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5 of Maui’s Best Snorkeling Spots

February 25, 2013

When visiting Maui, activities such as whale watching, watching the sunrise at Haleakala, and driving the world famous Road to Hana are visitor favorites which are enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of visitors per year. Despite their popularity, however, there is still one Maui activity which will forever have them beat:


It doesn’t matter whether the traveler is from Canada or Korea, LA or Santa Fe, seemingly everyone who visits the island is looking for a chance to see what’s beneath the water. One thing Maui visitors need to understand, however, is that the marine ecosystem here is different than those which are found elsewhere in the world. Maui isn’t in the Caribbean, nor is it in Southeast Asia, so the marine species you can expect to encounter are different than in other parts of the world. Just because you visited the Grand Caymans once, and were instantly surrounded by schools of fish when you jumped in the water, doesn’t mean that the same thing is going to be true in Maui. In fact, one of the biggest surprises for Maui snorkelers is they expected there would be more fish, and some snorkelers occasionally leave feeling a little bit disappointed.

What visitors need to understand, however, is that even though Hawaii might not have the sheer volume of fish found in other parts of the globe, over 20% of the species in Hawaiian Turtlewaters are endemic to Hawaii, which means that you won’t find them anywhere else on Earth. Also, whereas the water can be colder than in places like the Caribbean, Maui water temperatures fluctuate between 74°F in the winter to about 79°F in the summer, so it’s still warmer than most other places in the world.

With those thoughts in mind, here are five places on Maui which offer great snorkeling from shore.

1: “Black Rock” at Ka’anapali Beach

Just because it’s easily accessible doesn’t mean that it isn’t going to be good. Located on the far northern end of Ka’anapali Beach (in front of the Sheraton resort), Black Rock offers what can sometimes be the best snorkeling on the island. When snorkeling Black Rock, the best time of day is in the morning hours before the afternoon wind has picked up, although be warned that on days when the surf is up the snorkeling isn’t going to be very good. Sea turtles are common at Black Rock, as are a whole host of tropical reef fish and the occasional spotted eagle ray. One common mistake that snorkelers make at Black Rock is that they only parallel the rock and never make it around to the other side. The water depth on the far tip of the rock is about 25 feet, and if it’s a calm day you can snorkel all the way around to the backside of the rock where it drops off to about 35 feet. There is a good chance of seeing turtles out here, and you are guaranteed to hear whale song during the winter months if you dive down just a couple of feet. Be careful of people jumping off of the front side of the rock, and in terms of consistency this is one of the best places to snorkel on the entire west side.

Black Rock

2: Honolua Bay

Arguably the best shore dive on the entire island, the biggest drawback about snorkeling Honolua Bay is that it can only be snorkeled during the summer. Large winter surf comes crashing into the bay during winter, and if you see a flotilla of surfers sitting out at the point it’s best to stay out of the water. Honolua Bay is another great place to see Hawaiian green sea turtles, and also keep an eye out for octopus, eels, and a wide variety of endemic reef fish. To reach Honolua Bay you must travel three miles past the turnoff for Kapalua and park along the side of the road in a lush, tropical valley. There is a small hiking trail that leads down to the shoreline, and a thin, rocky beach from where you will enter the water.

3: Olowalu

Often referred to as “Mile Marker 14” by most Maui guidebooks, the real name for this area is Olowalu, and it’s one of the healthiest reefs in all of Maui County. Situated on the road towards Lahaina, this area is very shallow when you first enter the water and you need to navigate around a couple of coral heads to reach the deeper water. Reef fish aren’t as plentiful on this reef as in a place like Black Rock or Honolua, but there is a large expanse of healthy and vibrant corals and a burgeoning population of Hawaiian green sea turtles. You need to swim a ways offshore if you plan on encountering a turtle, but this is a spot which is consistently beautiful, and the only times you can’t snorkel here are during periods of high winds, high surf, and at low tide in the days around the full moon (because it simply gets too shallow). Unfortunately, a plan is currently in the works to develop Olowalu, and it’s feared that the construction of homes along the shoreline will spell the death of the reef. If you plan on visiting Maui in the near future, be sure to snorkel this reef at least once since we don’t know how much longer it will remain in its current state.

4: Nahuna

Located on the southern coast of the island all the way down in Makena, this area is also known by the names “5 Caves”, “5 Graves”, as well as “Makena Landing”. Sea turtles are plentifulWhitespotted Toby here, and there have been known to be sightings of eagle rays and manta rays in the deeper areas where the reef meets the sand. This area is very popular with charter boats, so if you want to have the place all to yourself you need to get out here before 9 a.m. To reach Nahuna, you can either park in the public lot off of Makena Road, or there is another small parking area with a blue “beach access” sign that passes by a small graveyard with 5 graves, hence the name. Entry from this point is difficult, however, so it’s best to enter the water by the main park and parking lot.

5: Mokapu/Ulua Beach

Finally, the point between Mokapu Beach and Ulua Beach in Wailea offers what’s consistently the best snorkeling in the entire Wailea area. Green sea turtles are abundant, and this is a large, rocky outcropping that is covered in reef fish and coral. You can enter the water from either beach, and one of the best ways to experience the area is to enter the water from one beach, snorkel around the point, and then exit the water on the neighboring beach, using the small walking trail which connects the two to get back to where you started from.

While there are far more spots to snorkel in Maui than simply the five listed above, these are a good primer to see what the reefs have to offer. Most importantly, remember to never, under any circumstances, step on the coral or feed the fish, because these are both detrimental to the health of the reef and will lead to its eventual demise. Also, be sure to assess your personal abilities, snorkel with a buddy, and if the conditions look too rough or you’re unsure of entering the water, just adhere to the old adage of “if in doubt, don’t go out”.

Kyle Ellison is a freelance writer based in Maui, Hawaii who frequently finds himself in obscure international destinations. Over the course of traveling through 60 different countries, he has taken part in everything from climbing mountains in Borneo to eating clams while scuba diving in an underwater Vietnamese cave. Despite his penchant for novelty and adventure, the beautiful island of Maui will always be the corner of the world where he calls home. All of Kyle’s writing and adventures can be found by visiting his website,  Kyle is also an ambassador and contributor to VacationRoost.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 15, 2015 2:27 am

    I was able to go to two of these location back in June of 2012, but I didn’t see any sea turtles. When is the best time to see them?

    • VacationRoost permalink
      July 15, 2015 9:20 am

      Hello, thank you for your question! Generally all times of the year are great for snorkeling with sea turtles, but of course it depends on the day and if the turtles feel safe coming around snorkelers. Often, more crowded places can scare away sea turtles. Black Rock in Kaanapali has a lot of success with sea turtles, especially just past the rock. Unfortunately it is hard to guarantee seeing turtles on a snorkel trip.
      Thank you for reading our blog, Aloha!

  2. CincinnatiKid permalink
    September 3, 2015 8:04 pm

    I remember that the water is calmer December in either Kihei or Kaanapali–but I can’t remember which! Is it Summer is calmer in Kaanapali and Winter is calmer in Kihei, or vice versa? Thanks!

    • VacationRoost permalink
      September 4, 2015 9:18 am

      Aloha! Generally for all Hawaiian islands the water is calmer during the winter months as there is less wind. As Kihei and Kaanapali are both on the leeward side of the island, their weather regarding wind should be relatively the same. However, it does depend on weather patterns and the day.

      I hope this helps! Mahalo.

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