The Maui Coastline is actually not that great for Dive Sites. The Majority have OK Visibility and decent life but they are all a bit “Samey” and are just as enjoyable visited with a mask and Snorkel! However Maui has an ace in the hole, and this means Maui Dive Operators have access to some of the BEST diving in Hawaii and even the World.
What is this Ace? It is the short, Boat journey across the channel to other islands and their remote, pristine and stunning Dive sites. So the Best Dives Sites in Maui, Hawaii are often not actually in Maui at all. These Maui Dive Spots are all in Maui County however and are all accessible from The Harbours and Launches on Maui.
This guide will run you through the best that the Maui Coastline has to offer before explaining which sites, that are in Striking distance are best and which you should endeavor to experience on your Dive Adventures.
Who Are We?
We are not Dive Experts. We are a Travel Destination Blog, but we love Diving and we try our best to jump in the water on all our trips. We also Adore Maui and have been diving here recreationally for years.
So this Guide is designed for the beginner and experienced diver looking to get acquainted with the different dive sites available on your Maui Vacation.
What is the Maui Diving Like?
There really are some world-class sites available on Maui that will blow the Sock off any experience level of divers and also some really nice, undamaged reefs, teeming with life and plenty of bucket list species. It is not all advanced Stuff either there are ample opportunities for the novice here, but be warned you will have to go a long way to better some of the incredible dive spots on offer here.
Take a look at our Hawaiian Reef Fish Guide to see what you are likely to spot on the reefs around Maui.
Diving in Maui comes in two Forms. Boat Dives and Shore Dives.
Boat Dives are what are considered Full Valet Diving. You have to do very little but turn up and dive. Your dive crew will do pretty much everything for you but breathe. It is a great way to dive if a little expensive. However, the intense competition on Maui means Prices are quite low compared to other islands and you do get a lot for your money on top of the diving. Most trips include a light breakfast, lunch, and a post-dive snack.
All Dive centers offer full gear rental and it is normally nearly new quality gear this is completely assembled and tanks swapped for you. Just Through on the wet suit strap on the BCD and off you go. Dive groups will also be guided so you can get the best of any site.
Shore diving is a little more intimate with smaller groups and dives that operate from the shore without a boat. You can still expect great service with a friendly guide on hand to help out with gear and guide you around the site
Our First Batch of Dive sites is all along the Actual Maui Coastline. These can be done as Shore Dives or from a boat trip. These are really good sites equal to any good Caribbean dive site but they are hardly world-class dive sites and more appetizers to the Gourmet Courses that are on the way.
Coral Garden / Turtle Town
This is a ubiquitous term used by almost all Dive Companies and Snorkel Tours. And it doesn’t really mean a lot. It is basically Any site along the coast that has good coral, good Vis (on the day), and Good Life. It is your Maui “Basic”. The Garlic bread of Maui’s Diving.
That is not to say these sites are bad. You will get a ton of fish, Abundant turtles and the chance for some pretty exciting species as at least a few of these stops offer the chance for Manta Rays, Sharks, and more. But knowing exactly where you are going can be hard as they could take you to any number of sites. It really is a Buzz term for basic Maui Coast Diving.
The Carthaginian II was an old German Sailing Boat that was moored for over 30 Years in Lahaina Harbor. This steel-hulled ship was used as a heritage piece to the old Whaling industry of the Island. In 2005, it was sunk, Intentionally, for YOU!
Several Years later the Hull remains intact but has gradually been reclaimed by nature and now serves as an artificial reef. Along with all the regular Hawaii Reef Fish, you can encounter Grey Reef Sharks and some pretty cool and rare Frogfish!
Sitting in around 30 m it is a pretty advanced dive. But the conditions are usually very good. The hold is open which allows some Penetration, although this is often where Sharks come to rest, it’s pretty epic to swim into the ship’s hold to be greeted by a reef shark!
The Downside to the dive is the Wreck is all there is in the area. It was sunk in a pretty dull location and you drop straight down see the wreck and then back up. There are no reefs to explore or anything else. While the wreck is great it can only take 20 mins to see then you can be twiddling your thumbs a bit till the air runs out.
