Snorkeling Hot Spot

Kahe Power Plant fills the ocean with electrifying sights.

A trio of smokestacks and a rusted barbed wire fence seem to be better suited for the backdrop of a Vonnegut novel than one of the Leeward coast’s best beaches, but it is this gruff exterior that allows this hidden gem to well, stay hidden.

KAHE POINT, or ELECTRIC BEACH as it’s been known for the past half century, was just another Leeward beach—white sands and small outcroppings of coral that looked much like the rest of the 20-mile stretch that leads out to Ka‘ena Point. But all that changed when in 1963, the Kahe Power plant opened and the ordinary was transformed into the exceptional.

It may seem counterintuitive that a fossil fuel burning power plant would spawn a natural resource but that has been the very happy accident of the plant. Steam is generated from oil-fueled fires that spin turbines creating the electricity for most of the island. This equipment gets very hot and is cooled by ocean water, approximately 34 million gallons of it per hour. This water then is recycled back into the ocean unchanged save that it is about a dozen degrees warmer than when it went into the plant and is reintroduced to the ocean by a pipe that empties out 200 yards off of Electric Beach.

This slight difference in temperature is hardly noticeable to us, but to marine life it is the ringing of the dinner bell. Microorganisms are attracted to the warm water, which feed the coral that feed the fish and life springs anew and in spades.

This phenomenon makes this the Hanauma Bay of the Leeward side, except that instead of it being enclosed and thereby limiting the marine life, it is open to all the creatures of the sea. Pods of spinner dolphins graze on the bounty, turtles abound and there is even the occasional spotting of rays and small reef sharks.

Tourists flock to this spot by boat, at $100 a pop, and you will often see the bright yellows and whites of tour vessels anchored a few hundred feet off shore. What they don’t know is the marine life is just as accessible from the beach for free.

During the winter there is a small shore break here, one will see kids making the most of the funnel created by the power plant wall on one side and the lava rock wall on the other to ride waves up to the beach, but once you are past that break, the fish are everywhere.

One just needs to swim out perpendicular from the enclosed discharge structure and can find all the fish one could hope to see starting right at the concrete wall. Yellow tangs, triggerfish and humuhumunukunukuapua‘a abound. Turtles are swimming languidly by and eels are twisting their bodies through the coral heads.

As you follow the rocks out that cover the discharge pipe you will find vertical pipes, about 10 feet across with riveted lids, that serve as access points for maintenance on the pipe. During the past 50 years they have accumulated a lot of coral on their exteriors and serve now as epicenters for the fish.

Depending on your confidence level in the water you can swim out as far as you like, there is a lot of action where the water is reintroduced about 660 feet from shore, but there is plenty to see near shore where one can still stand up if need be.

The joy of this spot is not just beneath the waves. The beach itself, though not big— maybe 35 yards wide and 60 yards deep— shines with the same beautiful white sand you will find on beaches all along our side of the island; and the amenities have been greatly improved.

Thanks to the city spending $468,000 on the park, it now has the nicest restrooms you will find outside of Ko Olina and a repainted, relit 50-by-20-foot pavilion that has plenty of space and cover for family gatherings. You cannot have a private party on city land, but you can have a picnic (semantics are everything) and permits for groups of 50 or more are available through satellite city halls.

Finally, it may be one of the preeminent spots to watch the sunset with the elevated view from the cliffs to the east of the beach. There is a smattering of picnic tables and benches to observe this daily occurrence, but it is a good idea to bring a blanket as they do fill up fast.

While enjoying this spot, do yourself a favor and don’t look over your shoulder at the plant. Just like with sausages, enjoy the final product— you don’t want to see how it was made.

Russell C. Gilbert