Snorkeling Maui Fourteen Years Later
(Aliso Viejo, CA)
Coral at Honolua Bay
Although I have snorkeled before and even done some limited scuba diving, this trip was my 10-year-old son's first experience with snorkeling.
My last visit to Maui was in 1999 and I had fantastic experiences at Honolua Bay, Molokini and Lana'i, but wondered if the conditions at these locations had changed or if I had missed some great spots on that previous trip. Also, I wanted to make sure my son would have a great, SAFE experience. Thank goodness for Galen & Nicole's Snorkeling Guide to Maui! I was able to download it to my iPad (with some very prompt and helpful technical responses from Galen!) and used the 5 hour flight to go through the guide and plan out our best options.
Because we stayed in Ka'anapali, we were just steps away from the area known as Black Rock. After checking out the shallow water/sandy beach entry there and the fact that there were lots of other snorkelers in the area and reviewing the information from the guide, I felt comfortable that this should be our first attempted location.
Everything went great and we snorkeled here several times during our stay. Although there was not a high quantity of fish, there was a great variety - I started to think of it as the "one of everything" spot. We also kept hearing from other people that turtles were coming in every day, but it wasn't until our next to last day that we finally had an encounter with them. I got some amazing pics and video.
Black Rock also had BY FAR the best visibility of all the locations we visited and didn't seem to be as affected by the afternoon winds. The only negative at this location were the crowds, but they don't really pick up until after 10-11 AM and they stay very close to shore so go early and swim farther out to avoid them.
In 1999, I had a truly amazing experience at Honolua Bay and was eager to go back. The snorkeling guide was very informative on how conditions have changed since then. The driving/parking directions were spot on which is great since this can be a tricky spot to find. Unfortunately, we did not have as great of an experience this time. My son's snorkel developed a leak which limited our time and the water visibility was not great.
Definitely a lot of environmental impact since I was last there and the bottom choked with a lot of mud/silt close to shore. Also, there used to be the remains of a concrete boat ramp that extended out into the bay which helped make water entry easier since the shore is so rocky. Most of that is gone, although there is still one narrow section left - I would head for that as the easiest entry spot and then swim over to the right and out as far as possible to get to clearer water. Other snorkelers reported seeing squid in that area the day we were there, but I had to cut our visit short due to my son's equipment issues.
We took a day cruise to Lana'i on the Trilogy catamaran. I used them for this same trip back in 1999 and they have only gotten better. If you are going to take a day trip and don't want to deal with the crowds at Molokini, I HIGHLY recommend this trip. Crew is fantastic, food is great (they even did gluten-free options for my mom) and we saw spinner dolphins both times I went.
My son had done so well snorkeling that he got up his courage to try SNUBA at Lana'i. Visibility was pretty good, but still not as good as what we experienced at Black Rock. However, we saw more unusual creatures - puffer fish, eel, etc.
Lastly, we headed to Napili Bay based on recommendations from the guide. Once again, the driving/parking directions were PERFECT and, miraculously, I managed to get the last parking spot on the street right by the blue coastal access sign on Hui Drive. The beach is quite narrow so it feels more crowded than it actually is because people are squished into a smaller space (as compared to the wide beach at Black Rock). On the upside, there are trees to provide shade which was awesome since the trade-winds tend to make beach umbrellas impractical. Can't tell you how many of those we saw blow away at various beaches during our trip.
Napili Bay is not quite as protected from the swell as Black Rock so visibility was good but not as good as at Black Rock. Lots more rocks in shallow water, though, making good hiding places for smaller fish and other creatures. We had another turtle experience - 3 turtles came in to feed on the plant growth on the rocks and one even hauled out onto the sand. Napili also has a great set of tide pools so if you have younger children not ready to snorkel yet - this is a great way for them to still experience some sea creatures.
Once we got home and reviewed all our photos, the snorkeling guide was once again very helpful as I used it to identify all the fish and other creatures in our photos! The few that I couldn't identify, Galen was nice enough to help with via e-mail. I know that having the guide really helped me feel confident to navigate my way around the island to various spots and to ensure that my son had a great first-time experience! I highly, highly recommend it!
A few tips I would add:
1. If snorkeling with kids (especially for the first time), have them try out their gear in the hotel pool before you go out. I did this with my son and I thought it made huge difference. He's already really used to being in a pool without gear so it helped make the transition to the ocean with gear much easier. Also, I was able to identify some equipment problems straight away and and adjust for them although we did eventually take the snorkel back a couple days later to be replaced when it failed completely.
2. The guide gives GREAT info on underwater camera options and if you are going to be snorkeling/diving multiple times per year, I would definitely purchase one of the cameras that it recommends. However, if you're just going on vacation/snorkeling one time, I highly recommend the rental camera from Boss Frog's at the Lahaina Cannery Mall. It was $55 for the entire week. It comes in its own waterproof housing with a strap that can either attach to your wrist or to a belt if you have one. It floats if you drop it so no need to worry about it ending up on the bottom of the ocean. It takes photos and video and has an "easy shoot" setting that makes it super simple to just point and shoot. The only control I used was the zoom. I'm attaching some pictures - all taken with this camera. I noted the location each was taken so you can see the differences in the visibility.
3. Black Rock consistently had the best conditions, visibility, ease of entrance, fish variety and turtles. Go between 6-10 AM to avoid crowds or swim out closer to the point.