Hōkūleʻa- “Star of Gladness”

Hōkūleʻa- “Star of Gladness”

This summer has brought a lot of excitement to the Hawaiian Islands with the recent return of Hokuea. The Hōkūleʻa is a replica of the traditional Polynesian voyaging canoes. She was first launched in March 1975. In 1976 she made her maiden voyage to Tahiti departing from Honolua Bay in Hawaii and returned. This voyage was completed exclusively using Polynesian voyaging techniques, such as star mapping, wind and weather, cloud formations, movement of currents, wave patterns, and the flight of birds.

The Historical Significance of Kaunolu, One of the Best Snorkeling Spots on Lanai

Snorkeling beneath the sea cliffs of Kaunolu one of the best snorkeling spots on Lanai

Snorkeling beneath the sea cliffs of Kaunolu one of the best snorkeling spots on Lanai

There aren't many places in the state of Hawai'i where you can snorkel at the home of a King.

Here at Kaunolu, however, this remote cove once housed the summer home of King Kamehameha, and in addition to the sea cliffs which explode from the shoreline like pinnacles reaching to the sky, the rocky bay and its azure waters create one of the best snorkeling spots on Lanai.

Never heard of Kaunolu?

That's ok—most visitor's haven't. Of the handful of visitors who are lucky enough to snorkel at this historic bay, the majority end up referring to the cove by its other, Westernized name:

Shark Fin Cove.

Trilogy compilation2

Trilogy compilation2

Before you go racing back to the boat, however, realize that the name is derived from the shape of a rock in the middle of the bay. Rising above a coral reef that is colonized by pyramid butterflyfish, the shape of the rock where it breaches the surface looks the dorsal of a swimming shark.

Shark Fin Cove is one of the best snorkeling spots on Lanai

Shark Fin Cove is one of the best snorkeling spots on Lanai

The scary name aside, however, there is far more to Kaunolu than shark-shaped rocks and pristine, tropical snorkeling. In fact, this isolated cove on Lanai's southern shoreline is one of the most culturally-rich places on Lanai, and there is no denying the powerful energy that the cove retains to this day.

King Kamehameha at Kaunolu

A petroglyph at Kaunolu Lanai

A petroglyph at Kaunolu Lanai

From 1790-1810, the great ruler, King Kamehemeha, would frequent Kaunolu as one of his favorite fishing grounds and a summer retreat from Lahaina. The waters off Kaunolu are exceptionally fertile with large, pelagic fish, and there is a small cove with a sandy shoreline for easily launching canoes.

Due its heavy historical significance, Kaunolu has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places and as a National Historic Landmark. It's believed to be the best preserved example of an ancient Hawaiian village found on any of the Hawaiian Islands, and the foundation for King Kamehameha's house still stands just opposite the heiau (temple) which was rebuilt in the early 1800s. Known as Halulu Heiau, this was one of the last temples dedicated to Hawaiian gods before the monarchy embraced Christianity. It's believed that the heiau could have been a place where rule-breakers could seek permanent refuge, and if you found your way to this pu'uhonua then you could be forgiven for any of your sins. On the other end of the spectrum, it's also rumored that Halulu heiau could have been used in human sacrifice, and fishermen who frequent the coastline today tell of an inexplicable power in the night. Because the village is so inaccessible (only a 4WD road leads down to the village), and because Lanai snorkeling tours don't visit the village site itself, this area has remained nearly completely untouched since it was abandoned in the 1880s.

Halulu heiau at Kaunolu village lanai

Halulu heiau at Kaunolu village lanai

Kahekili's Leap

Kahekili's Leap on Lanai

Kahekili's Leap on Lanai

Kamehameha, it turns out, wasn't the only member of the Hawaiian royalty who was known to frequent Kaunolu. Kahekili—the fearsome king of Maui whose body was tattooed entirely black on one side—chose this spot as a favorite venue for the sport of lele kawa, or cliff jumping.

In ancient Hawaiian culture, it was believed that upon a person's death, the soul would depart from this world to the next by leaping into the sea. Certain spots were considered sacred, and not only was Kahekili revered as a courageous warrior, but the fact that he would leap from these sacred spots only contributed to his dominance and lore.

Here at Kaunolu, there is a noticeable notch at the top of a cliff where Kahekili would leap from. Though the height of the jump is only about 70 feet, one must jump out to clear the rocks and only land in about 10 feet of water. History says that he would use this spot to test the valor and courage of his warriors, and given the degree of difficulty of the jump, the 2000 Red Bull Cliff Diving Championships were held right here at Kaunolu.

Looking out from Kahekili's Leap on Lanai

Looking out from Kahekili's Leap on Lanai

Kaunolu Abandoned

snorkeling tours text

snorkeling tours text

At the height of its prominence, the village of Kaunolu housed a wholly-subsistent prehistoric society. Small caves in the steep cliff face where used for storing food, and blades of pili grass were gathered from the hillside to construct a village of pili grass shacks. Canoes were launched from the small beach, water was gathered from springs in the mountainside, and fresh fish sourced from the sea were preserved with salt from the tidepools.