Mala Pier is hard to describe as however hard you try, it sounds pretty rubbish. It is a collapsed Pier Just outside of Lahaina Harbour. So Far So dull. But as with most manmade structures exposed to the wild, Mother Nature has reclaimed the Pier. It is now a haven for many marine species, including a family (we think it’s a Family) of Grey Reef Sharks.
At least one Dive Company sells this as a Shark Dive. Well, this is a bit of an oversell, despite the fact you will
The Dive is probably the best of Maui’s Coastline Dives and despite its unappealing nature, there is so much to see amongst the collapsed Piles. On top of the Reef Sharks, there is a lot of life down there. There are tons of reef fish of all types, along with Rays, Turtles, Moray Eels, Frogfish, and more. It is a rare site that has actually got better every time we dive it as nature continues to reclaim the Pier and The Coral gets thicker and thicker.
The Dive is in shallow water with No Current, which means everyone can experience the dive. If you are Diving the Maui Coast Make sure you include a trip to Mala Pier.
Honolua Bay is one of the island’s best Snorkeling Sites, it’s packed with life and the water can be crystal clear. Naturally, this is also used as a Dive Site, but for us, it doesn’t work as well. The Charm of the bay is the stunning coral reefs that run up the rocky coastline, these shallow reefs bask in the sunshine but are just too shallow for diving, The deeper areas of the reef have less to offer.
This may be a little harsh as the diving is actually pretty good, but it’s just nothing spectacular, compared to what is on offer elsewhere. It is also a bit susceptible to poor conditions as it is quite far around the West Maui Coast meaning it’s the first place to be hit by winter storms, great for surfing, not diving. It is also plagued by runoff from rain in the mountains but this affects diving less than snorkeling.
As we said Maui itself does not offer the BEST diving, to get that you need to head off-Island. And here you will find some phenomenal Diving.
About an Hour’s sail from Lahaina Harbour and a bit less from Kihei Boat Ramp is the Island of Lanai. The island is one of the least habited of the Hawaiian Chain and has a wild and remote coastline. Which for large parts is completely undeveloped. This makes for world-class diving.
Even the Boat Ride over is worth the ride. Regular Whale sightings when in season along with dolphins and Flying fish and of course stunning views of Maui itself. On top of this, it has some really stunning dive sites.
Top of the List is the World Famous First Cathedral. The Surrounding reef is excellent teaming with life and as good as any Maui Dive site. However, the Feature presentation is a gigantic undersea cave. It is eerie how much the cave resembles a cathedral.
Light Streams through the Stain glass window in the ceiling, and an alter sits center stage, and entering for the first few times is not far from a religious experience. The Dark crevices of the Cathedral house Grey Reef Sharks while Schools of Squirrelfish shelter in the roof of the Cavern.
Once you have explored the crevices and prayed at the altar, it’s time to leave via the aptly named Shotgun. This Tidal Powered thrill ride starts with the current pouring in as you grip the edges of the lava tube. Then as the flow changes, you have fired out the tube into the brightness of the reef outside. It’s really quite fun and when the tide is really flowing it is A LOT of fun.
The Second Cathedral is more of the same. However, the Features are less defined and less Cathedral-like. The more natural appearance is no less stunning it’s just not quite as quirky.
Expect the same stunning wildlife outside the cave however as you explore the pristine reefs that surround the rocky formations.
This Rocky outcrop sits just below above the surface and, at first, appearance is nothing more than a lifeless rock jutting out of the water. But see it from below the waves and it takes on a whole new appearance.
It gets its name from the fact it was the go-to location for Aquarium Stockists to pick up wild fish to sell to Aquarium owners. So the Description of diving in an aquarium which is often used to describe dive sites is particularly fitting here.
The Fish numbers are incredible. As you can see from the above video at times it’s just an endless stream of fish. The site is not known for anything particularly rare or exotic just huge numbers of bright colorful fish. It is a very easy and relaxing dive as you simply circumnavigate the rock in awe at the abundance of life.
