Water Sports and Tours in Maui
Water Sports and Tours
Getting into (or onto) the water may well be the highlight of your Maui trip. The Valley Isle is an aquatic wonderland where you can learn to surf, stand-up paddle, or scuba dive. Vibrant snorkel sites can be explored right off the shore, or easily accessed aboard a kayak, motorized raft, or power catamaran. From December into May, whale-watching adventures are a top draw as humpbacks escaping Alaska's frigid winter arrive in Maui's warm protected waters to frolic, mate, and birth.
Along Maui's leeward coastline, from Kaanapali on the West Shore all the way down to Waiala Cove on the South Shore, you can discover great spots for snorkeling and swimming, some more crowded than others. On a good day, you might encounter dozens of green sea turtles at an underwater cleaning station, a pod of dolphins riding by the catamaran's bow, and an abundance of colorful fish hovering by bright cauliflower coral reefs.
When your preferred sport calls for calm, glassy waters, get an early start when visibility is best; plus the trade winds begin to roll through the valleys in the late morning and pick up speed in the afternoon. For those thrill seekers who flock to Hawaii for the wind, it's best to head out to the North Shore’s Hookipa, where consistent winds keep kiteboarders flying and windsurfers jibing; or Peahi, also known as Jaws, where surfers seasonally get towed in to glide on 30- to 60-foot waves.
Treat the ocean with respect and for your safety, choose activities that suit your skill level and health condition. If in doubt, skip the rental and pay for a lesson so that you can have proper instructions in navigating through swells and wind, and someone with you in case you get in a bind. The ocean might be beautiful but it can be unpredictable.
Surf can be enjoyed all year, and avid surfers live for the winter swells when the north and west coasts get really "lit up." Whale season on Maui is nothing short of majestic at its peak, around late January to mid-March. You can spot them from the shore, or get up close from a motorized raft or catamaran.
Bodyboarding and Bodysurfing
Bodysurfing and "sponging" (as bodyboarding is called by the regulars; "boogie boarding" is another variation) are great ways to catch some waves without having to master surfing—and there's no balance or coordination required. A body board (or "sponge") is softer than a hard, fiberglass surfboard, which means you can ride safely in the rough-and-tumble surf zone. If you get tossed around (which is half the fun), you don't have a heavy surfboard nearby to bang your head on, but you do have something to hang onto. Serious spongers invest in a single short-clipped fin to help propel them into the wave.
In West Maui, D. T. Fleming Beach offers great surf almost daily along with some nice amenities: ample parking, restrooms, a shower, grills, picnic tables, and a daily lifeguard. Caution is advised, especially during winter months when the current and undertow can get rough.
Between Kihei and Wailea on the South Shore, Kamaole III is a good spot for bodysurfing and bodyboarding. It has a sandy floor, with 1- to 3-foot waves breaking not too far out. It's often crowded late in the day, especially on weekends when local kids are out of school. Don't let that chase you away; the waves are wide enough for everyone.
If you don't mind public nudity (officially illegal but practiced nonetheless), Little Beach on the South Shore is the best break on the island for bodyboarding and bodysurfing. The shape of the sandy shoreline creates waves that break a long way out and tumble into shore. Because it's sandy, you only risk stubbing a toe on the few submerged rocks. Don't try bodyboarding at neighboring Big Beach—waves will slap you onto the steep shore. To get to Little Beach, take the first entrance to Makena State Beach Park; climb the rock wall at the north end of the beach.
On the North Shore, Paia Bay has waves suitable for spongers and body surfers. The beach is just before Paia town, beyond the large community building and grass field.
Most condos and hotels have body boards available to guests—some in better condition than others (beat-up boards work just as well for beginners). You can also pick up a body board from any discount shop, such as Kmart or Longs Drugs, for upward of $30.
Auntie Snorkel. You can rent decent body boards here for $6 a day or $18 a week, and paddleboards for $35 a day. 2439 S. Kihei Rd., Kihei, HI, 96753. 808/879–6263. www.auntiesnorkel.com.
West Maui Sports and Fishing Supply. This old country store has been around since 1987 and has some of the best prices on the west side. Surf boards go for $15 a day or $70 a week. 843 Wainee St., Lahaina, HI, 96761. 808/661–6252. www.westmauisports.com.
If fishing is your sport, Maui is your island. In these waters you'll find ahi, aku (skipjack tuna), barracuda, bonefish, kawakawa (bonito), mahimahi, Pacific blue marlin, ono, and ulua (jack crevalle). You can fish year-round and you don't need a license. Because boats fill up fast during busy seasons, make reservations before coming to Maui.
Plenty of fishing boats run out of Lahaina and Maalaea harbors. If you charter a private boat, expect to spend in the neighborhood of $700 to $1,000 for a thrilling half day in the swivel seat. You can share a boat for much less if you don't mind close quarters with a stranger who may get seasick, drunk, or worse: lucky! Before you sign up, you should know that some boats keep the catch. Most will, however, fillet a nice piece for you to take home. And if you catch a real beauty, you might even be able to have it professionally mounted.
You're expected to bring your own lunch and beverages in unbreakable containers. (Shop the night before; it's hard to find snacks at 6 am.) Boats supply coolers, ice, and bait. A 7% tax is added to the cost of a trip, and a 10% to 20% tip for the crew is suggested.
Boats and Charters
Finest Kind Sportfishing. A 1,118-pound blue marlin was reeled in by the crew aboard Finest Kind, a lovely 37-foot Merritt kept so clean you'd never guess the action it's seen. Captain Dave has been around these waters for about 40 years, long enough to befriend other expert fishers. This family-run company operates three boats and specializes in skilled trolling. Shared charters start at $150 for four hours and go up to $195 for a full day. Private trips go from $600 to $1,100. No bananas on board, please; the captain thinks they're bad luck for fishing. Lahaina Harbor, Slip 7, Lahaina, HI, 96761. 808/661–0338. www.finestkindsportfishing.com.
Hinatea Sportfishing. This company is well established and has an excellent reputation. The active crew aboard the 41-foot Hatteras has one motto: "No boat rides here—we go to catch fish!" Charters go from $150 to $210 for a shared boat and from $800 to $1,100 for a private boat. Lahaina Harbor, Slip 27, Lahaina, HI, 96761. 808/667–7548. www.mauisportfishingcharters.com.
Jayhawk Charters. This ultraluxe, 48-foot Cabo is available for private charters and takes a maximum of six passengers. It's equipped with air-conditioning, two bathrooms, a salon, and three comfy staterooms with the latest music, video, and satellite TV channels. For serious anglers, the boat also has Shimano rods and reels, a black-box sonar, and the latest in fish finders, GPS, and chart plotters. Rates are $700 an hour, and a full day runs up to $5,600. Lahaina Harbor, Slip 63, Lahaina, HI, 96761. 877/661–0338. www.mauisportfishingcharters.com.
Kai Palena Sportfishing. Captain Fuzzy Alboro runs a highly recommended operation on the 33-foot Die Hard. Check-in is at 1:45 am, returning around noon. He takes a minimum of four and maximum of six people. The cost is from $150 for a shared boat to $1,175 for a private charter. Lahaina Harbor, Slip 10, Lahaina, HI, 96761. 808/878–2362. www.diehardsportfishing.com.