Between invasion, disease, and European meddling, however, the population of Lanai rapidly dwindled over the course of the 19th century. By 1901, after a failed mission on the east shore of the island to bring a sugar plantation to Maunalei, the population of the entire island dropped to 125.

With few people to maintain the village and a sparse supply of water, the village at Kaunolu was finally abandoned at some point during the 1880's. Seeing as no one moved in afterwards, however, and the isolated spot has remained free of development and free of coastal erosion, taking a walk through Kaunolu today is like taking a walk back in time. Hand etched petroglyphs from ancient Hawaiians grace the rugged brown rocks, and stone tools such as adzes and fishing tools remain littered throughout the village. For over a century, the 1,000 ft. sea cliffs of the Pali Kaholo have silently presided over this abandoned village which now remains frozen in time.

Kaunolu

Kaunolu

Visiting Kaunolu Today

Snorkeling at Kaunolu on Lanai

Snorkeling at Kaunolu on Lanai

Today Kaunolu is only frequented by three types of visitors: Local fishermen who spend the night in one of the coastal fishing shacks, intrepid tourists in 4WD vehicles who walk the remains of the village, and those who visit Kaunolu cove as part of a snorkeling tour on Lanai.

Unlike a place like Hulopo'e Beach which has a shallow, sandy bottom, the cove at Kaunolu is a little bit deeper and has multiple spots for snorkeling. Along the southern end of the cove near the base of Kahekili's Leap, the rocky bottom is an average of depth of 10-25 ft. You can find large numbers of Hawaiian day octopus slinking outside of the rocks, and healthy populations of endemic reef fish and technicolor, coral-crunching parrotfish.

In the center of the bay, next to "the fin", there is a large population of Pyramid Butterflyfish which congregate around the rock. About 25 feet down, between the fin and the shoreline, you will also find an underwater arch which free divers will use as a swim through. Finally, because it is exposed to the deeper waters, Kaunolu is known for sightings of rare species such as manta rays, dolphins, and even the occasional whale shark.

Trilogy regularly visits Kaunolu on our Saturday

Lanai Seafari

, as well as on our

private Maui catamaran charters

from either Lahaina or Manele harbors. Between the fascinating history, the soaring cliffs, and the experience of having these teeming waters virtually all to yourself, it's easy to see why we consider Kaunolu to be one of the best snorkeling spots on Lanai.

Photo Credits: Shark Fin rock, Curt Smith on Flickr;  Kahekili's Leap, Chris Campbell on Flickr;

The History Of Molokini Crater

Snorkel Molokini Maui

Snorkel Molokini Maui

For most Maui visitors Molokini Crater is simply known as the moon-shaped islet with fantastically clear water. In addition to the staggering visibility (which consistently stretches for over 100 feet), one of the alluring aspects of snorkeling at Molokini is that each day holds the new possibility of seeing something rare and unexpected. While over 250 species of fish consistently inhabit the vibrant corals, pelagic species such as ulua (trevally), manta rays, eagle rays, spinner dolphins, reef sharks, and even whale sharks can occasionally make unscripted appearances in to the crater.

While all of this is nice for snorkelers and divers, the island of Molokini has a history which is largely unknown to many of her visitors. The fact that Molokini is a world-class snorkeling destination is already well-known, so the following  history of the famous islet should add some depth—no pun intended—to Maui’s fabled offshore reef.

Scientific History

Although Molokini Crater appears to be a crescent-shaped moon opening back towards Ma’alaea Bay, if you were to drain the waters between Maui and Molokini you would find that the islet is in fact a circular, volcanic caldera. While the southern flank of Molokini rises to a height of 161 ft. above sea level, the northern rim of the caldera fails to break the surface and thereby offers a protected channel by which charter boats now approach the crater.

Through the use of potassium-argon testing volcanologists have determined that Molokini is most likely the result of a volcanic eruption dating back 230,000 years. While neighboring Haleakala volcano has erupted dozens of times since that date, this is generally believed to have been the initial event which formed the caldera we snorkel in today.

20,000 years ago, however, Molokini wasn't an option for snorkeling at all. In fact, you couldn't even swim there. With the melting of the ice caps at the end of the last ice age it’s believed that sea levels around Molokini rose 400 feet, a fact which would place the entirety of the Molokini caldera on land rather than in the water. Below is a video of divers researching these historic ocean levels by examining the back wall of Molokini crater for evidence of wave erosion.

Molokini in Hawaiian Mythology

Given the volcanic history of the offshore crater it’s of little surprise that the Hawaiians attribute its existence to Pele, the volcano goddess so prevalent in much of Hawaii’s mythology. According to legend Molokini Crater is not a single entity unto itself, but rather is the tail end of a mythological figure who met an unfortunate end.

In addition to Pele, mo’o—giant guardian lizards—are also common figures in Polynesian lore, and although scientific basis for their existence (such as fossils) has yet to be found, it’s widely believed by many Hawaiians that these large, sacred lizards once roamed the islands.

