Snorkeling in Maui
Unsurpassed views, luxurious golden sands breathtakingly clear watersâ€”Maui's many charms call out to travelers like the island spirits of old. Nothing compares to a Maui sunset, particularly after a day spent adventuring beneath the waves; there's no better way to experience Maui's waters than diving deep into them. The second-largest of Hawaii's islands, Maui plays host to numerous fish, as well as dolphins, green sea turtles and whales. Here are a few of Maui's choicest dive spots, suitable for either snorkeling or scuba diving depending on your preference.
Southern Maui boasts some of the most remarkable landscapes and beaches on the island.
The snorkel options are bountiful and beautiful, from the secret Turtle Town on Maluaka to the questionably named Dumps, a sandy cove attached to the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve.
Located in Kihei, Kamaole III Beach Park is part of a series of three parks (Kamaole I, II, and III). Kam-3 is the largest and most popular of the parks, and an excellent place for snorkeling, scuba, and gazing at amazing Maui sunsets. The rocky fingers make for great underwater sightseeing, along with sudden dropoffs and lava formations. At Kam-3 you'll see plenty of goatfish, butterfly, puffers and wrasses; however, heading toward Kam-2 you might see an endangered green sea turtle as well as a nice array of sea urchins.
Wailea and the Resort Beach Walk
Wailea Beach is undoubtedly the best of the southern crescent's sandy coastlines. Whether watching for humpback whales in the winter or witnessing near unimaginable sunsets all year long, there is a reason this is one of the most popular spots on the entire island for snorkeling and diving. Wailea presents dazzling views of the small islands of Lanai and Molokini, while the sister beaches of Ulua & Mokapu offer another stunning beach array just to the north.
Ulua & Mokapu
Ulua in particular is an exceptional destination for snorkelers unless the winds are up, in which case you might consider a switch to bodysurfing. These joined beaches offer soft natural slopes, allowing scuba divers (particularly beginners) an easy transition into deeper waters. Between Ulua and Mokapu lie fascinating lava outcroppings best experienced by snorkel; keep an eye out for eels, manta rays and the occasional octopus.
Located at the southernmost end of the resort beaches that begin at Mokapu, the northern area of the beach can often feel crowded. Continue to the southernmost end and enjoy the golden sand and ocean views more peacefully. Drop into Polo's waters to spot plenty of spiny sea urchins as well as frequent schools of small, colorful fish.
Maluaka (Makena Landing)
Just down the way from Wailea, Maluaka is a bit more untamed, with its expanse of kiawe trees and sand dunes. Maluaka, sometimes referred to as Makena, has easy access to picturesque snorkel and dive spots, particularly the secret Turtle Town. This location offers some amazing views of green sea turtle colonies, located around the local lava reef. Makena Landing is also the access point for the impressive Five Caves, otherwise known as Nahuna Point (or the Five Graves). Most often accessed via scuba, only experienced snorkelers should dive here. The location is difficult to enter and exit, but the views of green sea turtles and the occasional shark are worth it if you have the skills.
Oneloa (Big Beach)
This massive stretch of sand is a popular spot because its size makes it a rare find: a popular yet uncrowded beach. The north end grants some decent views of fish and ocean life down below, but the waves can get strong and choppy during colder months. Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve, The Dumps & La Perouse Bay are the best locations near Oneloa for snorkeling. The Dumps, although curiously named, is one of the best spots for experienced snorkelers, with plenty of coral, lava rock and amazing underwater views. The Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve is just south of Oneloa and presents snorkelers with the fittingly-named Fishbowlâ€”getting there presents a bit of a hike, but the destination is worth the effort. La Perouse Bay is another prime location for more experienced snorkelers, but even if you aren't ready to dive in yet, the view alone is worth the trip.
Molokini & Lanai
Molokini is a small sunken crater off the shores of southern Maui that offers some of the best underwater landscapes in the islands. Although you need a tour operator to get you there, the amazing sights and animal life (over 250 species of fish make their home here) make it worth the trip and expense. Lanai is one of the eight islands of Hawaii, and a day trip to savor for any avid underwater enthusiast. The opportunity to snorkel with the marine life of Lanai is something spectacular, from spinning dolphins and whales to sea stars, reef sharks and a breathtaking rainbow of coral reef. Like Molokini, you'll need a guide to visit Lanai, so take the time and book a reputable, knowledgeable and experienced tour guide to make the trip even better.
The eastern coast of Maui is the lushest area of the island, thanks to heavy rainfall. This rain makes the ocean a little cloudier, but tropical fish are still abundant and you will see plenty when you jump in. Snorkeling in the east is a bit trickier too, due to the rain and colder weather; and the rough waves present possible problems to scuba divers and snorkelers alike. For your own good (unless you're an expert diver), stay out of the water in the winter months and avoid the heaviest swells of the year.
Ho'okipa Beach Park
This beach is known as one of the world's best windsurfing locales, boasting beautiful sandy beaches and magnificent swells. The winds create amazing ocean vistas in addition to rough surges, particularly in the winter. In summertime, however, mornings on Ho'okipa Beach offer diligent, experienced snorkelers fantastic views.