Start Me Up Sportfishing Charters. With more than 20 years in business, Start Me Up has a fleet of seven boats, all impeccably maintained. These 42-foot Bertram Sportfishers offer some of the most comfortable fishing trips around. The company provides an ice chest, tackle, and equipment. A two-hour shared boat is $99 per person, while a private charter runs from $299 for two hours to $999 for eight hours. There's a six-person maximum. Lahaina Harbor, Slip 12, Lahaina, HI, 96761. 808/667–2774. www.sportfishingmaui.com.
Strike Zone. This is one of the few charter companies to offer both morning bottom-fishing trips (for smaller fish such as snapper) and deep-sea trips (for the big ones—ono, ahi, mahimahi, and marlin). Strike Zone is a 43-foot Delta that offers plenty of room for up to 16 people. Lunch and soft drinks are included. The catch is shared with the entire boat. A six-hour trip is $168 per person for a pole; spectators can ride for $78. Four-hour charters are offered on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday. All trips leave at 6:30 am. Maalaea Harbor, Slip 64, Maalaea, HI, 96793. 808/879–4485. www.strikezonemaui.com.
Kayaking is a fantastic and eco-friendly way to experience Maui's coast up close. Floating aboard a "plastic popsicle stick" is easier than you might think, and allows you to cruise out to vibrant, living coral reefs and waters where dolphins and even whales roam. Kayaking can be a leisurely paddle or a challenge of heroic proportions, depending on your ability, the location, and the weather. Although you can rent kayaks independently, we recommend hiring a guide.
An apparently calm surface can hide extremely strong ocean currents. Most guides are naturalists who will steer you away from surging surf, lead you to pristine reefs, and point out camouflaged fish, like the stalking hawkfish. Not having to schlep your gear on top of your rental car is a bonus. A half-day tour runs around $75.
If you decide to strike out on your own, tour companies will rent kayaks for the day with paddles, life vests, and roof racks, and many will meet you near your chosen location. Ask for a map of good entries and plan to avoid paddling back to shore against the wind (schedule extra time for the return trip regardless). Read weather conditions, bring binoculars, and take a careful look from the bay before heading in. For beginners, get there early in the day before the trade wind kicks in, and try sticking close to the shore. When you're ready to snorkel, secure your belongings in a dry pack on board and drag your kayak by its bowline behind you. (This isn't as hard as it sounds.)
Makena Landing is an excellent starting point for a South Shore adventure. Enter from the paved parking lot or the small sandy beach a little south. The shoreline is lined with million-dollar mansions. The bay itself is virtually empty, but the right edge is flanked with brilliant coral heads and juvenile turtles. If you round the point on the right, you come across Five Caves, a system of enticing underwater arches. In the morning you may see dolphins, and the arches are havens for lobsters, eels, and spectacularly hued butterfly fish.
In West Maui, past the steep cliffs on the Honoapiilani Highway, there's a long stretch of inviting coastline that includes Ukumehame Beach. This is a good spot for beginners; entry is easy and there's much to see in every direction. Pay attention if trade winds pick up from the late morning onwards; paddling against them can be challenging. If you want to snorkel, the best visibility is farther out at Olowalu Beach. Watch for sharp kiawe thorns buried in the sand on the way into the water. Water shoes are recommended.
Equipment, Lessons, and Tours
Kelii's Kayak Tours. One of the highest-rated kayak outfitters on the island, Kelii's offers kayaking trips and combo adventures where you can also surf, snorkel, or hike to a waterfall. Leading groups of up to eight people, the guides show what makes each reef unique. Trips are available on the island's north, south, and west shores, and range from $69 to $160. 1993 S. Kihei Rd., Ste. 12, Kihei, HI, 96753. 888/874–7652 or 808/874–7652. www.keliiskayak.com.
South Pacific Kayaks. These guys pioneered recreational kayaking on Maui, so they know their stuff. Guides are friendly, informative, and eager to help you get the most out of your experience; we're talking true, fun-loving, kayak geeks who will maneuver away from crowds when exploring prime snorkel spots. South Pacific stands out as adventurous and environmentally responsible, plus their gear and equipment are well maintained. They offer a variety of trips leaving from both West Maui and South Shore locations. Trips range from $65 to $114. 95 Halekuai St., Kihei, HI, 97653. 800/776–2326 or 808/875–4848. www.southpacifickayaks.com.
Catapulting up to 40 feet in the air above the breaking surf, kiteboarders hardly seem of this world. Silken kites hold the athletes aloft for precious seconds—long enough for the execution of mind-boggling tricks—then deposit them back in the sea. This new sport is not for the weak-kneed. No matter what people might tell you, it's harder to learn than windsurfing. The unskilled (or unlucky) can be caught in an upwind and carried far out in the ocean, or worse—dropped smack on the shore. Because of insurance (or the lack thereof), companies are not allowed to rent equipment. Beginners must take lessons, and then purchase their own gear. Devotees swear that after your first few lessons, committing to buying your kite is easy.
The steady tracks on Kanaha Beach make this North Shore spot primo for learning. Specific areas are set aside for different water activities, so launch and land only in kiteboarding zones, and kindly give way to swimmers, divers, anglers, and paddlers.
Aqua Sports Maui. A local favorite of kiteboarding schools, Aqua Sports is conveniently located near Kite Beach, at the west end of Kanaha Beach, and offers basic to advanced kiteboarding lessons. Rates start at $240 for a three-hour basics course taught by certified instructors. 111 Hana Hwy., Suite 110, near Kite Beach, Kahului, HI, 96732. 808/242–8015. www.mauikiteboardinglessons.com.
Hawaiian Sailboarding Techniques. Pro kiteboarder and legendary windsurfer Alan Cadiz will have you safely ripping in no time at lower Kanaha Beach Park. A "Learn to Kitesurf" package starts at $255 for a three-hour private lesson, equipment included. Instead of observing from the shore, instructors paddle after students on a chaseboard to give immediate feedback. The company is part of Hi-Tech Surf Sports, in the Triangle Square shopping center. Triangle Square, 425 Koloa St., Kahului, HI, 96732. 808/871–5423 or 800/968–5423. www.hstwindsurfing.com.
Kiteboarding School of Maui. One of the first kiteboarding schools in the United States, KSM offers one-on-one "flight lessons." Pro kiteboarders will induct you at Kite Beach, at the west end of Kanaha Beach, providing instruction, equipment, snacks, and FAA guidelines. (Seriously, there are rules about avoiding airplanes at nearby Kahului Airport.) Rates start at $240 for three hours. KSM is the only school that offers retail gear as well as instruction. Customers get a 10% discount on gear from Adventure Sports Maui, located in the same shop. 400 Hana Hwy., Kahului, HI, 96732. 808/873–0015. www.ksmaui.com.
Parasailing is an easy, exhilarating way to earn your wings: just strap on a harness attached to a parachute, and a powerboat pulls you up and over the ocean from a launching dock or a boat's platform. Parasailing is limited to West Maui, and "thrill craft"—including parasails—are prohibited in Maui waters during humpback-whale calving season, December 15 to May 15.
