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David Fleetham

The Ultimate Guide to Scuba Diving Maui

With hammerheads and the Black Wall, Molokini is one of Maui’s best dive sites.
By Sascha Zuger | Authored On October 26, 2020
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The Ultimate Guide to Scuba Diving Maui

Maui County includes the Hawaiian islands of Maui, Lanai, Molokai and Molokini. These four islands boast unforgettable experiences that wow even the most seasoned divers, all from one convenient base. Crystal-clear viz, unique species, unusual topography of swim-throughs and lava tubes are mere bonuses. “What makes Maui special is you literally have no idea what your dive has to offer,” says Nichlas Holm, co-owner of Dive Maui in Lahaina. “You might have whale sharks, humpbacks, dolphins, false killer whales, pilot whales, manta rays—every time you go underwater, you keep your eyes up because you never know what the day is going to bring. It’s astounding.” Although all four locations offer boat-dive options, top-level shore diving along the Maui coastline (Mala Pier in Lahaina, Five Caves and Red Hill in Wailea top the list) makes this a great destination for new divers.

“It’s a great place to learn; the water is super clear, and it’s typically very calm and warm, which offers a stress-free environment,” says Jeff Strahn of Maui Dive Shop. “We have a vibrant program out of the south side in two locations, one with its own dive pool where divers can then go right off the beach.”

Surface days can be filled with Haleakala summit stargazing or sunrise biking down the volcano, surfing, SUP’ing, hiking in the rainforest and playing in waterfalls. “Aloha hour” specials with live local musicians—try Monkeypod Kitchen and Hula Grill in Kaanapali—draw a bustling sunset crowd.

Best Dive Sites in Maui

Scuba diving in Maui is great for beginners because of the variety of shore sites. Advanced divers will also enjoy these nearshore wonders, but can also head into the big blue for the thrills like hammerheads.

  • Five Caves at Makena Landing
  • Molokai — Hammerheads
  • Molokai — Black Wall
  • Lanai Cathedrals

Five Caves at Makena Landing

Underwater arches, caves and swimthroughs make up this popular shore diving site in Maui. This dive site in Maui is synonymous with green sea turtles and divers can explore the lava fingers that make up most of the underwater topography. The Bubble Cave has made this diving spot famous since divers can access an underwater lava tube that leads into a chamber where you can surface and remove your regulator. Sea turtles and white tip reef sharks frequent inside the lava tube.

Molokai Hammerhead Dive

Dive Maui in Lahaina is one of the few operations that makes weekly trips to Molokai, using a 37-foot custom dive RIB that minimizes ill effects from heavy trade winds. This is a great opportunity to add a hammerhead dive to your log book while in Maui.

“We visit a channel called Hammer Time. To the north, we can have 60 to 70 hammerheads schooling around the group on summer dives. Throughout the year, we’ll see a handful, as well as a lot of gray sharks, Galapagos sharks and absolutely massive barracuda hitting 7 or 8 feet long. Astonishing,” says co-owner Nichlas Holm. “When we head to the south we can appreciate healthy, untouched coral reef with octopuses, eagle rays, morays and so many fish they are just endlessly raining down on you.”

Explore amazing Hawaiian dive vacations HERE.

Black Wall of Molokini

Aerial View Molokini Crater

An aerial view of Molokini’s Back Wall.

David Fleetham

“The Back Wall is one of the best dives in Maui, with 100-plus feet of viz in warm water, a manta ray and shark cleaning station popular with gray reef sharks, jacks, frogfish, octopuses, blue dragon nudibranchs, harlequin shrimp and numerous species of wrasse,” says Jeff Strahn of Maui Dive Shop. “Large pelagics are always a possibility, with sightings of Hawaiian monk seals, whale sharks, manta rays and even humpbacks. During the height of the season, their singing reverberates off the wall, making it even louder, like they are right next to you— which they very well might be.” Maui Dive Shop runs two-tank trips to the Back Wall of Molokini twice weekly, offering a valet dive experience, including a full breakfast and lunch, hotel transfers, towels and sunscreen.

Lanai Cathedrals

Scuba Diver in Lanai Cathedrals

A diver hangs loose in First Cathedral.

David Fleetham

“This is a bucket-list dive. It’s absolutely unique,” says CJ Kessler, co-owner of Dive Maui in Lahaina. “Everyone knows about Hawaii’s volcanic activity above ground, but there are thousands of years of underwater activity as well. The result is lava tubes and underwater caverns whose tops and walls have cracked and partially collapsed, forming a cathedral-like light show and providing habitat. In one cavern, a massive ‘chandelier’ of black coral hangs from the ceiling; another features a ‘shotgun,’ where divers can time their exit with the surge for a wild ride.”

Must-Do Topside Activity

Kaanapali Beach Hotel, “the most Hawaiian hotel,” earned a spot on National Geographic’s Culture List. Visitors can paddle the Kaleopookela canoe as they spot dolphins, whales, seabirds, distant islands and turtles. Far more than a traditional outrigger experience, the journey up the coastline and into the channel is peppered with stories of Hawaiian legends, history, culture and ecology — narrated by a descendant of the island’s royal line.