Snorkeling and scuba diving – only small boats and ocean rafts can access this spot. Great for families with kids 8 yrs old and up (under normal weather conditions).
When you arrive in Maui, it’s easy to see why it’s one of the top travel destinations in the world. Lush green mountain slopes lead to miles of ocean shorelines and beaches. There is plenty to do on land and sea, and it can become confusing as to what to do and where to go, but nearly everyone knows that at some point during your Maui vacation you have to get in the water and enjoy some snorkeling.
FYI – Hawaii recently passed a law that requires everyone to use reef safe sunscreen. Scientific evidence has shown that a common sunscreen ingredient has contributed to coral bleaching, so please use reef safe sunscreen while enjoying the ocean and help our coral reefs stay healthy!
Maui has some 130 miles of coastline and over 30 miles of beaches. It’s not that difficult to find snorkel spots along the road on either the south side of the island (Kihei, Wailea, Makena) or the west side (Olowalu, Kaanapali, Napili Bay, Kapalua Bay). However, most of the best snorkeling and diving spots around Maui are accessible only by boat, so if you want to get the most out of your ocean time check out these top Maui snorkeling spots!
Molokini Crater is a small crescent-shaped islet just off the southern coastline of the island. As one of the top snorkel destinations in the world, this marine life conservation preserve sees plenty of tour boats anchored in its central bay every day. However, what most people don’t know is that there are two spots around this crater that the big boats can’t get to but are easily more amazing than the inner bay.
The back wall at Molokini Crater is a spectacular dive and snorkel spot where a shear wall towering 200 ft overhead drops another 300 ft into the ocean. Only a smaller boat can get you to the backside of Molokini, and it is well worth it. The visibility here is incredible (200 ft +) and the variety and size of the fish here are much larger than in the center of the crater.
Another unique feature on the back wall is the “Hawaiian Elevator.” Ocean currents run up the side of the wall and funnel through a cleft in the vertical reef. Snorkelers and divers can swim down and ride this compressed current to the surface as the ocean pushes you up and away from the wall. It’s a thrilling and safe way to enjoy an interesting and unique part of Molokini Crater!
Located just past the beaches and golf courses of Wailea, Makena Landing is a bay with a small beach park and picnic area with plenty of parking. It’s a major launch spot for kayak tours as the rocky bay has a beautiful reef loaded with fish. However, the real draw is just offshore at an undersea coral formation where turtles gather to have their shells cleaned by small surgeonfish.
Known as Turtle Town, the location is a vigorous swim from shore. This makes Turtle Town more of boat or kayak destination. The coral here is spectacular, and the turtles are plentiful but keep in mind not to touch or chase these large and graceful animals. With this in mind, it’s not uncommon for the turtles to approach swimmers out of curiosity and you could easily find yourself swimming alongside one. This coral outcrop is also home to larger marine life such as reef sharks, manta rays, barracuda and eels (they are not interested in humans and are considered harmless during the day). Turtle Town is one of the most popular spots to snorkel on this side of the island so book a boat tour early!
Another epic yet uncrowded spot at Molokini Crater is a place called Reef’s End. It gets its name because of its location at the end of the crater’s reef on the far eastern corner. There are few snorkelers here because again, the larger boats can’t safely maneuver to this spot as this is where the shallow reef meets the open ocean. For smaller boats, it is still protected from wind and currents by the towering crescent-shaped rim of this volcanic crater.
The coral heads and reef are pristine here, and you’ll see a spectacular array of colorful reef fish in large numbers. Because it is close to the open ocean, you may see dolphins cruising through or small reef sharks relaxing along the ocean floor. It’s a special place, and you can count yourself lucky if you get a chance to snorkel or dive here!
This large and mostly shallow bay is located along one of the farthest reaches of Maui’s west side just minutes past Napili Bay, Kapalua Bay, and the Ritz Carlton Hotel. It is part of the 45-acre Honolua-Mokule’ia Marine Life Conservation District that was recently saved from private and commercial development by local activists. Today, the area is slated to become an official Hawaii State Park. Because it is a marine life conservation district fishing or taking of anything (coral or rocks) is strictly prohibited.
Honolua Bay is best accessed by boat, kayak or outrigger canoe tours because of its size and variable ocean conditions. The bay is accessible by foot but with minimal parking and a jungle trail and stream leading to a rocky shoreline makes it a bit of a hike. It is not an ideal walk-in snorkel spot as the stream here empties into the bay and makes for murky visibility. Farther out in the bay the water clears but weather conditions and time of day can become a factor here on stormy days.
This bay is large with differing depths and coral formations. That’s why its best to go with a guide who knows the reef and where you’re likely to see the most impressive marine life.