Lessons and Tours
UFO Parasail. This cheekily named company offers single, tandem, and triple rides at 800 feet ($75) or 1,200 feet ($85). Rides last from 8 to 12 minutes, depending on headcount. It's more fun to take the "dip" (when the boat slows down to let the parachute descend slowly in the water). You'll get a little wet, though you'll probably catch more water while on the boat watching the others take flight. Observers are welcome aboard for $35. 12 Ulupono St., Lahaina, HI, 96761. 808/661–7836. www.ufoparasail.net.
West Maui Parasail. Soar at 800 feet above the ocean for a bird's-eye view of Lahaina, or be daring at 1,200 feet for smoother rides and even better views. The captain will be glad to let you experience a "toe dip" or "freefall" if you request it. Hour-long trips departing from Lahaina Harbor and Kaanapali Beach include 8- to 10-minute flights and run from $70 for the 800-foot ride to $80 for the 1,200-foot ride. Observers pay $35 each. 675 Wharf St., Slip 15, Lahaina, HI, 96761. 808/661–4060. www.westmauiparasail.com.
The high-speed, inflatable rafts you find on Maui are nothing like the raft that Huck Finn used to drift down the Mississippi. While passengers grip straps, these rafts fly, skimming and bouncing across the sea. Because they're so maneuverable, they go where the big boats can't—secret coves, sea caves, and remote beaches. Two-hour trips run around $50, half-day trips upward of $100. Although safe, these trips are not for the faint of heart. If you have back or neck problems or are pregnant, you should reconsider this activity.
Blue Water Rafting. One of the few ways to get to the stunning Kanaio Coast (the roadless southern coastline beyond Ahihi-Kinau), this rafting tour begins conveniently at the Kihei boat ramp on the South Shore. Dolphins, turtles, and other marine life are the highlight of this adventure, along with majestic sea caves, lava arches, and views of Haleakala. The Molokini stop is usually timed between the bigger catamarans, so you can enjoy the crater without the usual massive crowd. If conditions permit, you'll be able to snorkel the back wall, which has much more marine life than the inside. Kihei Boat Ramp, S. Kihei Rd., Kihei, HI, 96753. 808/879–7238. www.bluewaterrafting.com. From $55.
Ocean Riders. Start the day with a spectacular view of the sun rising above the West Maui Mountains, then cross the Au Au Channel to Lanai's Shipwreck Beach. After a short swim at a secluded beach, this tour circles Lanai, allowing you to view the island's 70 miles of remote coast. The "back side" of Lanai is one of Hawaii's unsung marvels, and you can expect to stop at three protected coves for snorkeling. You might chance upon sea turtles, monk seals, and a friendly reef shark, as well as rare varieties of angelfish and butterflyfish. Guides are knowledgeable and slow down long enough for you to marvel at sacred burial caves and interesting rock formations. Sit toward the back bench if you are sensitive to motion sickness. Tours include snorkel gear, a fruit breakfast, and a satisfying deli lunch. Mala Wharf, Front St., Lahaina, HI, 96761. 808/661–3586. www.mauioceanriders.com. From $139.
Redline Rafting. This company offers thrilling rides along south Maui's stunning Kanaio coast, revealing volcanic formations of sea caves, grottoes, and lava arches. There's a quick stop at La Perouse Bay, and then it's off to Molokini Crater for some snorkeling. The last stop in Makena gives you time to do more underwater exploring, spot sea turtles, and enjoy a deli lunch. Its rafts provide great seating comfort and shade. Whale-watching excursions are $50, and snorkel trips are $140. 2800 S. Kihei Rd., Kihei, HI, 96753. 808/757–9211. www.redlinerafting.com.
With the islands of Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe, and Molokini a stone's throw away, Maui waters offer visually arresting backdrops for sailing adventures. Sailing conditions can be fickle, so some operations throw in snorkeling or whale-watching, and others offer sunset cruises. Winds are consistent in summer but variable in winter, and afternoons are generally windier throughout the year. Prices range from around $40 for two-hour trips to $80 for half-day excursions. You won't be sheltered from the elements on the trim racing boats, so be sure to bring a hat that won't blow away, a light jacket, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
Boats and Charters
Paragon. If you want to snorkel and sail, this is your boat. Many snorkel cruises claim to sail but actually motor most of the way; Paragon is an exception. Both Paragon vessels (one catamaran in Lahaina, the other in Maalaea) are ship-shape, and crews are accommodating and friendly. Its mooring in Molokini Crater is particularly good, and tours will often stay after the masses have left. The Lanai trip includes a picnic lunch on Manele Bay, snorkeling, and a quick afternoon blue-water swim. Extras on the trips to Lanai include mai tais, sodas, dessert, and champagne. Hot and cold appetizers come with the sunset sail, which departs from Lahaina Harbor every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Maalaea Harbor, Maalaea, HI, 96793. 808/244–2087 or 800/441–2087. www.sailmaui.com.
Scotch Mist Charters. Follow the wind aboard this 50-foot Santa Cruz sailing yacht. The sunset sail, four-hour snorkeling excursion, and two-hour whale-watching trips usually carry fewer than 18 passengers. Two-hour sunset sails start at $59.95 and include soft drinks, wine, beer, champagne, and chocolate-covered macadamia nuts. Lahaina Harbor, Slip 2, Lahaina, HI, 96761. 808/661–0386. www.scotchmistsailingcharters.com.
Trilogy Excursions. With more than 40 years of experience and some good karma from their reef-cleaning campaigns, Trilogy has a great reputation in the community. It's one of only two companies that sail, rather than motor, to Molokini Crater. A two-hour sail starts at $69. The sunset trip includes appetizers, beer, wine, champagne, margaritas, and mai tais. Boarding the catamaran from shore can be tricky—timing is everything and getting wet is inevitable, but after that it's smooth sailing. Tours depart from Lahaina Harbor; Maalaea Harbor; and, in West Maui, in front of the Kaanapali Beach Hotel. 207 Kuopohi St., Lahaina, HI, 96761. 808/874–5649 or 888/225–6284. www.sailtrilogy.com.
Hiring a private charter for a sail will cost you more, but it's one way to avoid crowds. Although almost all sailing vessels offer private charters, a few cater to them specifically.
Cinderella. This swift and elegant 51-foot Peterson costs $400 per hour for regular charter and includes beverages and light appetizers (two-hour minimum), while a snorkel sail with lunch is $1,800 per hour. Sunset sails run at an hourly rate of $800. The yacht takes up to six passengers. HI. 808/244–0009. www.cinderellasailing.com.
Island Star. This 57-foot Columbia offers customized trips out of Maalaea. It's equipped with a galley for on-board food preparation and a master stateroom with a king-size bed. The rate is $600 per hour with a minimum of two hours. Maalaea Harbor, Slip 42, Lahaina, HI, 96767. 888/677–7238. www.islandstarexcursions.com.
Shangri-La. A 65-foot catamaran, Shangri-La is the largest and most luxurious boat catering to private charters. This gorgeous yacht can accommodate up to 49 guests, with a starting hourly rate of $1,533 for a group of 24 or less. A chef and premium alcohol are available for additional fees. Lahaina, HI, 96761. 888/855–9977. www.sailingmaui.com.
