beach. And I agree about the West side beaches, I thought they would stink but really they are lovely and have far less tourists. We went kayaking on one in Waianea the other day and it was shockingly clear and beautiful!

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