To really appreciate Maui, you need to get off the land and get on the sea. Trade winds off the Lahaina coast and the strong wind that rips through Maui's isthmus make sailing around the island exciting. Many different boats, from a three-masted schooner to spacious trimarans, offer day cruises from Maui.
Day Cruises to Molokai -- You can travel across the seas by ferry from Maui's Lahaina Harbor to Molokai's Kaunakakai Wharf on the Molokai Princess (tel. 800/275-6969 or 808/667-6165; www.mauiprincess.com). The 100-foot yacht, certified for 149 passengers, is fitted with the latest generation of gyroscopic stabilizers, making the ride smoother. The ferry makes the 90-minute journey from Lahaina to Kaunakakai daily; the round-trip cost is $113 for adults and $57 for children 3 to 12. Or you can choose to tour the island on one of two different package options: Cruise-Drive, which includes round-trip passage and a rental car for $207 for the driver, $90 per additional adult passenger, and $45 for children; or the Alii Tour, which is a guided tour in an air-conditioned van plus lunch for $207 per adult and $144 per child.
Day Cruises to Lanai
You can visit the island of Lanai by booking a trip with Trilogy or by taking the Expeditions passenger ferry (www.go-lanai.com; [tel] 800/695- 2624 or 808/661-3756) from Lahaina. It runs five times a day, 365 days a year, departing Lahaina at 6:45 and 9:15am, and 12:45, 3:15, and 5:45pm. The return ferry from Lanai’s Manele Bay leaves at 8 and 10:30am, and at 2, 4:30, and 6:45pm. The 9-mile channel crossing takes between 45 minutes and an hour, depending on sea conditions. Tickets cost $30 adults, $20 children 2 to 11 each way; reservations are strongly recommended. During winter, the trip 14 doubles as a whale watch; dolphins may frolic in the ferry's wake year-round. You can walk from the harbor to Hulopoe Beach, but if you want to explore the island further, you’ll have to rent a car (if available) or book a tour.
Gliding silently over the water, propelled by a paddle, seeing Maui (and perhaps a humpback whale, dolphin, or sea turtle) from the water the way the early Hawaiians did is what ocean kayaking is all about. But be aware that winds can whip up by midmorning, and strong currents have whisked the unwary far out in channels. It’s best to take at least one kayak tour before launching out on your own, and don’t even consider going out on your own if you’ve never kayaked in the ocean before.
Fortunately, numerous companies launch kayak tours from South and West Maui beaches. Some are definitely better than others—the difference being the personal attention from the guides and their level of experience. Kayaking can be a slog if you have to keep up with your guide, rather than paddle alongside someone who shares local knowledge. My favorite operator, Hawaiian Paddle Sports ★★★ (www.hawaiianpaddlesports.com; [tel] 808/875-4848) launches trips from Makena Landing, Olowalu, and (June–Aug only) D. T. Fleming Beach. The 3-hour tours are pricy but private—only you or your party will be on the trip, and all include snorkeling, digital photos, and snacks. Rates for Makena and Olowalu trips are $249 for a single participant, $159 per person for two to four guests, or $139 for 5 or more guests; the D. T. Fleming tour, which heads to Honolua Bay, costs $159 for one to six guests (not recommended for children under 12, due to paddling into the wind). Expert kayakers only may opt for the Molokini Crater Challenge, a 3.5-mile paddle from Makena Landing that starts before dawn and includes snorkeling inside the crater before the flotilla of large tour boats arrive. The 3- to 4-hour tour ($249 for one person, $199 each for two or more) may include a paddle around the massive back wall of the crater if conditions permit On all tours, you will get a wildlife adventure like no other, with a knowledgeable, friendly personal guide ready to point out snowflake eels hiding in the coral, guide you to hidden caverns, and shoot photos of you swimming with sea turtles. Owner Timothy Lara hires similarly trained guides for his other eco-friendly company, Maui Kayak Adventures ★★★, which also offers group tours ($89 per person) and private tours ($159 per person, two-person minimum) in Olowalu and Makena. Similar, summer-only Honolua Bay tours for ages 12 and up cost $159 per person for groups or $199 per person for private tours (www.mauikayakadventures.com; [tel] 808/442- 6465.)