Maui, just as scenic underwater as it is on dry land, has been rated one of the top 10 dive spots in the United States. It's common on any dive to see huge sea turtles, eagle rays, and small reef sharks, not to mention many varieties of angelfish, parrotfish, eels, and octopuses. Most of the species are unique to this area, making it unlike other popular dive destinations. In addition, the terrain itself is different from other dive spots. Here you can find ancient and intricate lava flows full of nooks where marine life hide and breed. Although the water tends to be a bit rougher—not to mention colder—divers are given a great thrill during humpback-whale season, when you can actually hear whales singing underwater.
Some of the finest diving spots in all of Hawaii lie along the Valley Isle's western and southwestern shores. Dives are best in the morning, when visibility can hold a steady 100 feet. If you're a certified diver, you can rent gear at any Maui dive shop simply by showing your PADI or NAUI card. Unless you're familiar with the area, however, it's probably best to hook up with a dive shop for an underwater tour. Tours include tanks and weights and start around $130. Wet suits and buoyancy compensators are rented separately, for an additional $15 to $30. Shops also offer introductory dives ($100 to $160) for those who aren't certified. Before signing on with any outfitter, it's a good idea to ask a few pointed questions about your guide's experience, the weather outlook, and the condition of the equipment.
Before you head out on your dive, be sure to check conditions. Check the Glenn James weather site, www.hawaiiweathertoday.com, for a breakdown of the weather, wind, and visibility conditions.
Honolua Bay, a marine preserve in West Maui, is alive with many varieties of coral and tame tropical fish, including large ulua (jack crevalle), kahala, barracuda, and manta rays. With depths of 20 to 50 feet, this is a popular summer dive spot, good for all levels. High surf often prohibits winter dives.
On the South Shore, one of the most popular dive spots is Makena Landing (also called Nahuna Point, Five Graves, or Five Caves). You can revel in underwater delights—caves, ledges, coral heads, and an outer reef home to a large green–sea turtle colony called Turtle Town. Entry is rocky lava, so be careful where you step. This area is for more experienced divers.
Three miles offshore from Wailea on the South Shore, Molokini Crater is world renowned for its deep, crystal clear, fish-filled waters. A crescent-shape islet formed by the eroding top of a volcano, the crater is a marine preserve ranging from 10 to 80 feet deep. The numerous tame fish and brilliant coral within the crater make it a popular introductory dive site. On calm days, the back side of Molokini Crater (called Back Wall) can be a dramatic sight for advanced divers, with visibility of up to 150 feet. The enormous drop-off into the Alalakeiki Channel offers awesome seascapes, black coral, and chance sightings of larger fish and sharks.
Some of the southern coast's best diving is at Ahihi Bay, part of the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve. The area was closed for several years to allow the coral to recover from overuse. At the time of writing, the closure was extended through July 2014. The area is best known for its "Fishbowl," a small cove right beside the road, next to a hexagonal house. Here you can find excellent underwater scenery, with many types of fish and coral. Be careful of the rocky-bottom entry (wear reef shoes if you have them). The Fishbowl can get crowded, especially in high season. If you want to steer clear of the crowds, look for a second entry ½ mile farther down the road—a gravel parking lot at the surf spot called Dumps. Entry into the bay here is trickier, as the coastline is all lava.
Formed from the last lava flow two centuries ago, La Perouse Bay brings you the best variety of fish—more than any other site. The lava rock provides a protective habitat, and all four types of Hawaii's angelfish can be found here. To dive the spot called Pinnacles, enter anywhere along the shore, just past the private entrance to the beach. Wear your reef shoes, as entry is sharp. To the right, you'll be in the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve; to the left, you're outside. Look for the white, sandy bottom with massive coral heads. Pinnacles is for experienced divers only.
Equipment, Lessons, and Tours
Ed Robinson's Diving Adventures. Ed Robinson wrote the book, literally, on Molokini. Because he knows so much, he includes a "Biology 101" talk with every dive. An expert marine photographer, he offers diving instruction and boat charters to south Maui and the back side of Molokini Crater. Night dives are available from the shoreline for $79.95. There's a discount if you book multiple dives. Prices start at $129.95, plus $20 for the gear. 165 Halekuai St., Kihei, HI, 96753. 808/879–3584 or 800/635–1273. www.mauiscuba.com.
Lahaina Divers. With more than 25 years of diving experience, this West Maui shop offers tours of Maui, Molokini, Molokai, and Lanai. Big charter boats (which can be crowded, with up to 24 divers per boat) leave daily for Molokini Crater, Back Wall, Lanai, Turtle Reef, and other destinations. A continental breakfast and deli lunch are included. For less experienced divers, there's a daily "Discover Scuba" lesson off one of the Turtle Reef sites or the Mala ramp wreckage, depending on conditions. 143 Dickenson St., Lahaina, HI, 96761. 808/667–7496 or 800/998–3483. www.lahainadivers.com. From $129.
Maui Dive Shop. With seven locations island-wide, Maui Dive Shop offers scuba charters, diving instruction, and equipment rental. Excursions go to Coral Gardens, Shipwreck Beach, and Cathedrals on Lanai. The manta ray dives off of Molokini Crater have a 70% success rate. Night dives and customized trips are available, as are full SSI and PADI certificate programs. 1455 S. Kihei Rd., Kihei, HI, 96753. 808/879–3388 or 800/542–3483. www.mauidiveshop.com.
Mike Severns Diving. This company has been around for over 33 years and takes groups of up to 12 certified divers with two dive masters to both popular and off-the-beaten-path dive sites. Boat trips leave from Kihei Boat Ramp, and go wherever conditions are best: the Molokini Marine Life Conservation District, Molokini Crater's Back Wall, Makena, or beyond La Pérouse Bay. Rates start at $154 for a two-tank dive. A private charter costs $1,560. Kihei Boat Ramp, S. Kihei Rd., Kihei, HI, 96753. 808/879–6596. www.mikesevernsdiving.com.
Shaka Divers. Since 1983, owner Doug Corbin has led personalized dives, including great four-hour intro dives, refresher courses, scuba certifications, and shore dives to Ulua, Turtle Town, and Bubble Cave. Typical dives last about an hour. Dives can be booked on short notice, with afternoon tours available (hard to find on Maui). Shaka also offers night dives and torpedo-scooter dives. The twilight two-tank dive is nice for day divers who want to ease into night diving. 24 Hakoi Pl., Kihei, HI, 96753. 808/250–1234. www.shakadivers.com. From $69.
Tiny Bubbles Scuba. Owner and dive master Tim Rollo has led customized, private shore dives along West Maui for 15 years. He'll take only 4 to 6 divers at a time, and can cater to the most novice diver. Intro dives cost $109 and include gear, air, plus shuttle service. Night dives, scooter dives, and scuba certifications are also offered. 3350 Lower Honoapiilani Rd., Lahaina, HI, 96761. 808/870–0878. www.tinybubblesscuba.com.
No one should leave Maui without ducking underwater to meet a sea turtle, moray eel, or the tongue-twisting humuhumunukunukuapuaa—the state fish. Visibility is best in the morning, before the trade winds pick up.
There are two ways to approach snorkeling—by land or by sea. Daily around 7 am, a parade of boats heads out to Lanai or to Molokini Crater, that ancient cone of volcanic cinder off the coast of Wailea. Boat trips offer some advantages—deeper water, seasonal whale-watching, crew assistance, lunch, and gear. But much of Maui's best snorkeling is found just steps from the road. Nearly the entire leeward coastline from Kapalua south to Ahihi-Kinau offers opportunities to ogle fish and turtles. If you're patient and sharp-eyed, you may glimpse eels, octopuses, lobsters, eagle rays, and even a rare shark or monk seal.
