The range of watersports on Maui is mind-boggling—this is one prime watery playground.
It’s easy to find rental gear and ocean toys all over the island. Most seaside hotels and resorts are stocked with watersports equipment (complimentary and rentals), from snorkels to kayaks to Hobies. Snorkel Bob’s (www.snorkelbob.com) rents snorkel gear, boogie boards, wetsuits, and more at numerous locations: 5425 C Lower Honoapiilani Hwy., Lahaina (tel. 808/669-9603); 1217 Front St., Lahaina (tel. 808/661-4421); 3350 Lower Honoapiilani Hwy., Lahaina (tel. 808/667-9999); 1279 S. Kihei Rd., Kihei (tel. 808/875-6188); 2411 S. Kihei Rd., Kihei (tel. 808/879-7449); and 100 Wailea Ike Dr., Wailea (tel. 808-874-0011). All locations are open daily from 8am to 5pm. If you’re island-hopping, you can rent from a Snorkel Bob’s location on one island and return to a branch on another.
Boss Frog’s Dive, Surf, and Bike Shops (www.bossfrog.com) has eight locations for snorkel, boogie board, longboard, and stand-up paddleboard rentals and other gear, including: 150 Lahainaluna Rd., in Lahaina (tel. 808/661-3333); 3636 Lower Honoapiilani Rd., in Kaanapali (tel. 808/665-1200); Napili Plaza, Napilihau Rd., in Napili (tel. 808/669-4949); and 1215 S. Kihei Rd. (tel. 808/891-0077), 1770 S. Kihei Rd. (tel. 808/874-8225), and Dolphin Plaza, 2395 S. Kihei Rd. (tel. 808/875-4477), in Kihei.
You’ll need a boat to visit the crescent-shape islet called Molokini, one of the best snorkel and scuba spots in Hawaii. Trips to the island of Lanai are also popular for a day of snorkeling. Remember to bring a towel, a swimsuit, sunscreen, and a hat on a snorkel cruise; everything else is usually included. If you’d like to go a little deeper than snorkeling allows, consider trying SNUBA, a shallow-water diving system in which you are connected by a 20-foot air hose to an air tank that floats on a raft at the water’s surface. Most of these snorkel boats offer it for an additional cost; it’s usually around $60 for a half-hour or so. No certification is required for SNUBA.
Day Cruises to Molokai
You can travel across the seas by ferry from Maui’s Lahaina Harbor to Molokai’s Kaunakakai Wharf on the Hawaiian Ocean Project’s Molokai Princess (www.hawaiioceanproject.com; tel. 877/500-6284 or 808/667-6165). Twice daily the 100-foot ferry makes the 2-hour journey from Lahaina to Kaunakakai; the round-trip cost is $142 for adults and $71 for children 3 to 12. I recommend spending 2 or more days on Molokai, but if you can’t swing that, try one of the following single day trips. The guided Alii Tour hits Molokai's major sites in an air-conditioned van ($260 per adult and $160 per child, including round-trip passage, breakfast, and lunch). For more independent travelers, the Cruise-Drive package is a good deal. Hop on the ferry and pick up your rental car on arrival ($260 for the driver, $125 per additional adult passenger, and $63 per child). Breakfast is included, and car upgrades are negotiable. Load up on ginger cookies before you go; the ferry can be a bumpy ride, especially during winter.
Day Cruises to Lanai
You can also get to the island of Lanai by booking a trip with Trilogy
For beginners, Makena Kayak and Tours (tel. 808/879-8426) is an excellent choice. Professional guide Dino Ventura leads a 2 1⁄2-hour trip from Makena Landing and loves taking first-timers over the secluded coral reefs and into remote coves. His wonderful tour will be a highlight of your vacation. This outfitter has kept its low price of $65, which includes refreshments and snorkel and kayak equipment; the 4-hour tour costs $95, including lunch.
South Pacific Kayaks (www.mauikayak.com; tel. 800/776-2326 or 808/875-4848) is another terrific kayak-tour company. Its experts lead ocean-kayak trips that include lessons, a guided tour, and snorkeling. Tours run from 3 to 5 hours and range in price from $65 to $145.
