One of Maui’s most popular attractions is one of its many Snorkelling Tours. Often these involve crowded boats and minimal snorkeling time at one or two stops filled with thousands of tourists. One way to buck this trend is on one of Maui’s Ocean Rafting trips, These smaller boats take limited guests out to the best sites on Maui and due to their speed get there before the big boats arrive. Giving you some great alone time on Maui’s best snorkel spots.
Their small size and agility also mean they can get you to the places the other boats can’t, like the Backwall of Molokini, and can take you to more far-off locations due to their speed. They also offer a more adventurous and thrilling ride, All in all, it sounds like a pretty good offering! But what are these trips really like? How does it feel to be banged about on a rough-and-tumble ocean ride and are the extra locations worth your time? Find out everything you need to know in our Redline Rafting Maui Review, as we take a ride on one of Maui’s top Rafting operators 5-hour tour of Molokini and South Maui.
- Event: 5-Hour Adventure Rafting – Molokini and South Maui
- Location: Kehei Boat Ramp
- Cost: $199 (Ages 8-65)
- Duration: 5 hours
- Drinks: Breakfast and Light Lunch – All Snorkelling Gear
Redline Rafting Review
2-Hour Tour – $139
A short trip out to Molokini, 60 mins snorkeling time in the crater, and then back to land. This tour uses smaller boats and has a 14-person limit. It also has a late-check-in option for those who don’t want to get up at 5 am
This is our favorite tour and really gets you to all the best parts of South Maui. If you just want to see Molokini we prefer the regular tours, with drinks and food and lots of fun. These Rafting tours are better suited to getting you to the more remote and exciting parts of the Island and that is exactly what the 5-hour tour offers.
This tour uses their larger, 35-foot Raft and allows up to 24 people. It does depart at 7 am though and you need to be at the boat ramp at 6:30 am
Whale Watching – $85
These Whale Watching tours are short dedicated trips to observe Whales. These only run between January and March, peak whale season, and allow you to get really close to the Whales, but as we discuss later, the chances of seeing whales, in whale season, on the other trips are pretty high!
For the rest of this article, we will primarily be dealing with the 5-hour trip.
Alternate Tour Operators
Bluewater Rafting is a very similar company and offers very similar tours and experiences. Honestly, the most major difference is the color of the boats.
The other big difference is the direction the tours take. One perk of these kinds of trips is the limited numbers and getting to locations when the crowds are not there, if all the small boats arrived at once then this would largely be canceled out so Blue Water and Redline have an unofficial agreement to operate the tours inverse of each other.
This means Blue Water head south first, takes in the lava coast and then heads over to Molokini as the big boats are leaving. This way both tours have the best sites largely to themselves. There are also a lot more options with Blue Water Rafting if you want something between the 2 and 5-hour tours
5-Hour Tour Overview
In a nutshell, the tour sets off from the Kehei Boat ramp at 7 am and quickly powers over to Molokini. Here you get breakfast and some quality snorkeling in the crater all before the big boats come and unload thousands of tourists. From here you nip around the back of the Islet to the Backwall where you get some really fun and exhilarating Snorkel time in hundreds of feet of crystal clear water.
Then the boat heads down the coast on a thrilling, splashing fun ride to La Parouse Bay. More snorkel time here, and then back up the coast, in an even more thrilling manner, to say hi to the turtles at Turtle Town. Then it’s a light lunch and back to Kehei at around midday.
This is the basic outline, it can change based on conditions and weather, but this is the intended itinerary. If they can’t get Somewhere you will be given an alternate stop or more time at the others.
The Crew will provide you with Mask and Snorkel, Fins, Floaty Belt, and even a wetsuit if you need one, but we find the water is usually far too warm to need one. They also provide basic tuition and encouragement to newbies, and expert top cover to make sure you are safe in the water.
We look at this itinerary in great detail below and check out our YouTube highlights reel as well.
How Extreme is the Tour?
Honestly, it’s not as extreme as it’s made out to be. But it’s not exactly a relaxing and comfortable cruise either. Reline puts it like this:
Due to the adventurous nature of this trip, it is not recommended for pregnant women, people with back or neck problems, elderly or fragile people, or children under 8Redline Rafting
These are all sensible precautions. The Raft really can bounce about pretty hard. While it’s not exactly a white knuckle ride, most of the time, the ride is pretty smooth if a little bouncy. At certain points when the wind, waves, and boat position align, it really can slam down. It only takes one or two of these big hits to really aggravate a previous injury. And while it might be annoying to miss out due to pregnancy, especially the early stages, really is it worth the risk?