This beach is hard to reach and parking can be difficult, but the trouble is absolutely worth the effort. The black lava cliffs offer diligent snorkelers an incredible view, but again, stay away in the winter months due to the heavy swells and dangerous waters. Summertime in the morning is still the best time to experience this amazing destination. Beginning divers will also have a great time here too, though experienced ones will find its 25' depth a bit limiting.
Red Sand Beach (Kaihalulu)
This beach in the Hana Bay gets its nickname from the cinder cone that covers the area, rendering the sand a red-black hue. Like most of the beaches on the eastern shore, the waters are rough and swimming is poor; however, when the waters are calm the underwater scene is unforgettable. This area's isolation often leads to sunbathers to shed some clothing, so be prepared to avert your eyes or join in!
Once a playground for Hawaiian royalty, today this coast features incredible resorts and activities, as well as historical landmarks and beautiful ocean cruising. The fun continues under the waves, where you'll find dramatic aquatic geography as well as abundant wildlife.
The crystal clear waters of Kapalua Beach are justifiably popular for snorkelers and swimmers alike. The "C"-shaped reefs out in front of the beach keep it tranquil enough for even the most novice snorkeler. ON the north end, you'll find the cleanest submarine views, along with abundant sealifeâ€”bring an underwater camera, if you can. Keep a special watch out for the Hawaiian state fish, the Humuhumunukunukuapuaa. And once you see it, you can learn how to say it.
Honolua/Mokuleia Bay Marine Life Conservation District
The waters here are pristineâ€”so pristine, in fact, that this area often gets recognized in tourist publications as one of America's best beaches. The Mokuleia Bay Marine Life Conservation District maintains the beach, and keeps the tropical fish and coral formations under their protection. Diving yields beautiful lava rock formations and glimpses of octopi, damsel fish, and sea urchins, among other reef dwellers.
This little gem offers an exceptional spot for beginning snorkelers and diversâ€”the reef rolls right up to the shore, making access as easy as it gets. The beach is beautiful and the reef is stunning as well as easy to get to, and it still offers the same array of sea life you'll see around the rest of the island. You may even catch sight of a green sea turtle!
Ka'anapali Beach (Black Rock)
Ka'anapali Beach, located within the Ka'anapali Beach Resort Association, offers some of the best snorkeling in western Maui. The snorkeling here is world-renowned, and the outfitters are well trained and knowledgeable. The Black Rock is a large volcanic mass that divides the beach down the middle; completely covered in coral and other sea life, the dive around this rock is legendary.
Finding an outfitter to fill your diving and snorkeling needs is not a difficult task on Maui. First and foremost, the hotel or resort you choose will probably have dive services on-site. Their concierge will most likely accommodate all your needs, from snorkel to scuba and even snuba (snorkeling with a small air tank along so you can dive a bit deeper). And even if the hotel doesn't offer anything itself, the staff will probably be glad to assist you. Here are a few other outfitters to visit in case you need additional help.
Snorkel Bob's has three locations: Lahaina (808.661.4421), Napili (808.669.9603) and Kihei (808.879.7449). Visit any one to gear up for your adventure. They are a little more expensive than other outfitters, but you'll see the quality in the gear you get. And after all, isn't the adventure of a lifetime worth it? www.snorkelbob.com
Activity Warehouse (800.343.2087) also has multiple locations and great equipment, including all the necessities for the beach portion of your trip such as Frisbees, beach chairs and coolers. Located in Lahaina and Kihei, both stores can get you set up.
There are also a number of excursion and tour guides available, and you can choose your adventure based on their offerings. Here are a few of the best.
Maui Adventure Cruises
Cruises (808.661.5550) offers guided tours over Lanai to swim with dolphins and green sea turtles, in addition to whale watching during the boat excursions. These are day trips with lunch served and all you have to do is call and book your trip. No matter your experience level, the guides at Maui Adventure Cruises are ready to help. www.mauiadventurecruises.com
Maui Dive Shop
Maui Dive Shop (1800.542.DIVE) has eight locations to help serve your snorkeling, sailing and scuba needs, along with a fully outfitted retail shop attached to each location. They offer three different snorkel trips: Molokini Crater and Turtle Town; Coral Gardens; and the secluded Alli Nui snorkel trip to the coral reefs of Turtle Point. www.mauidiveshop.com
Maui EcoTours (808.891.2223) has taken a different spin on the snorkel excursion, adding a kayaking adventure to your trip. This company also appeals to families and younger travelers with their Discovery package kids aged five and older can kayak and snorkel with green sea turtles, tropical fish, and perhaps a dolphin or whale.
The Pride of Maui
The Pride of Maui (1877.867.7433) is a high speed catamaran that offers a complete dive experience, with boat facilities that include showers, a waterslide, a bar and meals. You can choose from two types of snorkeling adventure across Molokini and Turtle Town, aboard the Pride (the big boat) or the Leilani (a personalized cruise). The Pride of Maui excursion offers long tours in the early morning and shorter tours in the afternoon. www.prideofmaui.com
-Partner up - never dive alone.
-Keep an eye on the land and your surroundings.
-Hands off - there are many endangered species in the water with you including turtles and coral.
-Be aware of the weather and the water conditions.
-Be prepared with proper gear and directions, and don't be embarrassed to put on a life jacket if you aren't the best swimmer.