Kaneohe is on the East Side of Oahu making it a 40-minute drive from Ewa Beach. It was no problem though. The views of the H3, only built in our lifetime, offer jaw-dropping, breathtaking, views of the Ko’olau Mountains. As you exit the main tunnel heading into Kaneohe, looking to the right you may see a waterfall or 7.
If you’re lucky, you’ll pass through the clouds, but during a standard-Hawaiian day, you’ll be able to see all the way to Kaneohe Marine Corps Base and just offshore from He’eia Pier, is something you can’t miss: Azul blue waters, splotches of underwater reef towers and a wide land lake in the middle of Kaneohe Bay – aka The Kaneohe Sandbar, our destination for the first adventure for the year, thanks to Captain Bruce!
It’s a unique experience that not many people, even locals, get a chance to do very often, making us extremely excited yet, utterly grateful. Although we’ve visited here a couple of times back in the day, it was our son Landon’s first time out on the Sandbar making us feel the joy and thrill of stepping on land in the middle of the Pacific Ocean!
WHERE IS THE SANDBAR LOCATED?
Kaneohe Sandbar is located on the East Side of Oahu, in the town of Kaneohe, lies the only sand bar in Hawaii. The closest harbor is He’eia, about a 15-minute boat ride from dock to sand.
If you’re as curious about how the sandbar was formed and all the science behind it, I came across a thorough and legitimate scientific study on the Hawaiian islands with emphasis on the formation of Kaneohe Sandbar, written by the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology. Basically, volcanic activity during prehistoric times and over millions of years worth of erosion and landslides have created what is now a boaters paradise and movie location set (Pirates of The Caribbean has filmed in the Bay along the Sandbar).
The sandbar is known as Ahu O Laka in Hawaiian, meaning Altar of Laka. The Kaneohe Sandbar is about 1 mile (1.6 km) wide and 3 miles (4.8 km) long.
HOW TO GET TO THE SANDBAR?
If it floats, you can get there! Not saying it will be easy though. Our preferred method is via motorboat but all water-faring craft can be seen parked on the edges where sand meets barrier reef. Other possible ways to arrive is by sailboat, kayak, jet ski (sea-do), or paddle board for the workout enthusiasts. We wouldn’t recommend swimming from shore to the Sandbar as it is.
The best way to hitch a rid is knowing someone in the military who can pass a test for their boat license, where they can then rent pontoon boats from the Marine Corp Base but plan far in advance as the waitlist can be months in some cases, like special holidays. Book Early!
This was the way we got to the sandbar the first time, through an invite with some military friends! That’s probably going to be the cheapest route to stepping foot on the sandbar. Another way you can access this ‘private getaway’ is by private boat or yacht, hopefully, you know someone.
Oahu has few tour options in getting to the Kaneohe Sandbar. On our second visit, we partnered up with Captain Bruce and enjoyed a plethora of activities via private charter.
WHAT CAN YOU DO AT THE SANDBAR?
Before planning anything, be sure to check not only the weather for the day but the tides. If children will be riding along, be sure there are life jackets as the water during high tide comes up to your chest. Low tide is best to visit where some parts of the sand can become exposed, but for a majority of the area it is anywhere from ankle to knee depth; enough to keep you cool, just enough to keep your clothes dry.
We’ve seen all kinds of recreational things happening here: picture a 4th of July holiday in a park but transfer most, if not ALL of those activities on the list of “things-to-do-at-a-sandbar”. Frisbee, football, badminton, volleyball, pitch a tent, bbq all day, drink, beer pong, party. The more the merrier!
Of course, what fun would it be with water activities! We cruised on some Stand-up-paddle-boards followed by a snorkel session where we saw beautiful aquatic life, including Hawaii’s state fish, the Humuhumunukunukuapua’a (reef triggerfish), and two honus (turtle). A reminder that during high tide the sandbar will be entirely submerged and if you jump out, it would be like swimming in a 3-5 foot/2 meter pool.
DOES KANEOHE SAND BAR HAVE SHARKS?
Not to freak you out, but I think it’s good to be aware that Kaneohe Bay is a breeding ground for harmless hammerhead sharks. In fact, Kaneohe Bay is known to be one of the largest breeding grounds in the world.
However, it’s nothing major to be concerned with as we have never seen one and neither has anyone we know who has been on Kaneohe Sandbar. Although only sightings have occurred in and around Kaneohe Bay, no attacks have been recorded at the time of this post.
As the Ko’oolaus encompass the horizon, standing on the shores The Kaneohe Sandbar is breathtaking worth a panoramic. Paddling, or swimming away from the crowds and taking the view of the mountains from the middle of the sea was an incredible experience. If you can, and you’re only visiting Oahu, be sure to check out the Kaneohe Sandbar because it truly is a life-changing experience. It’s gorgeous, unique, and hard to access making it all the more remarkable.