8 great snorkel spots in Maui

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By Sarah Sekula

It was a picture-perfect day off the shores of Maui’s Makena Beach as our group of six paddled an outrigger canoe through the calm waters. It had been about 10 minutes or so since we left shore, but already we had arrived at the perfect snorkeling spot.

I was still putting on my mask and fins as everyone plopped into the water to search for the marine life du jour.

“Carrie, what do you see?” I yelled.

“Turtles!” she shrieked through her snorkel.

And with that, I hopped out and swam Ryan Lochtke-style to catch up with the group.

A pair of adorable, buggy eyes immediately caught my attention as I slowed down. Through the sun-dappled, turquoise waters, I could easily see the 2-foot-long creature. I smiled as it let me swim alongside as it gradually propelled itself through the water. And for the next half hour, I came across turtle after turtle after turtle among the abundant reef below.

This, no doubt, is why I can’t get enough of snorkeling. When I’m flipper-kicking my way through the water, I’m in my element, completely immersed in every facet that surrounds me. And, the best part is, you never know what you’re going to discover next. One day it might be the polka dots of a moray eels and the next it might be a massive manta ray. The best part is, it’s blissfully peacefully below the surface.

In other words, if you’re serious about getting away from it all, a vacation spent snorkeling should do the trick. More specifically, try snorkeling your way around Maui among green sea turtles, spotted eagle rays and spinner dolphins. Below are some of my favorite spots.

1. Molokini Crater
This small, crescent moon-shaped island is a Maui must-do. It’s about 3 miles off the island’s southwestern coast and spans more than 18 acres. I took the Kai Kanani Morning Express, a large catamaran which got me there right around 6:45 a.m. It launches off of Makena Beach, so it only takes about 15 minutes to reach the crater. Early morning is a great time to visit this underwater volcano, and if you’re lucky (and there during the winter months) you might spot whales in the distance. Keep your eyes peeled for a kaleidoscope of coral, manta rays and sharks, too.

2. Turtle Town
Turtle Town is a unique series of underwater lava formations developed long ago by the eruptions of submarine volcanoes. Just off the southern coastline, between Nahuna Point and Black Sand Beach, is an area that sea turtles flock to. And there’s nothing like swimming alongside them (don’t get too close, though, it’s illegal to pet, chase or ride them). I snorkeled here on the last day of my trip. While I did spot several turtles here, I did not see much beyond that.

3. Ahihi Keanau Reserve
South of Wailea, this bay is excellent for beginners. It’s located on the southern coast of Maui, just past Makena. Just keep in mind, there are no facilities here and the beach is a bit rocky. What many love about this area is the lava rock that is mixed in with coral. And it’s easy to spot marine life even in the shallow water. Families appreciate the calm water, which makes it easier to stay together. If you’re lucky, you’ll find butterfly fish, parrot fish, damsel fish, surgeon fish, moorish idol, tang, wrasse, squirrel fish, perch, chub, trigger fish, goat fish, snapper, hawk fish, jacks, needle fish, turtles, crustaceans and invertebrates.

4. Coral Gardens
This spot in the center of the western Maui coast, is home to loads of candy-colored fish, eels, crabs and octopus. From December to April you may also catch a glimpse of humpback whales. It’s easiest to get there by boat because the swim to this area from the beach is a bit far. Expect to spot loads of coral formations and lots of critters milling about.

5. Olowalu
About 10 miles south of Lahaina on Hwy 30 is Olawalu. It’s easy to get to and you’ll find mounds upon mounds of coral reefs. It’s perfect for beginners due to the calm waters. It’s about a 200-yard swim to get to the reef system. Keep your eyes peeled for turtle-cleaning stations. It’s kind of a turtle car wash in which the shells are cleaned by wrasse fish. Definitely a sight to see.

6. Polo Beach
A pair of perfectly shaped sand crescents form this beach. And families flock here because it’s located right in front of the Kea Lani Hotel, between Wailea and Makena. Snorkeling is excellent during calm seas around the rocky point to the north end of the beach.There are facilities available and plenty of room to lounge on the beach afterward. Note: There are grills and picnic tables.

7. Black Rock
The western shore of Maui is home to Kaanapali Beach, a 3-mile stretch of white sand.  Once you reach the north end of the beach, you’ll find Black Rock, a rocky peninsula where you can spot parrot fish, snapper, needle fish and porcupine fish among others. Tip: If you head to the Sheraton Maui Resort, there is a public parking lot. This is one of the closest hotels to Black Rock, so it’s a short walk. Parking at Whaler’s Village is another option, however, it is in the center of Kaanapali Beach, and makes for a longer walk.

8. Honolua Bay
On Maui’s northwestern end, you’ll find Honolua Bay, a Marine Life Conservation District. No fishing is allowed here, so your chances of tracking down diverse sea critters is really good. You’ll be surrounded by rocky cliffs that help shelter the area from wind. You can get to the water easily from the sandy beach. And since it’s a marine reserve, you’ll find colorful coral and turtles galore. After you’re done, watch the surfers to the right of the boat ramp. The Honolua Bay surf break is known as one of the places to catch waves in all of Hawaii.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority hosted me, but I am free to write whatever I want.