Aloha Kayaks Maui ★★ (www.alohakayaksmaui.com; [tel] 808/270- 3318) is also excellent and more affordable, with multi-party trips starting at 15 $85 per person ($60 children 5–9), with a max of eight people. Professional, informative, and eco-aware guides lead 3- and 4-hour trips that launch from Makena Landing (secluded coves with underwater arches and caves) or Olowalu (vibrant coral reefs and possible manta ray sightings). During whale season, guides can steer you towards the gentle giants for a once-in-a-lifetime encounter. Private trips are also available, starting at $139 per person ($99 ages 5 to 9).
Also consider a kayak tour with one of the friendly watermen working for Hawaiian Ocean Sports ★★ (www.hawaiianoceansports.com; [tel] 808/633- 2800), a Native Hawaiian–owned company that encourages guides to share their cultural knowledge as well as marine experience. Tours depart Wailea Beach or Ukumehame Beach (near mile marker 12 off Honoapiilani Hwy., between Olowalu and Maalaea) and run 1 to 3 hours, with snorkeling and whale-watching options ($75–$149).
Outrigger canoes are much revered in Hawaiian culture, and several hotels— among them, the Fairmont Kea Lani Maui and the Andaz Maui—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. These days, you’re also likely to learn some of the rich cultural elements involving canoeing, from the traditional call-and-response chant canoe builders used while carrying koa trees down from the forest to the Hawaiian words for the paddling commands.
If you’re semi-adventurous and looking for a wetter, wilder experience, try ocean rafting. The inflatable rafts typically hold 6 to 30 passengers, while tours usually include snorkeling and coastal cruising. Pregnant women and people with back problems are advised to avoid—as are those who might wish to use bathroom facilities other than the ocean. During winter, these maneuverable boats offer exciting whale-watching tours.
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). Dolphin sightings are almost guaranteed on these action-packed excursions. Discounted online rates of $135 for adults and $95 for children 5 to 12 include continental breakfast, deli-style lunch, and snorkel gear, with wetsuits, flotation devices, and life jackets available upon request.
Hawaii Ocean Rafting ★ (www.hawaiioceanrafting.com; [tel] 808/661- 7238), which operates out of Lahaina Harbor, also zips out towards Lanai. The best deal is the 4.5-hour morning tour ($85 adults, $72 children 5–12); it 16 includes three snorkeling stops and time spent watching for dolphins, plus continental breakfast and midmorning snacks. Check for online discounts.
Maui Reef Adventures ★★★ (www.mauireefadventures.com; [tel] 808/244-7333) operates out of Maalaea Harbor, convenient for those staying in Kihei and Wailea. Ocean Freedom, its 41-foot Navatek seating 30, zips over to Molokini Crater (allowing a snorkel on the backside) and Makena Landing’s Turtle Town on 4-hour morning tours Tuesday through Saturday ($129 ages 5 and older, including continental breakfast and lunch).
One of the few ways to see the sea caves, coral reefs, and frequent pods of dolphins along the untrammeled Kanaio coast south of Makena, inaccessible by car, is with Blue Water Rafting ★★ (www.bluewaterrafting.com; [tel] 808/879-8238). The 4-hour Kanaio Coast tours with snorkeling ($115 adults, $94 children 4–12) rely on swift, rigid-hulled 24-passenger rafts with canopies and include lunch. A 5½-hour version ($140 adults, $115 children) includes snorkeling in La Perouse Bay and at Molokini Crater, while a 2-hour Molokini Express waits for the crowds to thin out before dashing over for snorkeling ($57 adults, $47 children; drinks included).
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.