We think that’s the best way to look at it, the ride is not extreme really but it is the risk of these big hits. So as long as you are ok physically then most people would enjoy the ride.
The other thing to consider is snorkeling. It is at times pretty remote and wild water snorkeling. I am an extreme snorkeller and wild swimmer and have swum in some pretty wild and remote places, but even for me this was pretty taxing. While Turtle town and Molokini should be fine for most, it was pretty epic out on the back wall! There is the comfort of top-cover (the crew is always looking out for you) and you can skip any stops that worry you, so the extreme nature of the snorkeling should not stop many people, but be aware this is not your average calm water swimming pool type snorkel!
Is The Tour Suitable for Non-Swimmers?
If you are not wanting to get in at all then this is not the best option. While you may well enjoy the boat ride and there is a lot to see above water including the stunning scenery. The issue is the boat does spend a lot of time at the various snorkel spots. This would end up pretty boring.
If you are coming along with others who are snorkelers, then it might be one to suck up. But if your whole group is not into snorkeling there are other more enjoyable tours with more to see and do without getting wet.
While I am an avid snorkeller and never let a day go by in Maui without hitting the water. Kate is less so and is far more wary and cautious about getting in the water. She did not get in at every stop, but still enjoyed the time she did spend in the water and felt very safe with extra floaties and expert top cover from the crew.
Will We See Wildlife?
Definitely, but this depends on what wildlife you want to see. There will be a huge amount to see whenever your head is underwater. Molokini is a marine reserve and it’s teeming with life. And the other stops are hardly barren. But this is a bit of a given so most people want to know about other life you may spot apart from the regular reef fish.
Turtles are usually absent from Molokini and we found them pretty scarce at La Perouse Bay. However, the final stop is usually teeming with friendly turtles. We found there are better places to see turtles on Maui, at least on the day we visited, but there were still plenty of turtles and they were really used to people. In short, you are VERY likely to see turtles, as long as you get in the water
We did not see any dolphins on our trip but they are actually a real possibility. It kind of depends on when you are visiting. We were in the shoulder season when there were not many dolphins around. We spent a lot of time on the water this trip and saw no dolphins at all. At other times of the year, dolphins are far more likely. They also love these fast boats and happily ride along in the wake for a free ride! The best time for dolphins is through the summer.
Again we were unlucky on the whale front, however, visit during the Peak season and you can be almost guaranteed to see Whales. The Whale watching trips obviously target the whales but you almost always get sightings on the regular trips too as whales are just SO abundant in Maui during the season.
You would be very lucky indeed to see a Monk Seal. And we did just that. As we left the harbor there was a seal hunting just outside the breakwater. Don’t count on this though, but it just shows you could see anything!
Maui is not really a haven for bird watching, however, just about the best place on the Island to see seabirds is Molokini. There are large nesting colonies of shearwaters and Frigate birds.
Sharks, Large Pelagics, Manta Rays, and Whale Sharks
All the above are possible and some actually quite likely. The back wall is home to quite a few sharks and we regularly see them while diving. The same with large pelagic species, Tuna, Giant Trevally, etc all cruise along the back of the wall. Manta Rays and Whale Sharks are less common but still make periodic appearances. In the deep water off the back wall of Molokini, you could see just about anything! If you are incredibly lucky, you could even see and humpback swim by!
Let’s take a look at what you can expect on the day. This was our experience and is typical, but nature and ocean conditions are REALLY fickle and your experience may be quite different, but what we definitely learned from the Captain and Crew is they will definitely do their best to give you the best experience possible on the day.
Check-in for the tour is at 6:30 am at the Kihei Boat Ramp. It’s a simple process, which was handy as we were not functioning too well after getting up at 5 am. There is loads of free parking at the boat ramp, and even an overflow if the main lot is full.
Once everyone was checked in we got a brief introduction and then the crew moved to launch the boat which was currently sitting on a trailer, handy for locating the tour!
The trip is a shoes-off trip, as is Hawaiian Custom, so you lose your shoes as you board the boat. These are collected in large bags for you to retrieve later. Seating is open, and first come first served. There are large benched that run parallel along the boat with a few seats at the back near the crew and a small 2-seat bench right at the front.
The closer to the front you sit the more extreme the ride and the more refreshing ocean spray that will be dumped on you during the trip (Note, at the front, you will be DRENCHED). As most people were prioritizing comfort, the front seats were open, and as we wanted some good filming opportunities we took the wildest seats in the house!
After this, you get the safety briefing as the raft gently motors out of port, before the engines are wound up and the Rafting Adventure begins.