The dive ends up on a very shallow reef under the boat, here you can find turtles and spend some time up close to the fish. Due to the shallow end to the dive, underwater times can be ridiculous, as your air seems to last forever and No-Deco time is endless.
Lanai Drift Diving
Around the Back of Lanai, there are a host of very advanced, remote, and fantastic dive sites. These are only accessible on one Dive trip from Lahaina Divers but they take you to some really incredible locations that are rarely dived.
These sites include Barges, Pyramids, and a host of other sites that can only be dived on these adventure trips. The sites sit on an oceanic highway and have access to deep blue water. If you want to dive with large pelagics this is the dive for you. Whale Sharks, Mantas, and Whales can all be seen diving at these remote and incredible sites. No Guarantees though.
You need recent experience and an Advanced license for these trips.
A lot has been written and said about Molokini. Most of which is very good. Most of it is very accurate too, this is a really incredible Dive Site. The Partially Submerged crater hosts one of the finest reefs in Hawaii, packed with stunning Reef Fish and a whole host of interesting critters, Giant Moray Eels, Octopus, Nudibranch, Trevally, Eagle, and Manta Rays, along with a whole host of Endemic Hawaiian Species of fish. Not enough? How about warm crystal clear water with vis regularly over 100ft year-round?
Still not enough, How about the change to Dive with Sharks? Maybe even Dolphins and Humpback whales? Molokini is easily your best bet for these in Maui. Molokini Takes Maui Diving to a whole new level.
You will be offered two types of Molokini Trips, the Standard Dive, where you will explore the inside of the Crater, or the more advanced Backwall dive Trip. With the Regular trip, you will dive the Outer reef sites and maybe some inner. With the Backwall, you will dive the back wall and Reefs end dive sites.
While the regular trip is amazing, the Backwall is just out of this world. It is however only suitable for advanced divers. So if you are experienced make sure you don’t miss out on one of Hawaii’s BEST dive sites.
One thing should be noted about Molokini however, you are very unlikely to find Turtles here. It is just too far out to see for them with too little food.
The Inner Reef is the main Snorkel area of the reef. This reef butts up against the main part of the island and is a really great reef. It just has two problems, it gets overused quite a bit by the snorkellers, and it’s just not quite as good as the Outer Reef and Reefs End. You may end up on the Inner reef though at the end of your second dive as it is nice and shallow so you can spend longer here and remain No-Deco.
The Outer Reef Areas are the real reason to Dive the Crater. These deeper and less Mauled reef sites still sit within the crater but are more exposed to blue water and less mauled by the endless stream of snorkelers.
Here Life is more intense, the Coral healthier, and the water clearer. Here you can encounter a staggering number of reef fish. The area is a protected marine reserve so there is no fishing of any kind here. Amongst the Acres of Coral Gardens, you can encounter Moray eels of various types, and Fantastic Day Octopus exploring the reef for food. Stunning Bluefin Trevally hunt amongst the pristine Coral heads that can house the Grunting Native Hawaiian Damselfish.
It is a truly wonderful place to explore. The Conditions are out of this world as well. The warm water means even in the depths of winter only thin wetsuits are needed and the islet is flushed daily by crystal clear seawater from the open ocean meaning 100ft visibility is a bad day!
Reefs end can be dived two ways. Either way, it is the most remote and pristine reef on Molokini. It is done as part of the Backwall Trip. Here you are deposited on the outside edge of the reef and quickly find the current is very strong (This is a Drift Dive). You are pulled along the fantastic coral formations, Fish life here is stunning with endless reef fish and a large number of Trevally prowling the fringes. There are several caves where Grey Reef sharks get some rest, and Galapagos Sharks cruise around in the deeper waters.
The Current soon pulls you off the reef and into the deep blue of the Backwall. Here you will find an abundance of fish and access to Deep Bluewater where literally anything can appear.
You can also Dive Reefs end from the Inside of the Crater. Doing so requires you to be careful not to go too far out over the reef as you do not want to be caught unintentionally in the current mentioned above. If you are diving as part of a tour then this will be explained in full in your dive briefing.
