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There’s no doubt that Maui’s beaches are some of the best in all of Hawaii for snorkeling. Boasting a series of protected bays that keep the big waves out and the winds away, Maui’s snorkel beaches offer an underwater universe for green sea turtles and schools of tropical fish.
Honolua Bay is a gorgeous Marine Preserve located on the lush northwest tip of Maui. If you’re staying anywhere on the west side of Maui, it’s only a 5 – 15-minute drive from your hotel or resort. It’s best to snorkel at Honolua Bay in the morning from 7am – 11am when the visibility is the clearest.
Since this is a Marine Preserve, no fishing of any kind is allowed here which makes for a sea-life density and diversity that is second to none on Maui! The bay is surrounded by high rocky cliffs, sheltering it on both sides from the wind which keeps the water peaceful and calm. Upon arriving, you’ll see a beautiful forest path that you need to walk through to get to the shore.
When it’s time to go snorkeling, don’t waste your time jumping in at the center of the beach. Most of Honolua’s coral and sea life is concentrated on the right side of the bay. Walk along the rocks to the right (north) side of the shore before entering the water. Be sure to walk slowly over the rocky area as some of the rocks can be slippery. You’ll save yourself the swim and since you’ll be further from the sand, the visibility will be better. Lastly, Honolua Bay doesn’t have much of a sand beach and is not recommended for families with children under 7 years old.
Mokule’ia Bay is also known by the name of “Slaughterhouse.” Located north of Napili on Hwy 30 (Honoapiilani Hwy) at mile marker 32, you’ll see a chain link fence with roadside parking. This is a bay only accessible by car, as no buses run here.
Once parked, follow the asphalt steps down to the beach. During the summer, you can enjoy relaxing on the sandy beach in the morning shade, but by the afternoon, the sun is in full force so make sure to wear sunscreen. During the winter, the sand all but disappears due to the massive swells and surf.
Stay to the right of the bay and work your way up the rocky edge. For the beginners, stick to the first half of the rocky walls. Be careful not get too close because a sudden swell can wash you up on the jagged rocks. For the stronger and more experienced swimmers and snorkelers, work your way up and around the rocky point and snorkel into Honolua Bay. You’ll find there are some deep drop offs and caves and tunnels to free dive through. You’ll want to take care around the point, as the swells can become rough at times.
Use caution if the trade winds pick-up. The swells here can pick-up in no time! Not ideal in winter.
Schools of silver fish, zebra moray eels, plenty of turtles, massive parrot fish, (both the blue and red variety) triggerfish, pencil urchins, wrasse, schools of tang, goatfish, Ulua (cravalle) and white tip reef shark.
This horseshoe, or crescent-shaped bay, is a great snorkeling spot in the morning and early afternoon. Located off of the lower road in Kapalua, there is a small parking lot, and being a popular beach, the spots tend to fill up quickly. We recommend either parking a little down the road off of a side street and walking to the beach access path, or taking the bus ( look for the “Napili Islander” sign).
With such a wide body of water, this bay offers two main snorkel spots: the left side (Lahaina) and the right (Kapalua). For snorkeling, we suggest sticking to the right side of the crescent, as the left rocky side can get quite churned up.
The left side of the bay offers some great rock and coral formations. At about 9-12 ft deep, there are some bigger rocks that have “pockets” under them for the inquisitive snorkeler. Keep an eye out for octopus, crustaceans (crabs, etc) and trumpet fish. Damsel’s, Parrot’s, Moorish Idols, Tang’s, Wrasse, Puffer’s and the likes are there, not necessarily in droves, but plentiful enough.
The further out you swim along the north side of the bay, the more fish and coral you will see, so don’t stay in the shallows too long. As you go out, do keep in mind the trade winds, as you don’t want to be swept further along that desired. We suggest you don’t go out beyond the point of the rocks, as currents are often quite strong out there. Like Napili Bay, the middle section tends to be mostly sand, but a good place to practice free diving skills. Keep your eyes peeled for turtles…you just never know when you may spot one!
One of the most prized West Maui beaches is the world famous Napili Bay. If you’re looking for a great snorkeling experience then definitely head here.
