A Guide to Maui: Honolua Bay

Honolua Bay, 101


Location: 3 miles north of Kapalua

Good for seeing: Hawaiian green sea turtles, octopus, parrotfish, goat fish, ta’ape (blue striped snapper), vibrant corals, unicorn fish, urchins, and occasionally spinner dolphins. Should you decide to upgrade to a snuba dive, the chances of hearing whales underwater (from December-April) and seeing green sea turtles are almost guaranteed.

Best time of year to snorkel at Honolua Bay: While beautiful days at Honolua Bay are possible at any time of the year, the bay is most consistently accessible for snorkeling during the summer months of May-September. During this period it’s almost guaranteed the bay will be free of surf, and the chances of spotting Hawaiian green sea turtles are almost at 100% During the winter months of October-April, however, on occasion some very large surf can wrap into Honolua, making the bay inaccessible to snorkeling. Usually these surf episodes only last for a couple of days, and we are able to snorkel at Honolua once again until the next round of winter surf arrives. In the event that the conditions are too rough at Honolua Bay, we more often than not will head south for Olowalu.

Reasons we might decide to not snorkel here: The main reason we would choose to not snorkel here is if the surf looks like this:

Although rare, another reason might be that due to heavy rains towards the top of the mountains the runoff from the shoreline might negatively affect the visibility. Seeing as these natural events change on a daily basis, our knowledgeable captains make the call on a daily basis as to which spot will offer the best snorkeling conditions for a given set of circumstances. For more information on finding out when–and why–Maui’s surf is bigger in certain places during certain parts of the year, check out our article on understanding Maui’s wind, weather, and waves.

History: For centuries the ahupua’a (land division) of Honolua has held an incredible amount of cultural significance for the native Hawaiian people. During the reign of Pi’ilani, a great chief of Maui, a footpath was constructed between the six bays of West Maui that he could use to keep watch over this corner of his domain. This footpath would one day become the name of the highway that wraps around west Maui–Honoapi’ilani–the bays of Pi’ilani. Honolua is a name which means “twin bay”, and references two bays along the shoreline, Honolua, and neighboring Mokulei’a Bay.

Hokule’a  in Honolua Bay, 1976. Photo by Dr. Ben Young.

Hokule’a in Honolua Bay, 1976. Photo by Dr. Ben Young.

In May of 1976, Honolua Bay was the launching point for the first successful voyage of the Polynesian voyaging canoe, Hokule’a, which navigated from Honolua to Tahiti without the aid of any modern equipment. It was the first time such a voyage has taken place since the end of the migration between the two archipelagos over 700 years ago. Given this rich history, it’s humbling to know we are able to enjoy such a beautiful spot which once housed the island’s most respected voyagers and kings.


Trips offered to Honolua Bay: Our Ka’anapali Snorkel Sail regularly departs off of Ka’anapali Beach at 8am, and provided that the conditions allow, will head north up the coastline towards Honolua Bay.