Molokini Back Wall Dive
Back Wall Dives are simply out of this world! The Back of Molokini Plunges 100 meters straight down into the Pacific Ocean. You are dropped off alongside the wall which is encrusted in coral and teeming with life. In one dive you can see it all. Octopus, Giant Moray, Galapagos Sharks, Manta Rays, More Reef fish than you knew existed, it’s all here in a stunning and dramatic setting.
Despite the 100ft+ of crystal clear visibility of pure fresh Ocean water, there is NO visible bottom and no end to the reef in either direction. It’s just the wall on one side and blue all around. This gives an incredible feeling of being small and exposed. And Indeed anything can swim up and make you feel even smaller.
In the Winter when Whales take over the Maui Channel, this is really the only Dive Site, where you can dive with Humpbacks. NO dive company offers any dive where you can dive with Whales, simply for conservation reasons. However, at the Back-wall, the Whales can and do approach Dive Groups.
Even if you don’t get a once-in-a-lifetime Whale encounter the wall will still blow your socks off. In our video above we got tantalizingly close to a Whale encounter but they never quite showed up, but their song was incredible. You can clearly hear it in the video, but in person, it was much louder and you actually felt the rumbles of the song.
We have also Dived the wall out of whale season and it is still and mind-blowing site, in fact, it is possibly better out of whale season, as to be honest the whales are a bit of a distraction from this simply stunning wall dive. It really is one of the best Dive Sites in Hawaii, even the world. In fact, it has on one single problem…Mokuho’Oniki Rock, which we get to next but first a little side attraction to the diving at Molokini
We have done a lot of Whale-Watching in Maui, and the best trip we have ever been on was our recent surface interval at Molokini. It is an unadvertised feature of these dive trips, but as we lounged about on the sun deck. warming up, and enjoying our fantastic lunch, The Whales that failed to join us underwater did pop along to say Hi.
As such we were treated to a fantastic display of fin slapping and partial breaches as a Mother and hours-old calf frolicked at the surface. This was an utter Joy and blew any whale-watching trip out of the water. We had already seen a ton of Whales on our trip out and this was the icing on the Cake. It was worth every penny, and we got some free diving too!
Molokai / Mokuho’Oniki Rock
Back to the Diving. Molokai offers some of the best diving in Hawaii and is seriously world-class. It gets left off the “World’s Best Dive Sites” Lists as it’s pretty remote and unheard of, these lists gravitate to Famous locations. We only know one operator who is crazy enough to make the Insane Channel crossing and deploy divers of sometimes questionable quality into the wild and remote waters here.
But what is on offer is Genuinely mind-blowing.
Hammerhead Shark Dive
Not every Dive to this site will be like the one we experienced. But when this site is good, it is simply stunning. Our first dive here was A-typical, After exploring the reef for 10-15 Mins we headed out into the blue with fingers crossed. Within 5 Mins we were surrounded. A school of 20-30 Sharks had found our group and were checking us out. They had Zero interest in us as food, so there was NO fear from our side, but they had little fear too, they were simply interested.
As they circled our group we hung in the water as they repeatedly took turns to take a closer look. At one point a Large 2meter+ Female, headed straight toward me. She was gliding effortlessly through the water on a direct collision course with ME. She was a Big Fish, easily 2.5M but looked more like 10 meters from my perspective, as she got closer and closer, the HR rose and I just kept thinking…she WILL turn…right? When she finally did turn, she must have been 15 feet from me, but again it felt like 5m. As she glided by it was probably the most phenomenal moment of my life.
We continued to float about in the water, as the sharks circled and randomly headed in for a closer look. 15-20 Mins felt like seconds and as air and No-Deco time ran down we dragged ourselves begrudgingly back to the surface. At this point, things had really heated up. The Swell was HUGE and there was no boat in sight. Focussed on the Sharks we had drifted a long way. We were no longer in the shelter of Mokuho’Oniki Rock and were exposed to big ocean swells. It took seconds for the dive boat to locate us and begin the extraction. But in the BIG swells, this was challenging.
