Best Snorkeling in Maui, Hawaii

Maui is the second largest of the Hawaiian islands and is world-renowned for its snorkeling. This should come as no surprise considering its location and climate. For the best snorkeling in Maui, Hawaii, go to the northwest side of the island in the winter and southwest side of the island in the summer. Determining the location is based on the season and has everything to do with ocean swells. Now that you have a general idea on where to start, let's take a look at the many options for snorkeling in Maui. We'll begin with beaches and parks that are best suited for the novice and experienced.


One of the most popular spots for snorkeling in Maui is Honolu'a Bay. Many people consider this the best location for snorkeling on the island which is usually true, but not all the time. When the weather is good and the conditions are calm, then it should be your first option. However, when the weather is poor and the water is rough, then you should steer clear. You will find many coral formations, hundreds of tropical fish and possibly a few turtles. The sandy areas may surprise you with peacock flounders. Honolu'a Bay is a marine reserve, you're not allowed to take anything from it. If you want to capture a moment, then bring a camera. The beach itself is rocky, but it's smooth rock, which makes for comfortable lounging. But be careful, if the rocks are underwater, they will be slippery. The parking here is limited and it is a bit of a walk to get to the beach area but the scenery is fantastic.


If seeing a massive coral reef is your number one priority, then you need to head straight for Olowalu. The coral reef is so large that it would literally take you a full week to see every nook and cranny. Many of the coral formations here are hundreds of years old and the reef itself is pretty well established with all types of marine life. You might even be lucky enough to spot some majestic manta rays while snorkeling here. The area here is great for snorkelers of all proficiency levels because its protection from the trade winds keeps the waters calm. Some people snorkel here during their entire stay in Maui because they enjoy it so much. When you enter the water, you will notice that the visibility isn't very good but don't let this frustrate you as when you swim a little farther out, the visibility is excellent. Actually, you don't even have to swim farther out because it's so shallow, you can just walk. What stands out most about Olowalu is that it's one of the few places on the island where snorkeling is best in the afternoon. This makes it convenient for many people and it is unlikely to find big crowds. 


Do you want to see some interesting marine life? Would you like to swim amongst manta rays, white-tip sharks and monk seals? If so, then you need to snorkel at Molokini Crater which has an incredible reputation among the snorkeling communities. It is estimated that Molokini erupted about 230,000 years ago. It is named after a female romantic rival of the goddess Pele (the Hawaiian) goddess of fire, who according to mythology cut her in two then turned her into stone. What remains of this crater is a crescent shaped land mass sticking out of the water which has become a federally owned bird sanctuary. Beneath the crystal clear blue waters there are over 250 different species of marine animals. Moorish Idols, yellow tang and butterfly fish are just a few that you might encounter. There are also about 38 types of coral which provide a vibrant and colorful backdrop for any underwater photography that you might want to do. This snorkeling adventure can only be accessed by boat but there are plenty of snorkeling tour operators that have this as an excursion.


The actual name of this area is Ali'i Kahekili Nui 'Ahumanu Beach Park but people usually just call it Kahekili. The area here consists of a narrower stretch of beach off of which some excellent snorkeling can be found. The reef here is enormous and the waters are usually calm enough to make this an excellent area for first time snorkelers or those that wish to introduce their little ones to this wonderful sport.You can easily make a complete day of this spot as there are restrooms as well as facilities to barbeque in the picnic area. Some parts of the reef areas are bleached out but there is still plenty of fascinating marine life to see. Triggerfish, turtles and squid are usually present and the nice thing about snorkeling here is that you don't really have to go out very far to see them. This area can get crowded at times as this is a favorite for family get togethers.


This crescent shaped bay is located on the northwest side of the island and as far as beaches go, it is definitely top notch and a favorite with everyone. Snorkeling here is best on the northern portion of the cove itself as this is where you will spot much of the marine life. The water depth in this area is in the 10 foot range which allows for better viewing. This is a good spot for the novice snorkeler but it is important not to go out beyond the shelter of the bay itself and the currents outside of the area can be strong. Be on the look out for sea urchins peeking out from the reefs and turtles lounging about. You might also spot cornet fish, wrasse, moorish idols, parrot fish and even some Humuhumunukunukuapuaa This is the Hawaiian name for trigger fish. There are public showers close at hand to rinse off when you are done.


