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.
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.