Just north of Kapalua, the Honolua Bay Marine Life Conservation District has a superb reef for snorkeling. Bring a fish key with you, as you're sure to see many species of triggerfish, filefish, and wrasses. The coral formations on the right side of the bay are particularly dramatic, with pink, aqua, and orange varieties. On a lucky day, you might even be snorkeling with a pod of dolphins nearby. Take care entering the water; there's no beach and the rocks and concrete ramp can be slippery. The northeast corner of this windward-facing bay periodically gets hammered by big waves in winter. Avoid the bay then, as well as after heavy rains.
Minutes south of Honolua Bay, dependable Kapalua Bay beckons. As beautiful above the water as it is below, Kapalua is exceptionally calm, even when other spots get testy. Needle and butterfly fish dart just past the sandy beach, which is why it's sometimes crowded. The sand can be particularly hot here; watch your toes!
Black Rock, in front of the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa at the northernmost tip of Kaanapali Beach, is great for snorkelers of any skill level. The entry couldn't be easier—dump your towel on the sand and in you go. Beginners can stick close to shore and still see lots of action. Advanced snorkelers can swim to the tip of Black Rock to see larger fish and eagle rays. One of the underwater residents here is a turtle whose hefty size earned him the name Volkswagen. He sits very still, so you have to look closely. Equipment can be rented on site. Parking, in a small lot adjoining the hotel, is the only hassle.
Along Honoapiilani Highway there are several favorite snorkel sites, including the area just out from the cemetery at Hanakaoo Beach Park. At depths of 5 and 10 feet, you can see a variety of corals, especially as you head south toward Wahikuli Wayside Park.
South of Olowalu General Store, the shallow coral reef at Olowalu is good for a quick underwater tour, but if you're willing to venture out about 50 yards you'll have easy access to an expansive coral reef with abundant turtles and fish—no boat required. Swim offshore toward the pole sticking out of the reef. Except for during a south swell, this area is calm and good for families with small children. Boats sometimes stop here (they refer to this site as "Coral Gardens") when conditions in Honolua Bay are not ideal. During low tide, be extra cautious when hovering above the razor-sharp coral.
Excellent snorkeling is found down the coastline between Kihei and Makena on the South Shore. The best spots are along the rocky fringes of Wailea's beaches—Mokapu, Ulua, Wailea, and Polo—off Wailea Alanui Drive. Find one of the public parking lots sandwiched between Wailea's luxury resorts (look for a blue sign that says "Shoreline Access" with an arrow pointing to the lot), and enjoy the sandy entries, calm waters with relatively good visibility, and variety of fish. Of the four beaches, Ulua has the best reef. You may listen to snapping shrimp and parrotfish nibbling on coral.
In South Maui, the end of the paved section of Makena Road is where you'll find the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve. Despite its lava-scorched landscape, the area was so popular that it had to be temporarily closed in 2008. At this writing, it is scheduled to reopen on August 1, 2014. It's difficult terrain and the area did sometimes get crowded, but it's worth a visit to experience some of the reserve's outstanding treasures, such as the sheltered cove known as the Fish Bowl. Be sure to bring water: this is a hot and unforgiving wilderness.
Between Maui and neighboring Kahoolawe you'll find the world-famous Molokini Crater. Its crescent-shape rim acts as a protective cove from the wind and provides a sanctuary for birds and colorful marine life. Most snorkeling tour operators offer a Molokini trip, and it's not unusual for your charter to share this dormant volcano with five or six other boats. The journey to this sunken crater takes more than 90 minutes from Lahaina, an hour from Maalaea, and less than half an hour from the South Shore.
Most hotels and vacation rentals offer free use of snorkel gear. Beachside stands fronting the major resort areas rent equipment by the hour or day. Don't shy away from asking for instructions; a snug fit makes all the difference in the world. A mask fits if it sticks to your face when you inhale deeply through your nose. Fins should cover your entire foot (unlike diving fins, which strap around your heel). If you're squeamish about using someone else's gear (or need a prescription lens), pick up your own at any discount shop. Costco and Longs Drugs have better prices than ABC stores; dive shops have superior equipment.
Maui Dive Shop. You can rent pro gear (including optical masks, body boards, and wet suits) from seven locations island-wide. Pump these guys for weather info before heading out—they'll know better than last night's news forecaster, and they'll give you the real deal on conditions. 1455 S. Kihei Rd., Kihei, HI, 96732. 808/873–3388. www.mauidiveshop.com.
Snorkel Bob's. Here you can rent fins, masks, and snorkels, and Snorkel Bob's will throw in a carrying bag, map, and snorkel tips for as little as $9 per week. Avoid the circle masks and go for the split-level ($26 per week) or dry snorkel ($43 per week); it's worth the extra. Napili Village Hotel, 5425 Lower Honoapiilani Hwy., Napili, HI, 96761. 808/669–9603. www.snorkelbob.com.
The same boats that offer whale-watching, sailing, and diving also offer snorkeling excursions. Trips usually include visits to two locales, lunch, gear, instruction, and possible whale or dolphin sightings. Some captains troll for fish along the way.
Molokini Crater, a crescent about 3 miles offshore from Wailea, is the most popular snorkel cruise destination. You can spend half a day floating above the fish-filled crater for about $80. Some say it's not as good as it's made out to be, and that it's too crowded, but others consider it to be one of the best spots in Hawaii. Visibility is generally outstanding and fish are incredibly tame. Your second stop will be somewhere along the leeward coast, either Turtle Town near Makena or Coral Gardens toward Lahaina. On blustery mornings there's a good chance the waters will be too rough to moor in Molokini Crater and you'll end up snorkeling some place off the shore, which you could have driven to for free.
If you've tried snorkeling and are tentatively thinking about scuba, you may want to try snuba, a cross between the two. With snuba, you dive down 20 feet below the surface, only you're attached to an air hose from the boat. Many boats now offer snuba (for an extra fee of $45 to $65) as well as snorkeling.
Snorkel cruises vary—some serve mai tais and steaks whereas others offer beer and cold cuts. You might prefer a large ferryboat to a smaller sailboat, or vice versa. Be sure you know where to go to board your vessel; getting lost in the harbor at 6 am is a lousy start. Bring sunscreen, an underwater camera (they're double the price onboard), a towel, and a cover-up for the windy return trip. Even tropical waters get chilly after hours of swimming, so consider wearing a rash guard. Wet suits can usually be rented for a fee. Hats without straps will blow away, and valuables should be left at home.
Alii Nui Maui. Come as you are (with a bathing suit, of course); towels, sunblock, and all your gear are provided on this 65-foot luxury catamaran. Since the owners also operate Maui Dive Shop, snorkel and dive equipment are top-of-the-line. Wet-suit tops are available to use for sun protection or to keep extra warm in the water. The boat, which holds a maximum of 60 people, is nicely appointed. A morning snorkel sail (there's a diving option, too) heads to Turtle Town or Molokini Crater and includes a continental breakfast, lunch, and post-snorkel alcoholic drinks. The trip includes transportation from your hotel. Videography and snuba are available for a fee. Maalaea Harbor, Slip 56, Maalaea, HI, 96793. 800/542–3483 or 808/875–0333. www.aliinuimaui.com. From $165.
