The watersports options on Maui are mind-boggling—from lazy snorkeling to high-energy kitesurfing and everything in between. Colorful, fish-filled reefs are easily accessible, often from a sandy beach.
You’ll find rental gear and ocean toys all over the island. Most seaside hotels and resorts are stocked with watersports equipment (complimentary or rentals), from snorkels to kayaks to Hobies. Snorkel Bob’s (www.snorkelbob.com) rents snorkel gear, boogie boards, wetsuits, and more at numerous locations: At Napili Bay, 5425 C Lower Honoapiilani Hwy., Lahaina (808/669-9603); 1217 Front St. (behind Cannery Mall), Lahaina (808/661-4421); 3350 Lower Honoapiilani Hwy., #201 (Near Times Supermarket), Honokowai (808/667-9999); in Azeka’s II Shopping Center, 1279 S. Kihei Rd., Kihei (808/875-6188); 2411 S. Kihei Rd., Kihei (808/879-7449); and 100 Wailea Ike Dr., Wailea (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 these locations: 150 Lahainaluna Rd. in Lahaina (808/661-3333); 3636 Lower Honoapiilani Rd. in Kaanapali (808/665-1200); Napili Plaza, 5095 Napilihau St. in Napili (808/669-4949); and 1215 S. Kihei Rd. (808/891-0077), 1770 S. Kihei Rd. (808/874-5225), and Dolphin Plaza, 2395 S. Kihei Rd. (808/875-4477) in Kihei. Their $30 weekly snorkel rentals are the best deal.
You’ll need a boat to visit the crescent-shaped islet 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. 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. For fishing charters, see “Sport Fishing” below.
Day Cruises to Lanai
You can visit the island of Lanai by booking a trip with Trilogy ★★★ or by taking the passenger ferry.
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; 808/875-4848) launches trips from Makena, Olowalu or Honolua Bay. The trips are pricy but private, starting at $149 per person for 2-4 guests. But you will get a wildlife adventure like no other, with a 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.
Aloha Kayaks Maui ★★ (www.alohakayaksmaui.com; 808/270-3318) is both excellent and more affordable, with trips starting at $95 for a max of eight people. Professional, informative, and eco-aware guides lead 3-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.
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.
If you’re semi-adventurous and looking for a wetter, wilder experience, try ocean rafting. The inflatable rafts hold 6 to 24 passengers. Tours usually include snorkeling and coastal cruising. Pregnant women and people with back problems are advised to avoid. During winter, these maneuverable boats offer exciting whale-watching tours.
Captain Steve’s Rafting Excursions (www.captainsteves.com; 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, snorkel gear, and wetsuits.
One of the most reasonable outfitters is Hawaii Ocean Rafting (www.hawaiioceanrafting.com; 808/661-7238), which operates out of Lahaina Harbor and zips out towards Lanai. The best deal is the 4.5-hour morning tour ($85 adults, $72 children 5–12); it includes three snorkeling stops and time spent watching for dolphins, plus continental breakfast and midmorning snacks. Check the website for discounts.
Maui offers plenty of undersea attractions worth strapping on a tank for. Most divers start with Molokini (see “Snorkeling,” below). In addition to the popular basin, experienced divers can explore the crater’s dramatic back wall ★★★, which plunges 350 feet and is frequented by larger marine animals and schools of rare butterflyfish. Other top sites include Mala Wharf, the St. Anthony (a sunken longliner), and Five Graves at Makena Landing. Don’t be scared off by the latter's ominous name—it’s a magical spot with sea caves and arches.
Snorkeling on Maui is easy—there are so many great spots where you can just wade in the water with a mask and look down and see tropical fish. If you haven’t snorkeled before, or are a little rusty, practice breathing through your snorkel before you get out on the water. Mornings are best; blustery trade winds kick in around noon. Maui’s best snorkeling spots include Ulua and Mokapu Beaches in Wailea; Olowalu along the Honoapiilani Highway; Black Rock at the north end of Kaanapali Beach; and, just beyond Black Rock, Kahekili Beach ★★★.
Two truly terrific snorkel spots are difficult to get to but rewarding—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 reserve a sport-fishing charter is through the experts; the top booking desk in the state is Sportfish Hawaii ★ (www.sportfishhawaii.com; 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 start at $1,095 for a full-day exclusive charter (meaning you, plus five friends, get the entire boat to yourself); it’s $699 for a half-day exclusive. Bottom-fishing trips for delicious snappers run $149 per adult; you’ll share the boat with up to nine other anglers.
Stand-up Paddling (SUP) & Surfing
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.
Stand-up paddling (SUP) is one of Hawaii’s oldest and newest ocean sports. Practiced by ancient Hawaiian kings, it’s now back in fashion. You can SUP just about anywhere you can surf—and more, since you don’t need a swell to get going, just a wide board and paddle, strong arms, and some balance. (And if you lack the latter two, willingness will make up for it.) Gliding over the fish-filled reefs with an unobstructed view of the islands on the horizon is a top-notch experience.
Experienced watermen/women can rent a full range of surf, windsurf, and stand-up paddle boards from Maui Windsurf Company, 22 Hana Hwy., Kahului (www.mauiwindsurfcompany.com; 808/877-4816).
Maui is a favorite with Hawaiian humpback whales, who get downright frisky in the surrounding waters from about November to May (though Jan and Feb are the peak months). Seeing the massive marine mammals leap out of the sea or perfect their tail slap is mesmerizing. You can hear them sing underwater, too! Just duck your head a foot below the surface and listen for creaks, groans, and otherworldly serenades.
Whale-Watching from Shore—Just look out to sea anytime during the winter months. There’s no best time of day, but it seems that when the sea is glassy and there’s no wind, the whales appear. Others claim the opposite: that whales are most active when the water is pocked with whitecaps.
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.
Whale-Watching by Kayak & Raft ★★—I recommend viewing humpback whales from a maneuverable, high-speed raft—you’ll be close to the water and that much closer to the cetaceans. Capt. Steve’s Rafting Excursions (www.captainsteves.com; 808/667-5565) offers 2-hour whale-watching excursions out of Lahaina Harbor (from $55 adults, $45 children 5–12). Tip: Save $10 by booking the early-bird adventure, which leaves at 7:30am.
Whale-Watching Cruises—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 and drop hydrophones in the water so you can better hear the whales’ song. For options, see “Boating,” above.
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 Sailboarding Techniques, 425 Koloa St., Kahului (www.hstwindsurfing.com; 808/871-5423), offers rentals and 2 1/2-hour lessons from $99 at Kanaha Beach early in the morning before the breeze gets too strong for beginners. Maui Windsurf Company, 22 Hana Hwy., Kahului (www.mauiwindsurfcompany.com; [tel] 808/877-4816), offers complete equipment rental (Goya boards, sails, rig harnesses, and roof racks) from $59, plus 2[bf]1/2-hour group lessons from $99 and private instruction at $99 per hour.
Daily Wind & Surf Conditions—For reports on wind and surf conditions, call Hi-Tech’s Wind & Surf Report at 808/877-3611, ext. 2.
Surf Van—Since most windsurf gear won’t fit into a typical rental car, call Aloha Rent-a-Car /Al West’s Maui Vans to rent a newish (or old) van by the week. Older vans start at $38 per day, four-day minimum. (www.mauivans.com; 808/877-0090).