Outrigger canoes are much revered in the Hawaiian culture, and several hotels—among them, the Fairmont Kea Lani Maui and Makena Beach & Golf Resort—offer this wonderful cultural activity right off the beach. If you want to give paddling a try, expect to work as a team with five other paddlers. Your guide and steersman will show you how to haul the sleek boat into the water, properly enter and exit the boat, and paddle for maximum efficiency.
If you’re semi-adventurous and looking for a more intimate experience with the sea, try ocean rafting. The inflatable rafts hold 6 to 24 passengers. Tours usually include snorkeling and coastal cruising. One of the best (and most reasonable) outfitters is Hawaii Ocean Rafting (www.hawaiioceanrafting.com; tel. 888/677-RAFT or 808/661-7238), which operates out of Lahaina Harbor. The best deal is the 5-hour morning tour ($74 adults, $53 children 5–12); it includes three snorkeling stops and time spent watching for dolphins, plus continental breakfast and mid-morning snacks. Check the website for discounts.
Everyone dives in Molokini, one of Hawaii’s top dive spots. This crescent-shape crater has three tiers of diving: a 35-foot plateau inside the crater basin (used by beginning divers and snorkelers), a wall sloping to 70 feet just beyond the inside plateau, and a sheer wall on the outside and backside of the crater that plunges 350 feet. This offshore site is very popular, thanks to astounding visibility (you can often peer down 100 ft.) and an abundance of marine life, from manta rays to clouds of yellow butterflyfish.
www.mikesevernsdiving.com. tel. 808/879-6596.
When the whales aren’t around, Captain Steve’s Rafting Excursions (www.captainsteves.com; tel. 808/667-5565) offers 7-hour snorkel trips from Mala Wharf in Lahaina to the waters around Lanai (you don’t actually land on the island). Discounted online rates of $125 for adults and $85 for children 5 to 12 include breakfast, lunch, snorkel gear, and wetsuits.
Two truly terrific snorkel spots are difficult to get to but worth the effort—they’re home to Hawaii’s tropical marine life at its best:.
Molokini --A sunken crater that sits like a crescent moon fallen from the sky, almost midway between Maui and the uninhabited island of Kahoolawe, Molokini stands like a scoop against the tide. On its concave side, Molokini serves as a natural sanctuary and marine-life preserve for tropical fish. Snorkelers commute here daily in a fleet of dive boats. Molokini is accessible only by boat.Expect crowds in high season.
Ahihi-Kinau Natural Preserve --In Ahihi Bay, you can’t miss this 2,000-acre state natural area reserve in the lee of Cape Kinau, on Maui’s rugged south coast. It was here, in 1790, that Haleakala spilled red-hot lava that ran to the sea. Fishing is strictly forbidden here, and the fish know it; they’re everywhere in this series of rocky coves and black-lava tide pools.
To get here, drive south of Makena past Puu Olai to Ahihi Bay, where the road turns to gravel (and sometimes seems like it will disappear under the waves). At Cape Kinau, three four-wheel-drive trails lead across the lava flow; take the shortest one, nearest La Pérouse Bay. If you have a standard car, drive as far as you can, park, and walk the remainder of the way. Note: The Hawaii State Department of Land and Natural Resources has temporarily restricted access to portions of the popular and heavily used preserve. Visit www.hawaii.gov/dlnr/dofaw/nars for details and a downloadable brochure.
The best way to book a sport-fishing charter is through the experts; the top booking desk in the state is Sportfish Hawaii (www.sportfishhawaii.com; tel. 877/388-1376), which books boats on all the islands. These fishing vessels have been inspected and must meet rigorous criteria to guarantee that you’ll have a great time. Prices range from $1099 to $1,199 for a full-day exclusive charter (meaning you, plus five friends, get the entire boat to yourself); it’s $599 to $850 for a half-day exclusive.
If you want to learn to surf, the best beginners’ spots are Charley Young Cove in Kihei (the far north end of Kalama Beach Park), the break in front of 505 Front Street in Lahaina, and several breaks along Honoapiilani Highway, including Ukumehame. The first two are the most convenient, with surf schools nearby. The breaks along Honoapiilani Highway tend to be longer, wider, and less crowded—perfect if you’re confident enough to go solo.