With respect to the origins of Molokini, legends state that a female mo’o fell in love with a chief in Maui by the name of Lohiau. Unfortunately for this mo’o the tempestuous volcano goddess Pele also had strong feelings for Lohiau, and in a fit of romantic fury Pele cut the mo’o in two pieces and turned her into stone. Today, the head of the mo’o exists as Pu’u Olai (the 360 ft. cinder cone above Makena State Park), and the tail of the stricken mo’o became the crescent of Molokini. Though various iterations of the myth abound, all relate to the jealous fury of Pele and the connection of the islet with Pu’u Olai.

Molokini in Hawaiian Mythology

Molokini in Hawaiian Mythology

Other legends, however, offer an alternate basis for the origin of Molokini.  In creation chants detailing how the islands came to be all of the Hawaiian Islands are personified as early ancestors to the Hawaiian people. In the case of Molokini, the islet is believed to be the umbilical cord of neighboring Kaho’olawe which was cut away by Uluhina, an early Hawaiian ancestor of South Pacific origin. Given the ancient Hawaiian tradition of burying the umbilical cord of ali’i, or chiefs, it’s theorized that Molokini was potentially used as a place where the afterbirth of royalty would be ceremoniously placed into the ground.

Molokini in Ancient Hawaii

Though no evidence exists that Molokini was every permanently settled (fresh water is scarce on the dry, sloping rock), the discovery of stone sinkers and fishing lures by scuba divers suggests that the waters within Molokini were used as a food source and provided a healthy supply of marine life and fish. On land, birds were gathered for their plumage and eggs, thereby making Molokini a resource for early Hawaiians by sea as well as by land.

Molokini in Modern Times

The fate of Molokini would switch permanently, however, with America's entry into World War II. With Pearl Harbor having been bombed by the Japanese, the uninhabited island of Kaho'olawe was consequently commissioned by the U.S. military as a practice bombing range. While Kaho'olawe's history as a target island is well known, not as many people are aware that neighboring Molokini was also used as a place for explosive destruction. Allegedly the crescent shape of the islet closely mimicks the shape of a battleship, and scuba divers at Molokini continue to find 50 caliber bullet casings even to this day.

A bomb on Molokini Crater

A bomb on Molokini Crater

While the bombing and shelling of Molokini ceased sometime soon after the end of the war, bombing on Kaho'olawe continued unabated until 1990. As you can imagine, not all in the community were in support of the bombing of a major Hawaiian island. Activist groups against the bombing sprung up throughout the 1970's, and in 1977 a small group of activists actually paddled to Kaho'olawe from Maui to put themselves ashore. While three were arrested, two managed to stay in hiding for 35 days. In an effort to rescue the two activists still ashore, three men--George Helm, Kimo Mitchell, and Billy Mitchell--paddled and swam back to Kaho'olawe to stage a rescue effort.

Once on land, however, they found that not only had their friends been rounded up, but their rescue boat had inexplicably been damaged. Staging an effort to paddle back to Maui the trio set off amidst strong currents and rough seas. Realizing the severity of the situation, Billy Mitchell turned back towards Kaho'olawe to seek help from naval officers on shore. Help, however, would arrive too late. The last that was seen of George Helm and Kimo Mitchell was the two of them paddling in high surf just offshore of Molokini Crater . Though the two had intended to reach Molokini, they were never seen or heard from again.

Aside from the bombing, Molokini was also heavily frequented by black coral divers harvesting large amounts of the precious resource which would eventually find its way in to high end jewelry stores. This, combined with the detonation of an unexploded bomb in 1975 (which destroyed a large chunk of live coral), led to a public outcry which would ultimately result in the establishment of Molokini Crater as a Marine Life Conservation District in 1977. Oddly enough, despite the designation, another live bomb was detonated underwater in 1984, thereby resulting in more coral destruction. Since that time, however, no more live munitions have been found.

Molokini Today

After the tortured bombing era the first commercial charters to Molokini Crater began taking place in 1974 out of Ma'alaea Harbor . Since those early beginnings (and in conjunction with the establishment of Molokini as a Marine Life Conservation District) local authorities now estimate that 0ver 400,000 visitors per year visit Molokini to snorkel or dive in her clear, abundant waters. To handle the large influx of visitors a system of day-use moorings was established in 1988 as a means of keeping charter vessels from laying anchor on the reef. Today there are only a set number of permits issued to charter vessels and the use of moorings is regulated by the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources. Above water, Molokini is now designated as a Hawaii State Seabird Sanctuary which is home to nesting species such as wedge-tailed shearwaters, and flocks of birds can frequently be seen circling above the dry islet.

Each year that Molokini is protected the reef continues to flourish, and Trilogy is proud to host guests on snorkeling trips to Molokini seven days a week (weather permitting) where snorkeling, snuba, sailing, good food, and friendly crew all combine to make what is hopefully one of your best days on the island.