Journey to Molokini
The first section of the trip was pretty uneventful The ocean was calm and the ride to the Molokini Islet nice and smooth. We were beginning to wonder what the fuss is about. Once out at Molokini, the captain did a victory lap around the Islet. Along the backside, the ocean conditions were far more severe and the ride really started to get exciting. However, this was short-lived and we pulled up inside the reef and got ready to get in.
Before the first snorkel, we were served breakfast. This consisted of delicious Cinnamon un and some fresh fruit. It was not a lot but as we were about to go swimming it was the perfect small bite. We then geared up and got ready to hit the water.
All gear is provided from mask and snorkel to fins and a load of options for added buoyancy. They even had a small selection of Wetsuits available but as far as we were concerned the water was far too warm to need a suit.
Molokini is a fantastic snorkeling location. The water is about as clear as it gets and is constantly flushed with fresh ocean water. If you do not know, the Islet (It’s not big enough to be called an Island) is a crescent-shaped half-sunken volcanic crater. The inside portion is protected from the element and offers calm water and amazing coral. The outside section, called the back wall, has a huge drop-off and is exposed to the wilds of the ocean. With Redline, you get to snorkel both, unlike most Molokini operators that only offer the inside.
The inside section is filled with huge numbers of fish and some really good coral. The deeper water is sandy and there is not much to see, but as you approach the inside wall the water is shallow the coral blooms and the fish congregate. The Area is a marine reserve which means there is a no-take rule and fishing and spearfishing are banned meaning that the fish that are here are also really large in size.
It’s a unique waterscape filled with fish and coral with some of the best water clarity imaginable. It’s just simply put one of the best snorkeling sites in Hawaii.
On some visits here we have seen some pretty cool stuff, large Blue Trevally, Moray Eels, Octopus, and even the odd reef shark. But today it was just a case of the usual Reef Fish. There was a lot to see but very little we hadn’t seen before. It was great to be here before all the big boats turned up but it did make the snorkeling a little more exposed than when a large number of boats are present providing a bit of shelter. The Lack of sun also hindered the snorkeling as the light was pretty poor. But on the whole, it was excellent.
There were a few issues with some snorkelers getting a bit out of their depth and there was even a fish attack when a Black Durgon took a nip out of one of the snorkelers, but the crew dealt with everything brilliantly. Once everyone had their fill, we up-anchored and headed around to the Backwall.
The Molokini Backwall is an inspiring place to visit. We are regulars to the back wall, but usually as scuba divers. However, it’s just as invigorating as a snorkeller. The Back wall plunges vertically from 300 ft (100 meters) above the water line to over 3-400 ft (100 meters) below. It is exposed to the open ocean swells and plagued by strong currents. You are basically jumping into a practically bottomless ocean, with giant waves, with nothing but a sheer rockface for reference.
Even with the cover of a boat, this is a very risky place to go snorkeling, The currents will rip you away in no time if the waves don’t smash you against the wall. So why are these tours encouraging you to get in? Well, they have a hack. Right in the center of the wall, the currents meet and cancel each other out. There are small pockets of water that is essentially still. What’s more the waves do not break here. Instead, they just gently rise and fall up the wall.
This is where the tour deposits you (and stays very close by to pick you up again if needed) in this pocket of crystal clear water, whooshing up and down in the ocean swells. They call it the elevator as you can rise and fall 10-15ft up the wall and then back down again as the sells rise and fall. It’s quite a thrill ride!
On top of this, the deep water that the Backwall is exposed to makes this the perfect location for any Big-Stuff sightings to roll on by. Whale Sharks, Humpnacks, Manta Rays, Galapagos Sharks, Tuna, Ginat Trevally (Ulua), and many other pelagic species can and have all been sighted here. We have even spotted a few off that list ourselves.
Simply knowing you are in a bluewater dive sight, where the giants of the ocean can and do make an appearance is pretty thrilling. But when they do pop up this is a snorkel of a lifetime. Alas with nature, nothing is guaranteed, and these epic sightings are pretty rare to be honest. But you have to be in the game to win it and this s one of those rare opportunities where you even have a shot.
On our trip, the swell was really surging, you could tell from the crew this was a pretty epic day. Inside the elevator, we were flying up the wall and then crashing back down again. As for marine life, there were a couple of really large Tuna (2-300lb) rolling by just at the edge of visibility (well over 200ft), but other than this the marine life was all on the less impressive end. There are still a lot of fishes out here, but not much out of the ordinary showed on our trip.
Even without the feature presentation, this was still an amazing spot to snorkel. The sheer rawness of the location is awe-inspiring and this really is an unforgettable place to take a dip. To be completely honest this is the main selling point of this tour, the rare opportunity to snorkel on the Backwall of Molokini.
