Snorkeling Honolua Bay is great. It is one of the few sheltered bays to snorkel on Maui, and offers a wonderful short hike through stunning forest, and some snorkeling options. The waters here are part of the Honolua-Mokule’ia Bay Marine Life Conservation District.
Note: This page is a sample from our popular Maui Snorkeling Guide eBook available here.
While snorkeling Honolua Bay is great, this spot is very popular, receiving up to 1500 visitors a day, and we have seen the reef deteriorate over the years due to this traffic. So we used to highly recommend this spot, but now in our Maui Snorkeling Guide eBook we favor other less well known spots.
It is way up north on the west side of Maui, and it is worth the drive, or you could also book a boat tour. It can be pretty calm in this bay even when the trade winds are blowing up a snot out along the coastline. So if you cannot snorkel anywhere else because of wind and waves, this one is a good bet.
You do need to be careful not to leave any alluring valuables in your car, because there is often broken glass in the parking area, indicating that your windows will not be stopping thieves.
Honolua Bay is fairly big. You may find it useful to drive past the bay on the road to get a view of the snorkeling grounds from the cliffs above. What you will notice is that there is no beach, just a boulder rock shore. There is good snorkeling evident on both sides of the bay, but the best coral patches on the right hand side of the bay are a bit of a swim. But having seen them from above, you won’t give up early.
In fact, it is fun to watch the large turtles from the cliffs above. They look so big compared to the snorkelers down there.
In October, 2014, the state of Hawaii purchased the land surrounding Honolua Bay. They intend to turn it into a state park. This will not be a quick process, but expect to see some signs to that effect.
Here is what we like to do when snorkeling Honolua Bay. Most people enter the water on the left hand side of the beach, because there is a little bit of sand over there. The problem is there is a stream on that side, and the water is often so cloudy you can’t see a foot in front of you until you reach deeper water. We like to walk along the rocks to the right a distance, then enter the water. We have always been okay in bare feet as the rocks are round, but use caution. We then swim close to the rocky shore on the right side of the bay until we reach the big coral heads that are half way out the bay. You will often see big catamarans dropping off snorkelers right in that spot.
Start snorkeling Honolua Bay on the right side. About halfway along this side of the bay you will find the best corals. This area has some fairly healthy and interesting corals in spur and groove formations, though it seems that we can see a decline in the health of the reef here (see picture above), probably due to the sheer volume of visitors. The reef is near the surface in places and is rarely deeper than 15 feet. There are tons of fish in a big variety here. The visibility can be excellent, or sometimes kind of cloudy, depending on the waves and wind, and rainfall when you are there. We have always seen some big turtles in this area. Swim out toward the edge of the bay. There is often an area where the surf breaks that you should avoid and this is where we usually start to cross the bay to the opposite side.
Next, we like to swim across the middle of the bay to explore the left hand side. This area of snorkeling Honolua Bay is over deep water, about 30 feet or so, and a sandy bottom, and you may not be able to see the bottom, depending on the visibility. Be prepared for a long swim. Head for the rocky point on the other side of the bay.
When you get close, you will start to see reef again, though, it is more rocks than corals on this side. You will find some interesting rocky channels, and if you get really close to shore, some fascinating underwater topography, including some huge boulders. We have not seen as many fish on this side, but it is still worth doing.
Once you reach the other side start meandering back toward the beach, seeing what you can on the way. After the rocks and reef end while heading back to shore, if the visibility is low, you may want to head back across to the other side of the boat ramp, where you got into the water to exit again.
If you want to split this into two separate snorkels with a snack in between, you could because the bay is large. Simply snorkel out one side of the bay and back, have lunch, then snorkel the other side.
Like we said earlier, we always see turtles when snorkeling Honolua Bay. There is always a good variety and quantity of fish here as well. Here is some of what we have seen here:
1. In Kihei get on Hwy 31 (Piilani Hwy) or S. Kihei Rd. heading north.
2. When you reach the intersection with Hwy 311 (Mokulele Hwy) and Hwy 310 (N. Kihei Rd.) turn onto Hwy 310 (N. Kihei Rd.).
3. Follow to the next intersection with Hwy 30 (Honoapiilani Hwy) and turn left, heading initially south. This road is what you will follow to the north shore of west Maui. You will pass by Lahaina, Kaanapali and Kapalua.
4. After you pass by the Kapalua Resort area, you will come closer to the water again and pass signs for DT Fleming Beach Park. Past the 32 mile marker, there will be a turnout with a green chain link fence on the bluff which is Slaughterhouse Beach.
5. The next large turnout overlooks Honolua Bay, and heading downhill, before the curve in the road to the left is where you will start to see cars parking to use the bay (top photo). Some folks walk through the gate and down the dirt road to the bay. If you keep driving down the road, at the next curve, there is a parking area with porta-potties (bottom photo). The preferred trail head is behind these.
There are porta-potties roadside.