Molokini Crater

Location: Three miles off of Maui’s southern coastline from the towns of Wailea and Makena, and one hour by boat from Ma’alaea Harbor

Depth: 6-50 ft.

Good for seeing: Molokini is home to over 250 species of fish! Commonly sighted marine species include humuhumuele’ele (black durgeon), unicornfish, parrotfish, humhumunukunukuapua’a, whitespotted moray eels, octopus, lowfin chubs, Hawaiian spiny lobster, jacks, butterflyfish, and slate pencil urchins. Given Molokini’s pelagic location, however, nearly anything is possible, and manta rays, bottlenose dolphins, spinner dolphins, whale sharks, white tip reef sharks, and even humpback whales have been known to pay visits to the crater!

Best time of year to snorkel at Molokini Crater: Due to its offshore location Molokini Crater offers amazing snorkeling during all seasons of the year.

Reasons we might not snorkel here: Although unaffected by south swells in the same way the shoreline of Maui is, Molokini can often become too windy during the afternoon hours to snorkel (which is why all of the boats visit in the morning). Occasionally the tradewinds will blow from the north, which makes Molokini too rough and inaccessible for snorkeling. During this time we will choose another location such as Nahuna or Olowalu. For more information on Maui’s wind and weather patterns, see our related post “Understanding Maui’s Wind, Weather and Waves”.

History: Molokini Crater has a lengthy history which ranges from a bombing range to a marine sanctuary. For more information, see our related post on the history of Molokini Crater.

Trips offered to Molokini Crater: Our Discover Molokini tour sails to Molokini Crater 7 days a week, and it’s also the perfect place to try SNUBA!

Honolua Bay

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.

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.

Hulopo’e Beach Park

Location: Southwestern corner of the island of Lana’i.

Depth: 6-22 ft.

Good for seeing: Large parrotfish, schools of convict tang, saddle wrasse, slate pencil urchins, goatfish, yellow tang, humhumunukunukuapua’a, peacock groupers, whitemouth morays, a healthy coral reef system–and occasionally spinner dolphins which enter the area on occasion.

Best time of year to snorkel at Hulopo’e: Although Hulopo’e can offer world-class snorkeling during any time of the year, the winter months offer the best guarantee of calm and clearer waters. While summer can similarly have days with 80 ft.+ visibility and large schools of reef fish, occasionally large surf can affect Hulopo’e to make snorkeling conditions unsafe for beginners. On over 90% of days, however, Hulopo’e offers some of the best snorkeling in Maui County.

Reasons we might not snorkel here: Trilogy does not offer snorkeling trips to Hulopo’e Bay on weekends or public holidays. In 1973 when Trilogy first started bringing passengers from Maui, it was agreed that the beach would be left for locals on the weekends to enjoy without the introduction of visitors, and it’san agreement that Trilogy continues to honor to this day. On regularly scheduled trips, however, we might not choose to snorkel at Hulopo’e if the surf reaches dangerous levels (which only happens a couple of times per year and is most common during the summer months). On these rare occasions, we will usually opt to “snorkel out” at an offshore reef off of Lana’i which isn’t affected by the breaking surf and offers safer and calmer conditions.

Trips offered to Hulopo’e Bay: Our original Discover Lana’i trip departs Lahaina Harbor for Hulopo’e Bay on Monday-Friday from 10am-6pm (and seasonally 6:30am-2:30pm).

Mala Wharf

Location: Southwestern coastline of the island of Maui, about 10 minutes from Lahaina Harbor between Lahaina and Ka’anapali

Depth: 10-30 feet

Good for seeing: Hawaiian green sea turtles, white tip reef sharks, nenue (lowfin chubs), goatfish, octopus, black durgeon, frogfish, parrotfish. 

Best time of year to snorkel at Mala: Mala Wharf can offer fantastic snorkeling during all times of the yearand even though it’s a short sail from Lahaina Harbor, it offers some of the best snorkeling and diving on the west side of the island.

Reasons we might not snorkel here: There can sometimes be south swells during the summer months which bring large surf to Mala, in which case we would opt for a location further north such as Namalu Bay or Mokulei’a.

History: Mala wharf was once a fully-functioning pier which served as a shipping facility for the island’s pineapple and agriculture. In 1992, however, 30 ft. surf came marching into Lahaina as a result of Hurricane Iniki, and the end of the dock was completely destroyed. Today, the pilings from the old dock lie scattered along the ocean floor, and what was once a shipping facility above water is now a healthy artificial reef which is home to a vast array of marine life.