If you drive to Napili Bay, there is a carpark off the highway, but you’ll want to get there early for a spot. Or, take the bus from Whalers Village, the “Napili Islander, Route 30”, which will drop you off at Napili Village. Walk straight down from the road, to the public access path in between the condos, past a freshwater shower, and straight onto the beach.
The best snorkeling spot is the far right of the beach, as it tends to be more sheltered here. You’ll be tickled to find a nice gathering of the shimmery silver needle fish, and a small array of the common place Maui reef fish.
For the adventuresome and proficient swimmers, the left side of the bay has some good little rocky alcoves and reefs with reef fish, but because it tends to be quite choppy, visibility is cloudy and not worth risking a lashing on the rocks.
The sand is steep straight from the shoreline. The middle part of the bay is mostly sand and a great place to practice free diving skills, or to spot the local resident honu. Remember that honus (turtles) are a protected marine animals. So save the touching to the stuffed toys in the tourist shops!
If driving, there is a carpark off the highway, but you’ll want to get there early for a park. If taking a bus from Whalers Village, it will be the “Napili Islander, Route 30”, and you can get off at the stop where the great little hotel, “Napili Village” is located. Walk straight down from the road, to the public access path in between the condos, past a freshwater shower, straight to the beach.
Honekeana Bay is known for being a place where there is a very good chance you will encounter Green Sea Turtles. Obviously, turtles are wild animals, so there is no guarantee you will encounter them. With that said, time and time again, The Snorkel Store guests tell us they see tons of turtles at Honekeana Bay. The Green Sea Turtles love to eat the algae growing along the rocks in the shallow waters. This is a snorkel only spot because it has no beach to speak of and consists of a rocky shoreline.
Please use caution if you’re planning on snorkeling in the winter months on the upper west side of Maui as Honokeana Bay is fairly well exposed to the large north west swells that make Hawaii a mecca for wintertime surfing. Waves can be a lot of fun but no so much when snorkeling. Honokeana is ideal in the summer months as well as in between winter swells.
Kahekili Beach Park is also called Airport Beach due to the fact that during the 1960’s and early 1970’s, the location served as West Maui’s only airport. Once the airport moved to Kahana (interestingly now called Kapalua Airport), the land was used to grow sugarcane. In the last ten years there has been a lot of development in the area, with both the Westin Ocean Resort Villas and the Honua Kai Resort being built. One nice thing about the area is the new “setback” laws that Maui County created. The resorts were forced to setback their properties around 150 yards from the shore line which helped in preserving the natural beauty of North Ka’anapali.
The best snorkeling is out in front of the Westin Ocean Resort Villas north towers. There is a beautiful reef and ample parking at the entrance to the park. Depending on the direction you’re traveling, turn into the entrance at Kai Ala Drive and drive towards the ocean to find the parking lot. There is additional parking at the “Green Belt” section of the beach. between the Westin Villas and the Honolua Kai. Public restrooms, picnic tables, grills and fresh water showers make this snorkel spot a place you can enjoy all day
We recommend bringing a beach chair if you have one. There are some great shade opportunities to set up camp for the day under the Kiawe trees that grow along this section of the Ka’anapali coastline. The Kiawe tree is known for the thorns that grow along its branches so watch your step. A beach umbrella is always a good idea if you want to be closer to the surf or in area where there is no natural shade.
World famous Ka’anapali Beach is known for the long stretch of white sand beach that runs continuously from the Hyatt Hotel on the south end all the way north to Sheraton Hotel. In between you will find the Marriott, Ka’anapali Ali’i, Westin, Whaler’s Village, The Whaler Condos and the Ka’anapli Beach Hotel.
There is limited beach access parking in Ka’anapali, but there are a few spots under the Sheraton Hotel parking structure, in between Whalers Village and the Westin Hotel, and between the Ka’anaplai Ali’i and the Marriott. If you don’t feel like hunting for a parking spot, your best bet is to park in the Whalers Village parking. This is paid parking but if you buy some snacks at the ABC Store or choose to have some beverages at one of the restaurants, you can get 4 hour validated parking
The best snorkeling is out in front of the Sheraton at Black Rock. There is a sandy bottom with great visibility along the rock outcroppings that separate South Ka’anapali beach from North Ka’anapali beach.