Gemini Sailing Charters. One of the main draws of this snorkel excursion is its affordable rates. The vacation-friendly check-in time of 10:30 am is another plus. Honolua Bay is the primary destination, but Lanai and Olowalu are possible options in case of choppy waters. The hot buffet lunch of lemony ono and tender chicken teriyaki is catered by the Westin Maui Resort & Spa. You can find the company on Kaanapali Beach near the Westin's activity desk. Westin Maui Resort & Spa, 2365 Kaanapali Pkwy., Kaanapali, HI, 96761. or 808/669–0508. www.geminicharters.com. From $120.
Hawaiian Sailing Canoe Adventure. Few things could qualify as a more authentic Hawaiian experience than paddling in a sail canoe with this family-run outfit. Get a deep sense of history and mythology as you listen to your guide pray, chant, and bestow a wealth of knowledge about ancient Hawaii during this intimate excursion. The canoe makes a snorkel stop at a nearby reef. Refreshments and snorkel equipment are included. You meet at Polo Beach in front of the Fairmont Kea Lani. Fairmont Kea Lani, 4100 Wailea Alanui Dr., Wailea, HI, 96753. 808/281–9301. www.mauisailingcanoe.com. From $99.
Maui Classic Charters. Hop aboard the Four Winds II, a 55-foot, glass-bottom catamaran (great fun for kids), for one of the most dependable snorkel trips around. You'll spend more time than other charter boats at Molokini Crater and enjoy turtle-watching on the way home. The trip includes optional snuba ($59 extra), continental breakfast, barbecue lunch, beer, wine, and soda. With its reasonable price, the trip can be popular and crowded. The crew works hard to keep everyone happy, but if the trip is fully booked, you will be cruising with more than 100 new friends. For a more intimate experience, opt for the Maui Magic, Maalaea's fastest PowerCat, which holds fewer people than some of the larger vessels. Maalaea Harbor, Slips 55 and 80, Maalaea, HI, 96793. 808/879–8188 or 800/736–5740. www.mauicharters.com. From $98.
Queen's Treasure. This catamaran on the west side gets kudos for its attentive crew, who will nudge you to "walk the plank," a fun diving ledge off the side of the bow. Pricing is slightly lower than most half-day charters in Kaanapali. The spread includes a light breakfast and deli lunch (at the time of writing, there's no alcohol permit yet, but you can bring your own). Check-in is in front of Hula Grill; look for the pirate flag. Whalers Village, 2435 Kaanapali Pkwy., Kaanapali, HI, 96761. 808/667–2469. www.queenstreasure.com.
Teralani Sailing Charters. Choose between a regular snorkeling trip with a deli lunch or a top-of-the-line excursion that's an hour longer and includes two snorkel sites and a barbecue-style lunch catered by Cilantro Mexican Grill, a popular local restaurant. The company's cats could hold well over 100 people, but 49 is the maximum per trip. The boats are kept in pristine condition. Freshwater showers are available, as is an open bar after the second snorkel stop. A friendly crew provides all your gear, a flotation device, and a crash course in snorkeling. Boarding is right off Dig Me Beach at Whalers Village in West Maui. 991 Limahana Pl., Kaanapali, HI, 96761. 808/661–1230. www.teralani.net.
Trilogy Excursions. Many people consider a trip with Trilogy Excursions to be a highlight of their vacation. Maui's longest-running operation has comprehensive offerings, with seven beautiful multihull 50- to 64-foot sailing vessels at three departure sites. All excursions are staffed by energetic crews who will keep you well fed and entertained with local stories and corny jokes. A full-day catamaran cruise to Lanai includes a continental breakfast and barbecue lunch, a guided tour of the island, a "Snorkeling 101" class, and time to snorkel in the waters of Lanai's Hulopoe Marine Preserve (Trilogy Excursions has exclusive commercial access). The company also offers a Molokini Crater and Honolua Bay snorkel cruise that is top-notch. Tours depart from Lahaina Harbor; Maalaea Harbor; and, in West Maui, in front of the Kaanapali Beach Hotel. 207 Kuopohi St., Lahaina, HI, 96761. 808/874–5649 or 888/225–6284. www.sailtrilogy.com. From $119.
Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment, housed at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, presents more of an educational excursion than a regular tour. The 2½-hour beginner’s snorkel class and underwater photography session, held in Kapalua Bay, is especially great for kids; cost is $89. An extensive youth program includes whale-watching, stargazing, and more, with all sessions led by naturalists who link Hawaiian culture with conservation. For information, call 808/665–7292.
Before heading out for any water activity, be sure to get a weather and wave report, and make sure the surf report you get is the full face value of the wave. "Hawaiian-style" cuts the wave size in half. For instance, a Hawaiian might say a wave is 5 feet high, which means 10 feet if you're from New Jersey or Florida. For years, scientists and surfers were using different measurements, as Hawaii locals measured waves from median sea level to the crest. These days, most surf reports are careful to distinguish between the two.
Also called stand-up paddle surfing or paddleboarding, stand-up paddling is the "comeback kid" of surf sports; you stand on a longboard and paddle out with a canoe oar. While stand-up paddling requires even more balance and coordination than regular surfing, it is still accessible to just about every skill level. Most surf schools now offer stand-up paddle lessons. Advanced paddlers can amp up the adrenalin with a downwind coastal run that spans almost 10 miles from North Shore’s Maliko Gulch to Kahului Harbor, sometimes reaching speeds up to 30 mph.
The fun thing about stand-up paddling is that you can enjoy it whether the surf is good or the water is flat. However, as with all water sports, it's important to read the environment and be attentive. Look at the sky and assess the wind by how fast the clouds are moving. Note where the whitecaps are going and always point the nose of your board perpendicular to the wave. Because of the size and speed of a longboard, stand-up paddling can be dangerous, so lessons are highly recommended, especially if you intend to surf.
Maui Surfer Girls. Owner and bona fide waterwoman Dustin Tester is known as Mama D to the girls she mentors. The company started with surf camps, and now also offers co-ed stand-up paddle lessons. Locations vary, depending on wind conditions, but you'll most likely go to beginner-friendly Ukumehame Beach or Thousand Peaks. The lesson includes some history of the ancient sport, gear, and refreshments after the paddle. Lessons begin at $100, with an extra $20 charge for instruction by Dustin, who is accompanied by her dog, Luna. 808/214–0606. www.mauisurfergirls.com.
Stand-Up Paddle Surf School. Maui's first school devoted solely to stand-up paddleboarding was founded by the legendary Maria Souza, the first woman to surf the treacherous waves of "Jaws" on Maui's North Shore. While most surf schools offer stand-up paddling, Maria's classes are in a league of their own. They include a proper warm-up with a hula-hoop and balance ball and a cool-down with some yoga. The cost is $165 for a private session. Locations vary depending on conditions. Lahaina, HI, 96761. 808/579–9231. www.standuppaddlesurfschool.com.
