[Note: This is a reprint from my August 2008 post]
I’ve been wanting to do a quick review of snorkel tours on Maui. Now, I am combining it with my latest beach snorkeling experience.
Sweetie and I went snorkeling a couple of weeks ago. Finally! We are such home bodies, you might almost never guess we live in a tropical paradise with year-round sun and warmth. But after I raved about how wonderful the snorkeling was at Tunnels Beach in Kauai, Sweetie said “Well, let’s go out one day in Maui.” So we did. He took me to a few places I had not been to before. We drove south past Kihei and Wailea to Makena and got into the water at Five Graves. This is a place to snorkel, not to lay around. It is very rocky and we were lucky that there was almost no surf. We were able to get in and out of the water easily. This is a good dive spot, from what I have read. The snorkeling was good and we were close to Turtle Town (see a sea turtle say hello over HERE). We didn’t see any turtles and were heading back to shore when we passed another snorkeler. He said “Did you see the turtle?” and pointed us back out. Sweetie scouted around a little and lo and behold, he found the turtle. I found another one, but they weren’t swimming around too much. Just hanging around the sand below us. But I love spotting the turtles!
We drove south again towards the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Reserve Area and Waiala Cove. We snorkeled from Waiala Cove. In my opinion, you have to be a little careful snorkeling from here. The water is very very shallow. This means, in order to not touch the coral, you have to stay floating on your stomach as soon as you get into the water. You have to swim out a little bit before you can tread water without hitting the coral. Of course, people will just stand up, adjust their masks, hug each other (a couple I saw), wave to family members, etc. etc. But you should not do this unless you can find sand to step on and avoid the coral. Check out some coral reef etiquette guidelines HERE. That’s another reason I liked Tunnels Beach so much. Lots of sand around the coral. When I was ready to get out of the water at Waiala, I had to belly paddle all the way up to a little strip of concrete that jutted out into the water. Of course, I was being so careful of the coral, I totally forgot about the waves behind me. Luckily, Sweetie was already out of the water and ran over to haul me out of the water as I tried to crawl from my knees to my feet without being smooshed by a wave.
Finally, we kept driving south just to take a look at La Perouse Bay. Pretty, but I don’t know that I would try snorkeling here. There is much less protection from the surf. So, unless you come on a very windless day, the surf could make the water too murky.
Note: Just this week, the Department of Land and Natural Resources has closed off a large portion of the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve. You can still drive to La Perouse Bay but you cannot walk around the lava rock for the next two years (until July 31, 2010). For those of you who have heard about the lava-rock trails to snorkeling sites like the Aquarium and the Fishbowl, you can no longer legally walk there. Waiala Cove and areas north of the cove will still be open. You can read the news article HERE.
During the last couple of years and visits with friends and family here on Maui, I have paid for a few different snorkeling trips. I have gone out snorkeling with the Pacific Whale Foundation, Gemini Sailing Charters, and Maui Classic Charters. You can follow the links below to any of those websites.
Here is my basic statement on Maui snorkeling: It all depends on the weather.
You should be aware, whenever you plan a snorkel trip on Maui, that it can rain any day of the year and it can be windy any day of the year. OK, some seasons are better than others. Taking my mom out snorkeling in February probably was not the best time. But there are no guarantees for calm seas and clear water. You just have to take your chances. That being said, the best time of day to snorkel is in the morning. As early as possible before the winds kick up. You may see that many snorkel tours have a morning snorkel and an afternoon snorkel. Often, the morning snorkel is more expensive. There is good reason for this. Once the winds pick up around Molokini or anywhere offshore, the water becomes more murky, the fish scatter away, and it is harder to get back into a boat that is bobbing like mad in the water. Having taken an afternoon snorkel tour, I would now always advise to pony up the extra money and go for the morning trip.
If you go during whale season (roughly December to April), you get the added bonus of seeing whales on the trips in and out. This is no small bonus. It is quite a treat to see the whales close up. If you come during whale season and just want to go on a whale watching trip, I think you can do fine with the cheapest trips. There are sooooo many whales during the height of whale season, you can’t miss them.
After that, there are not TOO many differences between the tours. They all offer good, basic snorkel trips. They all provide the gear, including some prescription masks. They all have friendly staff. There are really only a few differences. Here are my rundowns, based on my trips.
Gemini Charters (http://www.geminicharters.com/). They depart from Ka’anapali Beach .
This is Sweetie’s favorite group to snorkel with. A little more expensive, but good.
- · They use a catamaran, and it is quite fun to zip out on the water in a smaller boat where you can sit out on the trampoline nets and feel the spray wash over you.
- · They travel to Honolua Bay, which Sweetie says is better snorkeling than Molokini.
- · The BEST food I’ve eaten snorkeling. Really yummy food. You know how I like food. I must have gone back to the buffet three times.
- · The catamaran has steps that drop down straight into the water. Easier to climb back onto the boat while snorkeling.
Not so great:
- o They are more expensive.
- o If you can’t go to Honolua Bay because of the weather, the alternative spots aren’t that great. They don’t go to Molokini. I was disappointed going in March because it was too windy to go up to Honolua Bay. That’s why I paid more money. We ended up traveling up and down the West Maui coast looking for a spot to drop anchor. But, as I said, there are no guarantees.
Maui Classic Charters (http://www.mauicharters.com/). They depart from Maalaea Harbor.
- · They offer a decent, basic snorkel trip out to Molokini.
- · They have a slide on the boat. Nothing big. A tiny slide they bolt into place on the side of the boat. But the kids/teens on the boat really seemed to enjoy it.
- · Less expensive than Gemini or Trilogy (another popular group with catamarans)
Not so great:
- o They claim their BBQ is superb. I didn’t think it was anything special. But, to give them credit, my opinion may be tainted by a small bout of sea-sickness due to the choppy waters.
- o Harder to get in and out of the boat using the platforms on the back of the boat. In calms water, it would be fine – there are staff folks there to haul you on board. But it was really choppy when Mom and I went out and we had to wait for one woman who was having a very very hard time getting back on the boat. I had a brief moment of panic myself as I floundered in the big waves.
Pacific Whale Foundation (http://www.pacificwhale.org/). They depart from Maalaea Harbor.
- · Once again, a good basic snorkel trip.
- · Probably the most knowledgeable naturalists on board during whale season. I had the best whale viewing while on the Pacific Whale Foundation boat.
Not so Great
- o These trips can get crowded. The Pacific Whale Foundation boat is much larger than the Gemini catamarans. So, you are snorkeling with a much bigger crowd of people.
- o Food was ok.
That’s about it for my reviews. If I think of anything else, I’ll add it in. In my opinion, if you want to enjoy some basic snorkeling on Maui, rent some gear, get up early in the morning, and go to a beach with some coral around. If you hit it on the right day, you can see plenty of fish right off the shore. If you want the full vacationy feel of a trip, with food and sun and sailing (though most don’t actually sail), splurge and take a guided tour. I found on most of my trips, when I wasn’t feeling seasick, the boat rides around Maui are as enjoyable as the snorkeling. Some of my pictures from February are over HERE. The catamaran trip was almost worth the price itself. And did I mention the yummy food???