Trips Offered to Mala:  Our Discover Olowalu regularly frequents Mala Wharf, and our Ka’anapali snorkel tour will occasionally snorkel at Mala when the surf is too large at places such as Honolua Bay. We will also sometimes visit Mala during private Maui snorkeling charters.

Kahalepalaoa (Club Lana’i / Summerhouse)

Also Known As: “Club Lanai”

Location: Southeastern shoreline of the island of Lana’i, directly opposite of Ka’anapali, Maui. Only accessible by boat and 4WD vehicle.

Depth: 10-30 feet.

Good for seeing: Hawaiian green sea turtles, healthy tropical corals, parrot fish, octopus, convict tang, yellow tang, goat fish, slate pencil sea urchins

Best time of year to snorkel at Kahalepalaoa: Kahalepalaoa offers good snorkeling during all seasons of the year.

Reasons we might not snorkel here: The key in snorkeling at Kahaleapalaoa is making it to the shoreline before the afternoon tradewinds fill in. Mornings are the best time for snorkeling here.

History: The name Kahalepalaoa translates in Hawaiian as “House of the whale ivory”, specifically that of sperm whales which are rarely sighted in Hawaiian waters. This is one of the few place names in Hawaii which references whales in the title, and it’s believed to derive from an incident in which the teeth and bones of a sperm whale washed up on shore. More recently, during the 1990s, Kahaleapalaoa was the site of “Club Lanai”, a remote vacation getaway that catered to visitors taking a day trip from Maui. Having sat defunct and overgrown since its closing in 1996, the Kahaleapalaoa area will once again be the site of a resort, with construction having begun in 2013.

Trips Offered to Kahalepalaoa: While Kahaleapalaoa is not one of our regular snorkeling destinations, our Discover Lanai snorkeling trip will occasionally will end up at the turtle-laden reef on days when large south swells render Hulopo’e Bay inaccessible for snorkeling.

Launiupoko

Location: On the southwestern shoreline of Maui between Olowalu and Lahaina

Depth: 6-40 ft.

Good for seeing: Black durgeon, sea cucumber, slate pencil urchins, Hawaiian green sea turtles, octopus, parrotfish

Best time of year to snorkel at Launiupoko: Launiupoko offers the best snorkeling during the calm winter months.

Reasons we might choose to snorkel here: Although Launiupoko doesn’t have the same amount of coral cover or marine life as spots such as OlowaluMokulei‘a, or Honolua Bay, Launiupoko can sometime be the only spot where conditions are calm enough for snorkeling. On winter days when there is a large north swell and the wind is too strong for snorkeling at Olowalu, Launiupoko provided a reliable “back up” option where we know the conditions will be calm enough for swimming.

Wailea Point

Location: A point in south Maui that extends between Wailea Beach in the north and Polo Beach in the south.

Depth: 10-35 ft.

Good for seeing: Parrotfish, octopus, large schools of reef fish, Hawaiian green sea turtles, slate pencil urchins, moray eels, humuhumunukunukuapua’a

Best time of year to snorkel at Wailea Point: Wailea Point can offer good snorkeling during any time of the year, although the winter months can guarantee the best visibility. We usually choose to snorkel at Wailea Point if Nahuna is too crowded or the conditions are too rough.

 

Trips Offered to Wailea Point: The primary trip that would visit Wailea Point would be our Molokini snorkeling trip which departs Ma’alaea Harbor 7 days a week from 7am-12:30pm and 8am-1:30pm. On April 7, 2013, Trilogy also performed a reef cleanup with the Fairmont Kea Lani to remove debris from reef at Wailea Point.

Nahuna (Turtle Town/5 Caves/Makena Landing)

Also Known As: “Five Caves”, “Five Graves”, “Makena Landing”, “Turtle Town”

Location: Along the shoreline of South Maui near the old Makena Landing

Depth: 10-40 ft..

Good for seeing: Nahuna is a marine life magnet where seemingly everything is possible. Hawaiian green sea turtles are the most notable draw (as this the site of the original “turtle town”), but you can also see a large variety of reef fish, lobsters, nudibranchs, eagle rays, bottlenose dolphins, manta rays, slate pencil urchins, and eels. There are also healthy gardens of coral, numerous caves and archways, and this is one of our favorite places for a SNUBA dive.

Best time of year to snorkel at Nahuna: Nahuna can offer fantastic snorkeling with 100 ft. visibility during any part of the year.