Maui's coastline has surf for every level of waterman or -woman. Waves on leeward-facing shores (West and South Maui) tend to break in gentle sets all summer long. Surf instructors in Kihei and Lahaina can rent you boards, give you onshore instruction, and then lead you out through the channel, where it's safe to enter the surf. They'll shout encouragement while you paddle like mad for the thrill of standing on water—most will give you a helpful shove. These areas are great for beginners; the only danger is whacking a stranger with your board or stubbing your toe against the reef.
The North Shore is another story. Winter waves pound the windward coast, attracting water champions from every corner of the world. Adrenaline addicts are towed in by Jet Ski to a legendary, deep-sea break called "Jaws." Waves here periodically tower upward of 40 feet. The only spot for viewing this phenomenon (which happens just a few times a year) is on private property. So, if you hear the surfers next to you crowing about Jaws "going off," cozy up and get them to take you with them.
Whatever your skill, there's a board, a break, and even a surf guru to accommodate you. A two-hour lesson is a good intro to surf culture.
You can get the wave report each day by checking page 2 of the Maui News, logging onto the Glenn James weather site at www.hawaiiweathertoday.com , or calling 808/871–5054 (for the weather forecast) or 808/877–3611 (for the surf report).
Even if you aren't a surfer, watching is just as fun (well, almost). Near-perfect waves can be seen at Honolua Bay, on the northern tip of West Maui. To get here, continue 2 miles north of D. T. Fleming Park on Highway 30 and take a left onto the dirt road next to a pineapple field; a path leads down the cliff to the beach. In addition, Hookipa Beach Park, just outside of Paia, gives you the perfect overlook to see pro surfers, windsurfers, and kiters.
On the South Shore, beginners can hang 10 at Kihei's Cove Park, a sometimes crowded but reliable 1- to 2-foot break. Boards can easily be rented across the street, or in neighboring Kalama Park parking lot. The only bummer is having to balance the 9-plus-foot board on your head while crossing busy South Kihei Road.
For advanced wave riders, Hookipa Beach Park on the North Shore boasts several well-loved breaks, including "Pavilions," "Lanes," "the Point," and "Middles." Surfers have priority until 11 am, when windsurfers move in on the action. Competition is stiff here. If you don't know what you're doing, consider watching.
Long- or shortboarders in West Maui can paddle out at Launiupoko State Wayside. The east end of the park has an easy break, good for beginners.
Also called "Thousand Peaks," Ukumehame is one of the better beginner spots in West Maui. You'll soon see how the spot got its name—the waves here break again and again in wide and consistent rows, giving lots of room for beginning and intermediate surfers.
Good surf spots in West Maui include "Grandma's" at Papalaua Park, just after the pali (cliff)—where waves are so easy a grandma could ride 'em; Puamana Beach Park for a mellow longboard day; and Lahaina Harbor, which offers an excellent inside wave for beginners (called "Breakwall"), as well as the more advanced outside (a great lift if there's a big south swell).
Equipment and Lessons
Surf camps are becoming increasingly popular, especially with women. One- or two-week camps offer a terrific way to build muscle and self-esteem simultaneously.
Big Kahuna Adventures. Rent soft-top longboards here for $20 for two hours, or $30 for the day. The shop also offers surf lessons starting at $60, and rents kayaks and snorkel gear. Across from Cove Park, the company has been around for years. 1913-C S. Kihei Rd., Kihei, HI, 96753. 808/875–6395. www.bigkahunaadventures.com.
Goofy Foot. Surfing "goofy foot" means putting your right foot forward. They might be goofy, but we like the right-footed gurus here. This shop is just plain cool and only steps away from "Breakwall," a great beginner's spot in Lahaina. A two-hour class with five or fewer students is $65, and you're guaranteed to be standing by the end or it's free. Owner and "stoke broker" Tim Sherer offers private lessons for $250 and will sometimes ride alongside to record video clips and give more thorough feedback. A private two-hour lesson with another instructor is $150. 505 Front St., Suite 123, Lahaina, HI, 96761. 808/244–9283. www.goofyfootsurfschool.com.
Hi-Tech Surf Sports. Locals hold Hi-Tech in the highest regard. It has some of the best boards, advice, and attitude around. It rents even its best surfboards—choose from longboards, shortboards, and hybrids—starting at $25 per day. All rentals come with board bags, roof racks, and wax. 425 Koloa St., Kahului, HI, 96732. 808/877–2111. www.htmaui.com.
Maui Surfer Girls. This highly reputable company immerses adventurous young women in wave-riding wisdom during overnight one- and two-week camps. It also offers daily surf lessons that take place away from the big crowds of Lahaina or Kihei. HI. www.mauisurfergirls.com.
Nancy Emerson School of Surfing. Instructors here will get even the shakiest novice riding with the school's "Learn to Surf in One Lesson" program. A two-hour group lesson (up to five students) is $78. Private lessons with the patient and meticulous instructors are $165 for two hours. The company provides boards, rash guards, and water shoes, all in impeccable condition—and it's tops in the customer-service department. 505 Front St., Suite 201, Lahaina, HI, 96761. 808/244–7873. www.mauisurfclinics.com.
Outrageous Surf School. If you're not too keen on shore lessons (which usually have you spend 30 minutes simulating surfing instead of doing the real thing), Outrageous Surf School might be your best bet. A short instructional video is followed by a quick demo, and down to the Breakwall you go. Lessons start at $60 for a group, $85 for semiprivate, and $120 for a private lesson. Repeat classes are $40. 640 Front St., Lahaina, HI, 96761. 808/669–1400. www.youcansurf.com.
Royal Hawaiian Surf Academy. Owner Kimo Kinimaka grew up rippin' it with his uncle, legendary surfer Titus Kinimaka, so it's no wonder his passion translates to a fun, memorable time at the novice-friendly Lahaina Breakwall. Private lessons are $150, and group lessons cost $65 per person. Rash guards and shoes are provided. 117 Prison St., Lahaina, HI, 96761. 808/276–7873. www.royalhawaiiansurfacademy.com.
Second Wind. Surfboard rentals at this centrally located shop are a deal—good boards go for $20 per day or $130 per week. The shop also rents and sells its own Elua Makani boards (which means "second wind" in Hawaiian). Although the staff doesn't offer lessons, they will book you with the best surfing, windsurfing, and kiteboarding lessons on the island. 111 Hana Hwy., Kahului, HI, 96732. 808/877–7467 or 800/936–7787. www.secondwindmaui.com.
Humpback Whales in Maui
Before heading out for any water activity, be sure to get a weather and wave report, and make sure the surf report you get is the full face value of the wave. "Hawaiian-style" cuts the wave size in half. For instance, a Hawaiian might say a wave is 5 feet high, which means 10 feet if you're from New Jersey or Florida. For years, scientists and surfers were using different measurements, as Hawaii locals measured waves from median sea level to the crest. These days, most surf reports are careful to distinguish between the two.
From December into May whale-watching becomes one of the most popular activities on Maui. During the season all outfitters offer whale-watching in addition to their regular activities, and most do an excellent job. Boats leave the wharves at Lahaina and Maalaea in search of humpbacks, allowing you to enjoy the awe-inspiring size of these creatures in closer proximity. From November through May, the Pacific Whale Foundation sponsors the Maui Whale Festival, a variety of whale-related events for locals and visitors; check the calendar at www.mauiwhalefestival.org.