The beach at Mile Marker 14 is super easy to get to. Pull off the highway (Hwy 30) at Mile Marker 14 and park the car: you don’t want to miss this solid snorkel area! It’s only about 10 miles from Lahaina town. The snorkel site is just south from the Olowalu fruit stands, general store and Leoda’s Pie Shop.
Being located in a area a little more exposed to the afternoon trade winds, you most definitely want to get here in the morning. There is plenty to see, when the visibility is clear, and the draw card would be the rock formations and coral gardens.
You can snorkel out a good little way from shore and not have much variation in depth, just be careful wading out, as the shoreline tends to be a rocky reef. Don’t stand on the reef… remember it is a living organism.
There aren’t any facilities here however, it’s definitely worth a stop. Especially if you get to spot some cool reef fish!
TIP: Beat the trade winds and head to this beach early—the water will be at its clearest and calmest in the morning.
ADDRESS: 2800 South Kihei Road, Kihei, Maui, HI 96753
PARKING: There is plenty of free parking at this beach park, try to get there early on holidays and at weekends as it can be a popular spot!
FACILITIES: There are indoor bathrooms and outside showers at the beach park. There are lifeguards, BBQs and picnic tables.
SAFTEY TIP: Swimming in Maui’s warm, clear waters is a beautiful experience but don’t forget to check the conditions before you go out.
Located in an easy-to-find spot on South Kihei Road, Kamaole Beach Park III is a fantastic snorkeling spot for the whole family.
Part of a trio of adjacent beaches, referred to by locals as Kam I, Kam II and Kam III, this beach is the furthest south of the three.
Kam III has a large park area, with plenty of shade, BBQs, picnic tables and a children’s playground, which are all popular at weekends and on public holidays.
There is a lifeguard tower, wheelchair paths, bathrooms and showers for washing off the sand and rinsing your snorkeling equipment and boogie boards after a day’s fun in the water.
Access to the beach itself is very easy—there are several marked paths, with handrails, that lead down from the leafy green park to the golden sands below.
The child-friendly stretch of beach is capped at either end by rocky outcrops, which provide excellent opportunities for snorkeling.
The sand is very soft underfoot, which allows you a straightforward and smooth entry into the water. As you face the ocean, with your back to the lifeguard stand, it is a good idea to head to the northern end of the beach. This will be to your right, where the rocks jut out into the ocean.
There is also good snorkeling to the left, but if and when the trade winds start to kick up in the early afternoon, or if there is a big south swell, the current and choppiness could increase and push you towards the rocks at this end of the beach.
As soon as you look underwater, you will start to see a variety of reef fish. Yellow Tangs (Lau’Ipala), Convict Tangs (Manini) and Moorish Idols (Kihi Kihi) are just some of the fish that are abundant here.
Follow the reef and rock line north. While taking care not to get too close to the rocks, you will see that they host a wide variety of fish.
If you feel confident snorkeling around the rocks, in the direction of the more northerly Kamaole Beach II, go for it! You do not have to be an expert-level snorkeler to do this, it is suitable for beginners as long as they feel confident and are aware of their surroundings and the day’s weather conditions.
If you would like extra flotation, lots of people like to use noodles or boogie boards to help them navigate their way around the rocks in this spot.
You will be rewarded with excellent underwater views and lots of marine life, as the northern end of this beach is where the most fish and green sea turtles hang out.
Look just below the surface of the water to see the long, silvery Needle Fish (A’ha), they like to swim just under the waterline where they blend in perfectly. Also, keep an eye out for Hawaii’s state fish, the Humu Humu Nuku Nuku Apua’a (Rectangular Triggerfish), as there are plenty to be found here, swimming alongside White-spotted Puffers (O’opu Hue), Trumpetfish (Nunu) and much more.
Clinging to the lava rock and coral formations that lead around to Kam II are lots of slate pencil urchins. Otherwise known as red pencil urchins, they are distinctive by their bright red color. You might even get lucky and see an Octopus (He’e) here.