Journey to La Perouse Bay
After the excitement of the Backwall, we headed off to the next stop. The wind direction was causing the captain some concern. The huge rollers that had made the Backwall so exciting were now against us and he warned there was a strong possibility of not getting La Perouse Bay today. He explained the issue would not be getting us there, but getting us there reasonably comfortably. That is the conditions were bad, and it would be a horrendous and deeply uncomfortable ride, but he could, if we wanted, push on regardless. We all agreed his best judgment was the way to go, but it’s nice he would have obliged in getting us there whatever the condition (as long as it remained safe).
In the end, the waves were not quite as bad as he feared and we got through alright. It was still a rough ride and on occasion, the boat slapped down off a big wave really hard. Those near the back of the boat got a soaking, those further forward got drenched and the idiots on the front, namely us, might as well have gone swimming!
It was super good fun though and the big hits were all accompanied by howls of glee as the big red rollercoaster splashed its way to La Perouse.
La Perouse Bay
The Stop at La Perouse Bay was not the usual snorkeling destination people think of when you say La Perouse, the Aquarium, and the Fish Bowl. This is restricted to the tour groups after years of overuse by both tours and shoreline snorkellers. Instead, the boats now head to the other side of La Perouse bay to the remote and wild Lava coastline.
This was probably the least exciting spot we visited. There really was not much of note here and it was definitely more a case of enjoying the journey down here and back. There was still a good amount of marine life, some nice coral formations, and a lot of Sea Urchins, and the water clarity was ok, not quite Molokini standards but very few places are.
We enjoyed the time in the water here, but we have snorkeled much better locations from the shore. But the boat ride out was amazing, and things were about to get a whole lot better.
Journey to Turtle Town
After our stop at La Perouse, we headed to Turtle Town. This was a short hop along the South Maui Coastline, however, the Captain took a less direct route. Instead, we headed back out to sea. His explanation was that if we headed straight there, we would be head-on into the waves and the ride very bumpy. By making the trip at right angles to the shore it would be much smoother and more fun.
Heading out things were getting really wild. The swells were huge, 2-3 times the height f the boat. The view over the bow at the top of each wave was staggering, it felt 20-30 ft in the air. Then at the bottom of the wave, the huge swells rose up around you, huge blue mountains towering above you. It all felt very epic.
Then the captain turned for shore. He was now using the waves to surf into shore. This meant riding down the wavefront before taking a hard switch back at the bottom of the wave, usually resulting in a drenching for us guests. It felt just like a pro surfer just on a massive scale. It was amazing and one of the most fun things we have done in the ocean! This process repeated a few times as we surfed our way back to shore. There were genuine howls of excitement and the whole thing felt like the best, and sweetest, roller coaster we have been on!
After a while and with huge grins, we got to the calmer waters and powered off alongside the shoreline. Taking in Big and Little Beach, and the multi-million dollar homes that line the shore. Finally pulling into our final stop, Turtle Town.
We often get asked where Turtle Town is, and the simple answer is it doesn’t exist. Every Tour Operator has their own Turtle Town and it can change even then depending on Conditions. If you are ever told you are visiting turtle Town what they mean is they are taking you to a location where turtles are all but guaranteed.
On this day we were taken to the rocky headland in front of the Makena Surf Hotel. The snorkeling here was not really that special. There was some decent marine life and a bit of coral, but the water quality was poor. However, there were plenty of turtles.
It didn’t take long to see the first Turtle as one surfaced right by the boat as we arrived, which set the mood perfectly. There were at least 4-5 turtles in the area, and there was even a super cute baby turtle (well a juvenile anyway). The turtles here are very used to people and quite happy to pose for photos.
However, we have snorkeled better spots on the island, and having spent a week at Honokeana Cove it was a little underwhelming. If you have not found all of Maui’s top Turtle spots, this was probably amazing and most guests seemed overjoyed, we are just a little spoiled. The turtles were definitely in rest mode which means most of their time was spent just chilling on the bottom.
Back to Kihei
After visiting the Turtles it was back to the Ramp. This was after lunch which was pretty light. A nice Turkey Wrap, a packet of Maui Chips, a tasty cookie, and a can of drink. It was light but nice and just what we needed after 4 snorkel stops.
The ride back was pretty uneventful, the sun was just coming out and it was just a nice cruise along the coast. The Captain pulled a few moves as we approached the ramp, but nothing compared to what had already transpired.
Back at the ramp it’s time t say goodby. The crew put on a low-pressure speech asking for tips but it was really low-pressure getting off the boat. We grabbed our shoes, dropped the crew a few notes, and headed off. The higher the pressure for tips, the less likely we are to tip well!