Reasons we might not snorkel here: While the winter months offer the best conditions at Nahuna, summer months can occasionally have large south swells which will reduce the visibility along the shoreline. During these periods of large surf we will instead opt to spend the entire duration of the sail at Molokini Crater, where the deep water on the outside of the crater ensures crystal clear visibility.

History: Before the shoreline was lined with luxury homes, Nahuna had a long and storied history which dates back to the ancient Hawaiians. Before the arrival of western explorers, the majority of the ancient population resided here at Makena, thanks to its abundant fish stocks and streams of fresh water. The first landfall on Maui by a westerner was in 1786 by Jean Francois de La Perouse, a French explorer who landed a few miles down the shoreline at an area known as Keoneʽoiʽo. By the late 1800s, the area had become a dock for the Rose Ranch (now Ulupalakua Ranch), and the “Makena Landing” was where ships would deliver supplies to be carried up the mountain. Cattle wouid also be driven down towards the shoreline, andas late as 1946 this area was still used as an active port for loading cattle and supplies. Small bands of foreign settlers began inhabiting the shoreline , including a family of Chinese laborers who are buried along the shoreline. Their small graveyard of five headstones give the area it’s current name of “five graves”, one of the numerous names for this stretch of coast. Today, the Makena area contains the largest population of Hawaiian green sea turtles on the southern shoreline of Maui, and it’s a favorite destination of island snorkelers and divers.

Trips offered to Nahuna: Our Molokini snorkeling tour offers trips to Nahuna seven days a week out of Ma’alaea Harbor from 7am- 12:30pm and 8am-1:30pm.

Olowalu

Location: 7 miles south of Lahaina. 

Depth: 12-20 ft.

Good for seeing: Hawaiian green sea turtles, healthy corals, white spotted moray eels, black durgeon triggerfish, parrotfish, goat fish, octopus, peacock grouper, and the rare manta ray. 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 Olowalu: Olowalu is beautiful during the winter months when the surf at Honolua Bay is far too large or when the winds at Molokini Crater are too strong. Since Olowalu is on a south-facing shoreline it’s protected from the large surf which crashes into the north shore during the winter,

Reasons we might not snorkel here: During the summer months there can occasionally be south swells which bring large surf to the shores of Olowalu, and because it’s at the mouth of the Olowalu Valley the winds can occasionally funnel through here and make the water unsafe for swimming. If the surf is too large on the north shores, and the wind too strong at Olowalu, we will often head to the offshore reef of Launiupoko.

History: During the days of Ancient Hawaii the Olowalu ahupua’a (land division) was home to a thriving population of native Hawaiians, and all that was needed to sustain life was found in here at Olowalu. Pigs were hunted in the valley’s uplands and a fresh water stream ran through the valley enabling the Hawaiians to grow crops such as taro. Along the shoreline limu (seaweed) was gathered and an abundant supply of fresh fish was found on the reefs and waters located right offshore. Modern day visitors to Olowalu valley can even make out ancient petroglyphs which are carved into a rock face known as Pu’u Kilea.

With the arrival of Western explorers, however, tranquil Olowalu Valley became the site of one of the bloodiest conflicts on recordbetween explorers and native Hawaiians. An explorer by the name of Simon Metcalfe was anchored off the coast of Hana in early 1790 when a small boat of his was stolen by native Hawaiians. One of Metcalfe’s men was killed in the skirmish, and when Metcalfe turned his cannons towards Hana he was informed that the men who had stolen the boat were actually from the village of Olowalu on the other side of the island, and he search for them there. Sailing around the southern coast of the island to Olowalu, Metcalfe invited the local Olowalu villagers to join him on the ship. As dozens of villagers paddled their canoes out towards the vessel, however, Metcalfe ordered that his men open fire. The result was the death of over 100 innocent Hawaiians in an event which has come to be known as the Olowalu Massacre.

Trips Offered to Olowalu: Our Discover Olowalu Snorkel Sail snorkels here with relative frequency, and our Ka’anapali and Molokini trips will head here if the wind or surf conditions aren’t favorable at Honolua Bay or Molokini Crater.

Watch footage from our Lahaina Picnic Sail with beautiful turtles and the healthy corals of Olowalu!

Namalu Bay (Cliff House)

Also Known As: “Cliffhouse”

Location: 100 yards north of Kapalua Bay

Depth: 10-40 ft.