During summer, gentle swells roll in long and slow along the south shore. It’s the best time to practice your stance on a longboard. During winter, the north shore becomes the playground for adrenaline junkies who drop in on thundering waves 30 feet tall and higher. If you want to watch, head to Hookipa or Honolua Bay, where you can view the action from a cliff above.
The humpback is the star of the annual whale-watching season, which usually runs from about January to April (though it can begin as early as Dec and last until May).
Whale-Watching from Shore--The best time to whale-watch is between mid-December and April: Just look out to sea. There’s no best time of day, but it seems that when the sea is glassy and there’s no wind, the whales appear. Once you see one, keep watching in the same vicinity; they may stay down for 20 minutes. Bring a book. And binoculars, if you can.
Some good whale-watching spots on Maui include:
McGregor Point--On the way to Lahaina, there’s a scenic lookout at mile marker 9 (just before you get to the Lahaina Tunnel); it’s a good viewpoint to scan for whales.
Olowalu Reef--Along the straight part of Honoapiilani Highway, between McGregor Point and Olowalu, you’ll sometimes see whales leap out of the water. Their appearance can bring traffic to a screeching halt: People abandon their cars and run down to the sea to watch, causing a major traffic jam. If you stop, pull off the road so others can pass.
Wailea Beach Marriott Resort & Spa--In the Wailea coastal walk, stop at this resort to look for whales through the telescope installed as a public service by the Hawaii Island Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.
Puu Olai--It’s a tough climb up this coastal landmark near the Maui Beach & Golf Resort, but you’re likely to be well rewarded: This is the island’s best spot for offshore whale-watching. On the 360-foot cinder cone overlooking Makena Beach, you’ll be at the right elevation to see Pacific humpbacks as they dodge Molokini and cruise up Alalakeiki Channel between Maui and Kahoolawe.
Whale-Watching Cruises--For a closer look, take a whale-watching cruise. Just about all of Hawaii’s snorkel and dive boats become whale-watching boats in season; some of them even carry professional naturalists onboard so you’ll know what you’re seeing.
Whale-Watching by Kayak & Raft--Seeing a humpback whale from an ocean kayak or raft is awesome. Capt. Steve’s Rafting Excursions (www.captainsteves.com; tel. 808/667-5565) offers 2-hour whale-watching excursions out of Lahaina Harbor (from $49 adults, $35 children 5–12). Tip: Save $10 by booking the early-bird adventure, which leaves at 7:30am.
Maui has Hawaii’s best windsurfing beaches. In winter, windsurfers from around the world flock to the town of Paia to ride the waves; Hookipa Beach, known all over the globe for its brisk winds and excellent waves, is the site of several world championship contests. Kanaha Beach, west of Kahului Airport, also has dependable winds. When the winds turn northerly, North Kihei is the place to be (some days, you can even spot whales in the distance behind the windsurfers). Ohukai Park, the first beach as you enter South Kihei Road from the northern end, has good winds plus parking, a long strip of grass to assemble your gear, and easy access to the water.
Equipment Rentals & Lessons--Hawaiian Island Surf & Sport, 415 Dairy Rd., Kahului (www.hawaiianisland.com; tel. 800/231-6958 or 808/871-4981), offers lessons (from $89), rentals, and repairs. Hawaiian Sailboarding Techniques, 425 Koloa St., Kahului (www.hstwindsurfing.com; tel. 800/968-5423 or 808/871-5423), offers rentals and 2 1/2-hour lessons from $89. Maui Windsurf Company, 22 Hana Hwy., Kahului (www.mauiwindsurfcompany.com; tel. 800/872-0999 or 808/877-4816), offers complete equipment rental (board, sail, rig harness, and roof rack) from $57, plus 2[b/f]1/2-hour group lessons from $89.
Daily Wind & Surf Conditions--For daily reports on wind and surf conditions, call the Wind & Surf Report at tel. 808/877-3611.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.