Check out our fish and reef identification guide for more information about Maui’s underwater residents: thesnorkelstore.com/maui-reef-fish-guide
There is also good boogie boarding at this beach and there are plenty of tide pools to explore.
If you take very small children into the water at Kam III or non-swimmers, be aware that the sand can quickly slope off underwater. Imagine the shallow end of a swimming pool quickly becoming the deep end. It’s always good to be safe.
Kamaole Beach Park III normally has a gentle shore break, but this can change when there is a big south swell. Look out for any signs that lifeguards post on the beach and if in doubt, ask the lifeguards about the day’s conditions.
All of Hawaii’s beaches and ocean locations have the potential to be dangerous.
Intermediate to advanced
Near 5079 Makena Road
Wailea-Makena, HI 96753
GPS Coordinates: 20.656796, -156.442071
There is a small parking lot to the right of the beach park. To the left, parallel parking spaces hug the rock wall and go up and over the hill. If you arrive after 9:30 AM, plan for parking to be a challenge. To avoid this hassle altogether, let The Snorkel Store drive you there.
Amenities include an outdoor shower and indoor bathrooms. Rinse your snorkel gear and bathing costume with fresh water when you are done for the day, and you will extend the life of your items.
During whale season, snorkeling on Maui is unlike snorkeling on any other Hawaiian island, because Maui always hosts the most humpbacks. The magnificent, intelligent mammals migrate here from Alaska to make babies and have babies, and at Makena Landing you can hear them singing underwater! Once you swim about twenty yards offshore, submerge your ears and hold your breath for a moment or two to silence your breath sounds. If you cannot hear the whale song yet, swim down about ten feet deep and listen again. You will likely hear these incredible tones as you continue exploring to the right along the reef.
Makena Landing on the South side is one of the great places to snorkel on Maui. The waves are gentle, and the ocean bottom at entry is made of soft coral sand, so getting in the water is easy. On the right hand side of the bay, the tumbling coral reef extends quite far, and it houses fabulous and varied marine life. As you move around the point, the water depth is consistently thirty to forty feet.
You needn’t swim far to encounter several colorful reef fish including the peacock grouper, schools of ladyfish, the Moorish idol, and several types of butterfly fish. Brightly colored sea urchins are plentiful, as are numerous varieties of healthy looking coral. The sea turtles at Makena Landing are quite used to people, so if you give them space (it’s illegal to touch a sea turtle, anyhow), you will have the opportunity to admire them for long periods as they go about their business.
Makena Landing is a popular spot for snorkelers, spear fishermen, stand up paddlers, kayakers, and SCUBA divers on Maui. Always snorkel with a buddy or a group for fun and safety, and snorkel between 8 and 10 AM to enjoy great visibility and have the most alone time with the fishes. When you do find yourself snorkeling above a SCUBA group, feel free to swim through the divers’ bubbles for a beautiful and novel experience.
There is an underwater cave that advanced snorkelers can choose to swim through. Look for two pieces of basketball sized rock jutting through the surface about ten yards away from the reef. The area is quite busy with whitewater, as waves bounce off several landforms here. Swim down fifteen feet to the cave’s entrance on the ocean side, go into the cave, and swim out as it slopes upward. Expect sea turtles to be resting on the bottom of the cave’s dark recesses. There is also eel potential.
Once in the cave, you have two possible exits: for the shortest distance, go in the entrance and swim forward, watching for the surface light streaming in from the left. Swim up to the left and out. To take the longer way, go in the entrance and swim straight forward until the light shows up ahead. The long way is about 1.75 times longer than the short way. Both exits have you pop up safely in the surface whitewater between the reef proper and the hardened lava sculptures that make up the cave. If the cave entrance is too deep for you to comfortably reach, you are tired, or you are unsure of your breath holding ability, skip this part and stay safe. There is plenty to hold your interest outside the cave.
The underwater ecosystem at Makena Landing has been in development for over a million years, so you can be assured that the hours spent exploring it will be time well spent. Have a great time, and enjoy yourself!