We really had such a great tie on this trip. We have done so many Ocean Adventures in Maui and they all become a bit Samey. This trip really bucked that trend and was both exciting, informative, relaxing, and just felt out there.
From the amazing snorkeling sites, fantastic marine life, Exhilarating boat ride, and fantastic crew, it just ticked all the boxes. To be honest, we don’t think we had a great trip, in terms of the wildlife sightings, if you threw in a couple of Whale and dolphin sightings, and maybe something big on the back wall and this would have been a trip of a lifetime!
And remember we are pretty desensitized to Maui’s Ocean life, we have been there and seen it all, but this trip still added so much, if you are new to Maui’s undersea wonders this trip would really blow your mind! We often mention “the usual Reef Fish” ads if it’s a bad thing, it’s not, MAuos usual reef fish are a rainbow of color and beauty and congregate over the reefs in vast numbers. It’s just you can see this rainbow from just about every beach on the island!
5 hours really seems like a long time to spend on a boat, but in all honestly, it flew by, there is always something going on, something to see and we never felt like we were just passing time waiting for the next snorkeling spot.
The food was light, but it was enough to get you through the day ad everything was delicious. If they had provided a large heavy meal, this would not have gone well with the snorkeling and bumpy raft ride!
Overall we really can’t recommend Redline enough. We were really excited to go on this tour but it blew our expectations out of the water. If you can cope with the bumpy ride and are ok with being out in the water in some pretty wild conditions for 5 hours, and being perpetually wet. Then this is one of the best things to do in Maui.
Tips and Advice
Are Their Restrooms On-Board?
Yes and no. Which is a strange answer really. The official answer is no. Which is problematic for a 5-hour trip. The answer is to get in the water and just go. Which is fine for number ones. If you are needed number two, the best advice is to make sure you go before, and if that fails there is technically a toilet on board. Speak to the crew, but they really don’t want you to use it in anything other than an emergency, and it may be out of service.
The Sun in Maui is STRONG. The Island chain is down near the equator and the sun beams down all day and there is almost no shelter. What’s more, being out on a boat means you get double impact, as the sun reflects off the water.
Marry this with the fact that regular suncream is now outlawed in Maui and you need to use the slightly less effective Mineral Based creams and there really is a recipe for getting fried! The chances are without protection you will be burned to a crisp and not even know about it till later that evening when your skin sets on fire!
A rash vest is an absolute lifesaver. When snorkeling your back is face-up in the water and liable to burning, with a Rashie on this all goes away. All you need to worry about is your face, hands, neck, and legs. You will see all crew wearing them and almost all professionals operating in the sun in Maui wearing them. These are one of the best investments you can make on a Maui Vacation!
This is a big issue for some. We are not prone to it, but for the afflicted, it can ruin your day. These rafts are not as bad as many craft as it’s the constant swaying that gets you. With the engines blasting and the raft crashing through the waves, most people are less prone, and the fact you can get off the boat and into the water really helps too.
But less prone is not the same as immune. Some people will get sick. If you know you are prone, over-the-counter meds can really help. otherwise, listen to the crew who know the best ways to get over any bouts when you are out at sea. Getting in the water really helps as it completely stops any swaying that can occur, especially when the boat is moored at the stops.
It can be a little chilly out on the water. Despite the air temp being 85°F+ year round, and the temperature on land stifling at times, out on the water with a constant breeze and being perpetually wet. It can get a little nippy.
If you are a cold person having something to wrap up in can really help, just a dry towel or a hoody to pop on between stops can make the difference. We were actually fine, a little nippy when the boat was motoring, but on the whole ok. But we hail from the UK and are used to being perpetually wet and cold!
Don’t be shy about using Floaty Belts or extra buoyancy aids. Snorkeling is all about floating effortlessly on the surface and enjoying the underwater sights, anything you can do to assist this is worthwhile. We spoke to the crew and on EVERY trip, a large number of people shun floatation aids, then come crawling back to the boat, or being rescued, and ask for the floats from then on. By the end of the tour, 70%+ are using floatation belts.
You are far better using one to being with and maybe leaving it behind later in the trip when you are more comfortable.
Of course, regular and more confident snorkelers will know their limits and requirements but if you are new to the practice, just grab a belt and be safe.
Have Your Say
Let us know if you have been out with Redline Rafting. How did you enjoy your adventure? what did you see on your trip? How were the conditions? Maybe you had a disappointing experience? Whatever you have to say about Redline, just fire away in the comments and if you have any questions, maybe about an upcoming trip, just ask away in the comments below.