As it's almost impossible not to see whales in winter on Maui, you'll want to prioritize: is adventure or comfort your aim? If close encounters with the giants of the deep are your desire, pick a smaller boat that promises sightings. Those who think "green" usually prefer the smaller, quieter vessels that produce the least amount of negative impact to the whales' natural environment. For those wanting to sip mai tais as whales cruise by, stick with a sunset cruise ($40 and up) on a boat with an open bar and pupu (Hawaiian tapas). Afternoon trips are generally rougher because the wind picks up, but some say this is when the most surface action occurs.
Every captain aims to please during whale season, getting as close as legally possible (100 yards). Crew members know when a whale is about to dive (after several waves of its heart-shape tail) but rarely can predict breaches (when the whale hurls itself up and almost entirely out of the water). Prime viewing space (on the upper and lower decks, around the railings) is limited, so boats can feel crowded even when half-full. If you don't want to squeeze in beside strangers, opt for a smaller boat with fewer bookings. Don't forget to bring sunscreen, sunglasses, a light long-sleeve cover-up, and a hat you can secure. Winter weather is less predictable and at times can be extreme, especially as the wind picks up. Arrive early to find parking.
The northern end of Keawakapu Beach on the South Shore seems to be a whale magnet. Situate yourself on the sand or at the nearby restaurant and watch mamas and calves. From mid-December to mid-April, the Pacific Whale Foundation has naturalists at Ulua Beach and at the scenic viewpoint at Papawai Point Lookout. Like the commuting traffic, whales can be spotted along the pali, or cliff side, of West Maui's Honoapiilani Highway all day long. Make sure to park safely before craning your neck out to see them.
Boats and Charters
Gemini Sailing Charters. Morning and afternoon whale-watching trips off the Kaanapali coast are available on this well-maintained catamaran staffed by an experienced and fun crew. The cost is $70 per person for the morning trip and $80 for the afternoon trip. You can find Gemini on Kaanapali Beach near the Westin Maui resort's activity desk. Westin Maui Resort & Spa, 2365 Kaanapali Pkwy., Lahaina, HI, 96761. 800/820–7245 or 808/669–0508. www.geminicharters.com.
Maui Adventure Cruises. Whale-watching from this company's raft puts you right above the water surface and on the same level as the whales. You'll forego the cocktail in your hand but you won't have to deal with crowds, even if the vessel is at max with 36 people. The whales can get up close if they like, and when they do it's absolutely spectacular. These rafts can move with greater speed than a catamaran, so you don't spend much time motoring between whales or pods. Refreshments are included. Prices are $45 for adults and $35 for kids 5–12 years old; children under 4 years old are not admitted. Lahaina Harbor, Slip 11, Lahaina, HI, 96761. 808/661–5550. www.mauiadventurecruises.com.
Pacific Whale Foundation. With a fleet of nine boats, this nonprofit organization pioneered whale-watching back in 1979. The crew (including a certified marine biologist) offers insights into whale behavior and suggests ways for you to help save marine life worldwide. One of the best things about these trips is the underwater hydrophone that allows you to listen to the whales sing. Trips meet at the organization's store, which sells whale paraphernalia. You'll share the boat with about 100 people in stadium-style seating. If you prefer a smaller crowd, book the speedy raft cruises instead. 612 Front St., Lahaina, HI, 96793. 808/249–8811. www.pacificwhale.org.
Trilogy Excursions. Whale-watching trips with Trilogy Excursions consist of smaller groups of about 20 to 36 passengers and include beverages and snacks, an onboard marine naturalist, and hydrophones that detect underwater sound waves. Trips are $49, and you load at West Maui's Kaanapali Beach Hotel. Kaanapali Beach Hotel, 2525 Kaanapali Pkwy., Lahaina, HI, 96761. 808/874–5649 or 888/225–6284. www.sailtrilogy.com.
Windsurfing, invented in the 1950s, found its true home at Hookipa on Maui's North Shore in 1980. Seemingly overnight, windsurfing pros from around the world flooded the area. Equipment evolved, amazing film footage was captured, and a new sport was born.
If you're new to the action, you can get lessons from the experts island-wide. For a beginner, the best thing about windsurfing is (unlike surfing) you don't have to paddle. Instead, you have to hold on like heck to a flapping sail, as it whisks you into the wind. Needless to say, you're going to need a little coordination and balance to pull this off. Instructors start you out on a beach at Kanaha, where the big boys go. Lessons range from two-hour introductory classes to five-day advanced "flight school."
In March the PWA Hawaiian Pro-Am Windsurfing competition gets underway at Hookipa Beach. In June the Da Kine Windsurfing Classic lures windsurfers to Kanaha Beach, and in November the Aloha Classic World Wave Sailing Championships takes place at Hookipa.
Maui Race Series. For windsurfing competitions featuring amateurs as well as professionals, check out the Maui Race Series, six events held at Kanaha Beach in Kahului in summer. Kanaha Beach, Maui, HI. 808/877–2111. www.mauiraceseries.com.
After Hookipa Bay was discovered by windsurfers three decades ago, this windy North Shore beach 10 miles east of Kahului gained an international reputation. The spot is blessed with optimal wave-sailing wind and sea conditions, and offers the ultimate aerial experience.
In summer, the windsurfing crowd heads to Kalepolepo Beach on the South Shore. Trade winds build in strength, and by afternoon a swarm of dragonfly-sails can be seen skimming the whitecaps, with the West Maui Mountains as a backdrop.
A great site for speed, Kanaha Beach Park is dedicated to beginners in the morning hours, before the waves and wind really get roaring. After 11 am, the professionals choose from their quiver of sails the size and shape best suited for the day's demands. This beach tends to have smaller waves and forceful winds—sometimes sending sailors flying at 40 knots. If you aren't ready to go pro, this is a great place for a picnic while you watch from the beach. To get here, use any of the three entrances on Amala Place, which runs along the shore just north of Kahului Airport.
Equipment and Lessons
Action Sports Maui. The quirky, friendly professionals here will meet you at Kanaha Beach Park on the North Shore, outfit you with your sail and board, and guide you through your first "jibe" or turn. They promise your learning time for windsurfing will be cut in half. Lessons begin at 9 am every day except Sunday and cost $89 for a 2½-hour class. Three- and five-day courses cost $240 and $395. 96 Amala Pl., Kahului, HI, 96732. 808/871–5857. www.actionsportsmaui.com.
Hawaiian Sailboarding Techniques. Considered Maui's finest windsurfing school, Hawaiian Sailboarding Techniques brings you quality instruction by skilled sailors. Founded by Alan Cadiz, an accomplished World Cup Pro, the school sets high standards for a safe, quality windsurfing experience. Intro classes start at $89 for 2½ hours, gear included. The company is inside Hi-Tech Surf Sports, which offers excellent equipment rentals. Hi-Tech Surf Sports, 425 Koloa St., Kahului, HI, 96732. 808/871–5423. www.hstwindsurfing.com.
Second Wind. Located in Kahului, this company rents boards with two sails for $55 per day. Additional sails are $10 each. Intro classes start at $89. 111 Hana Hwy., Kahului, HI, 96732. 808/877–7467. www.secondwindmaui.com.
More Sports and Outdoors
- Bodyboarding and Bodysurfing
- Deep-Sea Fishing
- Scuba Diving
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