If this beach still bore it's original name of Dead Horse Beach, it would probably not be one that you would feel compelled to visit, which is why, when the Polo Club was built, brochures listed it as Polo Beach thereafter and while the sport of Polo is associated with horses its official name is Ke One o Polo which is Hawaiian for ":The sand is not thick". This is a pretty accurate descriptive name as there are plenty of rocks sticking out from the sand. The beach is located on the southwestern portion of the island in the shape of two crescents. One crescent is in front of the Fairmont Kea Lani and the other is in front of the Polo Club. Snorkeling in this area is less protected than other areas so it is subject to offshore winds. If there are swells present it is probably best to choose an alternative snorkeling site. When the water is calm, the best area here for snorkeling is located out from the northern portion of the beach. Marine life seen here can include trumpet fish, yellowtail snapper, goat fish, angel fish, parrotfish and a host of others. If the whales are migrating, you might even be lucky enough to hear them sing their songs in the water. Beginners are advised to stick closer to shore while more advanced snorkelers may venture out a bit further.


These two beaches are located on the southwestern portion of Maui in Wailea. The reason these two locations are listed together is because they're right next to each other. The only thing separating them is a rocky point. with a path connecting them. Mokapu is the north beach and Ulua is the south beach. Mokapu tends to be a bit cloudy with respect to underwater visibility. The better snorkeling is the north side of Mokapu while the south side of Ulua is best for this beach. Mornings are the ideal times for snorkeling either location. Fish life is abundant at either location. Sea turtles always seem to be present in this area so having an underwater camera is a good idea. Make sure that you take your time exploring the reefs here as there are many little creatures that you might miss such as octopus, starfish and other invertebrates. Both beaches are very family oriented and the snorkeling here is great for both novice and experienced.


This is a beach within a beach as it is located right in the middle of Kaanapali beach on the western side of Maui. Its name comes from the large lava rock formation that juts out of the water near the shore area.  There is not much in the way of coral on the southern side of the rock which is the more sheltered area. While there is a lot more to see  on the ocean side of the formation, the currents and the surges can be quite strong. It is very important to thoroughly evaluate the conditions before snorkeling this area. Novice snorkelers can do Black Rock but they should do it only when the water is calm. Trigger fish, angel fish and turtles will almost always be there to great you at this location. You might also see stingrays cruising along the sand bottom or an eagle ray or two heading out into the deep blue water.


Wahikuli Park is convenient because it's right across from the Lahaina Civic Center. It is located about half way between Kaanapali and Lahaina on the west side of Maui. This convenience makes this place extremely popular with the locals. Its name translated from the native Hawaiian language actually means "Noisy place" which probably referred to the sound of the waves hitting the shore initially and with the road, cars and people here, it only makes the name more appropriate. The snorkeling is good when the water is calm because the west side of Maui is more prone to heavier surf which is more evident during the summer months. The sandy bottom does make for easy entry into the water but if the surf is up, it would be better to choose another location to snorkel. The northern and southern section of this area is where you will be seeing the corals and the marine life.


This reef area is located on the west side and though it can be done from shore, because the reef is a pretty long swim from shore, it is best done through an organized snorkeling boat tour. Many people who have snorkeled Molokini say that Coral Gardens area has even more to offer in the way of marine life. The shallow depth combined with all the little nooks and crannies provide excellent underwater photo opportunities. You will feel like you are snorkeling in an award winning aquarium. Parrot fish, octopus, eel, crab, angel fish, trigger fish and turtles galore. The reef itself is in a protected bay area so snorkeling here when other locations are too windy makes it a great option. Those planning to do this location from shore should be aware that there is no beach here which is another reason that an organized boat tour is recommended.


Five Caves is great for snorkeling and scuba diving. This makes it one of the most popular spots on the island for explorers. The marine life is abundant and there are many caves. It's a decent swim out and there is no beach or facilities, but the rewards are outstanding.


La Perouse is the last place on our list for best snorkeling in Maui, Hawaii. What makes this location so desirable is the dolphins. If you go early in the morning, there's a chance the dolphins will swim with you. Go to the north side of the beach for best odds. The beach is rocky and there are no facilities, but what beats a chance to swim with wild dolphins? Now you know where to go for great snorkeling in Maui. If you have the time, try to visit all of the locations listed above. That's what you call living life to the fullest.

By Roy Jamason

Written February 25, 2015

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