Good for seeing: Orangespine unicorn fish, convict tang, aʽama crab, Hawaiian green sea turtles, octopus, eels, and the occasional manta ray

Best time of year to snorkel at Namalu Bay: Summer is the best time of the year for snorkeling at Namalu Bay, particularly early in the mornings before the tradewinds have picked up. What makes Namalu such a unique location, however, is how the inside of the cove is tucked out of the wind, and even on days when the tradewinds are blowing Namalu offers a protected, lee shore where we can escape the wind.

Reasons we might not snorkel here: Like other locations on the northwestern shore of Maui, large winter swells can make Namalu inaccessible, and this is a spot which is best enjoyed during the summer months.

Trips offered to Namalu Bay: While Namalu Bay isn’t one of our regularly-scheduled snorkeling destinations, our Kaʽanapali snorkeling tour will sometimes tuck in to Namalu on days when the winds are too strong or the surf is too large at spots such as Honolua Bay or Mokuleiʽa Bay. Onsummer days when the northwestern coastline is particularly beautiful, we will sometimes snorkel at Namalu as part of our Discover Olowalu Snorkel Sail.

Mokuleiʽa Bay (Slaughterhouse)

Also Known As: “Slaughterhouse”

Location: Three miles north of Kapalua next to Honolua Bay

Depth: 10-25 ft.

Good for seeing: Parrotfish, octopus, large schools of reef fish, Hawaiian green sea turtles, eagle rays, goat fish, and spinner dolphins

Best time of year to snorkel at Mokuleiʽa: Summer months offer consistently calm conditions at Mokuleiʽa and are the best time to visit.

Reasons we might not snorkel here: While Mokuleiʽa can occasionally offer calm conditions during the winter months, here is a video of what Mokuleiʽa can look like during a large winter swell:

On days such as these, we would instead opt to snorkel on the protected south shore of the island, most likely at another turtle-laden spot such as Olowalu.

History: To the ancient Hawaiians, the name “Mokuleiʽa” was chosen for this bountiful district which is translated as the “bay of abundance”. When the Honolua and Kapalua area was turned into a large ranch in the early 21st century, a slaughterhouse was placed towards the top of the cliff face that towers above the bay. Even though the slaughterhouse was torn down in the 1960s, the name stuck. Today, Mokuleiʽa is part of the greater Honolua-Mokuleiʽa Marine Life Conservation District, and is one of the best snorkeling spots on Maui.

Trips Offered to Mokulei’a: Our Kaʽanapali Snorkel Sail will occasionally use Mokuleiʽa as a second snorkel spot after snorkeling at Honolua Bay, particularly in the summer months. Despite being located right next door to Honolua, Mokuleiʽa offers a completely different snorkeling experience, and is also a great place for trying out SNUBA.

Kaunolu Bay (Shark Fin Cove)

Location: Southwestern coastline of the island of Lana’i, about 20 minutes past Hulopo’e Bay.

Depth: 10-50 feet

Good for seeing: Parrotfish, octopus, large schools of reef fish,pyramid butterfly fish, and the world’s second tallest-sea cliffs. Kaunolu has two different snorkeling areas, “the bay”, and “the fin”, which is a rock shaped like a shark’s dorsal fin that has earned the area the nickname of “shark fin cove”. Both areas are deeper than many of our other snorkeling spots, and due to its location there can be occasional sightings of manta rays, eagle rays, spinner dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, or even the occasional whale shark!

Best time of year to snorkel at Kaunolu: Due to its depth and the fact there isn’t any sand to be stirred up, Kaunolu offers fantastic snorkeling during all times of the year.

Reasons we might not snorkel here: If the surf has stirred up the visibility or there isn’t enough time to sail all the way to Kaunolu, which is the most remote spot that we visit.  

History: The area surrounding Kaunolu was once the favored summer fishing grounds of Hawaiian royalty including King Kamehameha and King Kahekili. The notch in the cliff in the photo above is known as “Kahekili’s Leap”, where the legendary King of Maui would throw himself off the 65 ft. precipice in an aerial display of his courage. Known as lele kawa, the sport of cliff jumping was reserved for royalty who possessed so much mana, or strength, that they were able to throw themselves off of sacred promontories where it was believed that souls would transfer from this world into the next.

Trips Offered to Kaunolu: Our Lana’i Seafari which runs every Saturday morning at 8 a.m. is our most regularly scheduled trip to Kaunolu. We will also visit Kaunolu during our snorkel charters which depart from Lana’i, as well as during private and group boat charters.