It was very clear at this point the high entry requirements the Dive shop had placed on Participation. This was the most extreme dive I had ever done. A truly Bucket List item that you probably never knew existed. You could tell from the expression on the Dive Guides’ face this was not the usual experience. But every group that day saw Sharks and almost everyone we know who has dived here has seen them too, but we all know Nature is unpredictable.
Fish Rain / Lost Reef
If you want to see what a wild and untouched reef looks like come here. While Parts of Hawaii’s mainland look and feel like a land time forgot, this reef is the underwater equivalent. While the Name is based on the sheer number of reef fish that appear to rain down on you, the reef is the real star. There is Rock here but you can’t see it for the incredibly thick coral coverings. Fish pour down on you, and you fly over the reef system in some pretty strong currents. This is not Beginner Diving.
After soaring over the reef, which hosts some really rare and endemic species such as the blue dragon nudibranch. You again head out into the blue water for another chance for Hammerheads.
This advanced dive trip is the highlight of any divers trip to Hawaii. Wild Reefs, Incredible Wildlife, and hammerhead sharks. It just ticks all the boxes. Make sure you do it as the last dive of your trip as nothing really else comes close.
Molokai is only available as a charter from Lahaina Divers
Unsurprisingly there are quite a few Dive companies operating in Maui. We actually have very little experience with them practically. We found a company we liked and we stuck with them. Mainly as they are the only Dive Company that makes the Crossing to Molokini. As a rule, we favor Boat Diving in Maui as you just get so much for your money, but there are some great shore operators.
Lahaina Dive Centers
Lahaina Divers – Lahaina – These are the Pros of Maui. Their operation is very slick. And that is why we love it. They also offer all the big-hitting dives such as the Backwall, Lanai Drift, and Molokai, along with regular trips out to Lanai. These are the Guys we trust to dive with on Maui. They offer complimentary coffee at the shop along with ample cake!
The whole service is Valet so everything is done for you. They are highly professional and have the whole operation down to a tee. The Surface interval sees a great lunch of fresh sandwiches, Maui Chips, and Topical Fruit. And fresh-baked Cookies follow the final dive. The Boats are large and fully equipped.
The Downside is their popularity. They can cram a lot of people onto the boat. Their professional attitude can turn people off. They are serious about diving and safety and sometimes this can come across as rude. We get it, and we have no issue being TOLD what to do, but some people do not like this. Think of it as a bit military rather than Disney.
Maui Diving – A nice relaxed dive operator offering shore dives around West Maui at great prices. All gear is included and they offer some great sites such as Mala Pier and Black Rock Back Wall.
Extended Horizons – Specialising in Lanai Diving, these are great operators. Whizzing you across the channel in small groups to dive into the best Lanai has to offer.
In2Scuba Diving Maui – Lahaina – A very Highly rated operator who focuses on shore dives along the Maui Coastline. Offering a personal dive experience that is laid back and chilled. You hear very few complaints about these guys. If Relaxed Maui Shore diving is your aim these guys could be your best bet.
These are a particular favorite for beginners. The small friendly groups get rave ratings from people who are taking their first steps into Diving.
Banyan Tree Divers – Another Dive Operator Specialising in Maui Shore Dives
Kihei Dive Centers
Island Style Diving (Mike Severns Diving) – Great Diving Outfit in Kihei offering some good dive sites and some interesting alternatives from the norm.
Maui Dive Shop – If you are in the Kihei and Weilia Area then Maui Dive shop is a great choice and offers the Back-wall Dive along with Lanai Trips and a selection of the Maui Coast Dives.
Pro Diver – Offering both shore and boat dives in Kihei, including a Molokini Backwall Dive.
NeverDry – A small outfit that offers a great selection of shore dives and is very highly rated.
Have Your Say
Let us know your thoughts on the best Maui Dive sites. Have you dived the Remote shores of Molokai? Have you explored the breathtaking Backwall or were you just Blown away by Diving Alongside Turtles on one of Maui’s many Reef Sites? let us know your favorite sites below and what you saw while diving them.