Snorkelers will see tons of reef fish, Hawaiian green sea turtles and possibly eagle and manta rays. It’s also a fantastic scuba spot in the deeper sections out towards the open ocean where spinner dolphins, eagle rays, lobsters and reef sharks roam.
High rocky cliffs surround the bay which shelters it from the tradewinds, creating calm snorkeling conditions in the summer months. However, in the winter months, large swells break along the north side of the bay creating one of the smoothest and longest barrel waves in the world. The large swells here are for experts only, but there are several overlooks along the surrounding cliffs where locals and visitors alike gather to watch the action. Humpback whales can often be seen from these vantage points too during the winter whale season.
Far out into the lava fields of Maui’s most recent volcanic activity (estimated to be sometime in the 15th century) at the southern tip of the island past Makena’s Big Beach, you’ll find the lava-strewn shoreline of La Perouse Bay. Known as Keone’o’io in ancient times it was later named for French explorer Captain Jean Francois de Galaup comte de La Perouse. Even though Captain Cook anchored offshore of Maui in 1778, La Perouse was the first European explorer to set foot on Maui in 1786. He wrote that the natives here were the most hospitable he had encountered in his travels.
This area and bay are another Maui marine life conservation district, the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve, and is home to endemic species of tropical fish, plants and marine mammals such as spinner dolphins and green sea turtles. If you venture out here with a boat tour (only the smaller boats and rafts can maneuver around the lava outcrops), you may get to see spinner dolphins skipping out of the water. During the winter months, boats also encounter humpback whales in the area. The sun is relentless out here so be sure to protect yourself, and the reef, by using only reef safe sunscreen!
The island of Lana’i sits across the channel from Lahaina, and some West Maui boat tours travel to the island which is one of the smallest inhabited islands in the Hawaiian archipelago. Once home to the world’s largest pineapple plantation, today Lana’i hosts two world-class luxury hotels, the Manele Bay Hotel and The Lodge at Koele owned by Four Seasons Resorts.
Lanai’s pineapple plantation closed in the early 1990s and with few visitors and residents here the reefs are some of the most pristine and unspoiled in the island chain. Spinner dolphins, eagle rays and turtles frolic in the colorful coral gardens of Manele Bay making it one of the best snorkeling spots in the islands! In Lanai’s offshore waters large sporting fish such as mahimahi, alua, ono and marlin are caught by fishing boats and tours departing out of Lahaina Harbor. The easiest way to reach Lanai is on the ferry that departs from Lahaina every few hours.
The island of Oahu has many different snorkel spots including Hanama Bay, Sharks Cove, Ko Olina and Lanikai to name a few of our favorites. If your looking for more info check out this great resource. https://loveoahu.org/activities-things-to-do/snorkeling/
Puu Olai is a 360 ft dome-shaped cinder cone at waters edge in Makena State Park. Also known as “Red Hill” the cinder cone separates Big Beach (Oneloa or Makena Beach) to the south from Oneuli Beach, which is a black sand beach, to the north. At its base sits “Little Beach,” the islands only clothing optional nude beach.
Undersea fingers of lava stretch into the ocean here which creates a beautiful series of reefs teeming with marine life. However, access from shore is not ideal as it is a ways from the parking areas and quite rocky. A boat tour is your best bet here and is usually an ideal uncrowded add-on snorkel spot to smaller boat tours coming back from Molokini or the La Perouse area.
Makena State Park and the Puu Olai cinder cone are part of several cultural sites and Hawaiian legends. The ancient people of Makena where fishermen who traded seafood with the hunters, farmers, and craftsmen of the Wao-Kanaka (people of the uplands) who lived on the overlooking slopes of Haleakala volcano.
At the far end of Kaanapali Beach in front of the Sheraton Maui Resort sits a lava outcrop known as Black Rock. The reef here is beautiful with turtles often close to shore. Scuba diving classes are commonly held here with easy access to the water and plentiful caves and coral formations.
Keep in mind there can be a strong current here around the blackrock point and always exercise caution when entering the water. The Hawaii motto is “If in doubt, Dont go out”.
Cliff Diving at Black Rock
There is a Hawaiian ritual performed every night at Black Rock (called Puu Kekaa in Hawaiian) during sunset. It is said Hawaiians were the first people to do cliff diving as a cultural practice. Cliff diving was called “lele kawa,” and Black Rock was steeped in legends as a place where souls jumped into the ancestral realm, or afterworld when they passed away. Because of this, the people were fearful of diving from here as they could disappear into the afterworld.
Today’s traditional cliff diving at Black Rock involves the blowing of a conch shell, the lighting of torches leading to the precipice and a Hawaiian gracefully diving off the 16 ft high cliff into the ocean at sunset. It’s a beautiful and graceful thing to witness! The tradition is sponsored by the Sheraton Hotel.