“Often voted as being the best Pacific island in the world by seasoned travelers, Maui’s waterworld also ranks high with aquatic tourists seeking some of the finest scuba diving and snorkeling opportunities in all of the Hawaiian islands.”
An eerie, low-pitched sound reverberated through the water column interrupting my search for critters concealed in the reef’s tangled branches of staghorn coral. I paused and curiously listened to the faint, haunting melody. My eyes scanned the cobalt blue void in a vain attempt to determine the source of this intriguing subsea harmony. The mysterious composer of these beguiling noises must be a “singer”. Somewhere out there in the blue…perhaps several miles away…a solitary male humpback whale was hanging motionless approximately 60-feet beneath the waves vocalizing the primordial, repetitious, vibrato of a whale song.
Known worldwide as the “singing whales”; marine biologists theorize the humpback’s song is either designed to attract females or to ward off other males. For me, the how or why was unimportant. I was simply content with knowing there remains ocean sanctuaries where divers can hear whales croon. That place is in the sparkling deep blue inter-island ocean passages that encircle Hawaii’s second largest island, Maui.
Maui’s stunning coastline offers dramatic ocean views, sprawling pineapple plantations, lavish resort villages and more miles of swimmable beaches than any of the other Hawaiian Islands. Situated in the central Pacific, 2,000 miles from the United States mainland, 3,400 miles from Japan and 850 miles from the nearest point of any other island group, the Hawaiian Islands are among the most isolated in the world. Formed geologically by two massive volcanoes, Maui’s 729 square miles of picturesque landscape is a study in tranquil beauty. A central valley, blanketed with sugarcane, divides the deeply eroded West Maui Mountains from the dormant 10,023 feet Haleakala volcano, thus earning Maui the fanciful sobriquet, “The Valley Isle”.
Each year, between November and April, humpback whales, as many as 10,000 or more, migrate from their summer feeding grounds in Alaska’s frigid arctic waters to frolic in the tropical and sheltered sea that surround the Hawaiian Islands. Soon after their arrival, the whale’s breed, calve and nurse their young before departing in May on the long return journey back to Alaska. This natural phenomenon has spawned a flourishing sub-industry for the Maui’s economy.
Whale watching is big business here during the humpback’s sojourn. A large fleet of charter vessels and onshore observation sites permit visitors ample opportunity to view these magnificent mammals from a safe distance. Humpback whales are protected under Hawaiian law, making it illegal for any person or craft to advance within 100 yards of the whales. Such laws are necessary to protect the whales from harassment during their mating season. Of course, no law prevents whales from approaching charter vessels should the whales choose to do so. Every now and then, it is not unheard of for these friendly leviathans to reward scuba divers with a “close encounter of the cetacean kind”.
Maui’s charming waterfront town, Lahaina, was once the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom. In the nineteenth century the site was the residence and island playground of the high chiefs. Around 1819, America’s Pacific whaling ships began to visit after working the lucrative whaling grounds in Japan. Almost overnight, Lahaina had become the most important provisioning stop for the whaling fleet. It was christened the “whaling capitol of the world” when 429 whaling ships dropped anchor here in 1846. Protestant missionaries had arrived earlier in 1823 at the invitation of Queen Keopuolani (the first Hawaiian chief to convert to Christianity). The missionaries were instrumental in establishing schools and enforcing moral decency upon a tropical paradise overrun with drunken, unruly, sex-crazed whalers. The village faded quickly after the whaling industry declined. Today, Lahaina has risen from relative obscurity to become Maui’s foremost tourist center. What was once a wild seafarer’s town has developed into a place that uniqely blends old world charm with twentieth century amenities. Art galleries, specialty clothing shops, jewelry boutiques and fine restaurants now crowd the tiny downtown core.
Scuba diving has long been one of Maui’s main attractions. Inter-island diving excursions around Maui and the neighboring islands. Molokini Crater, Molokai and Lanai are easily arranged through any of Maui’s fully equipped dive operators. Private charters, weekly packages, night dives, equipment sales, rentals and all levels of scuba instruction are readily available. With so many different dive operators to choose from, certified divers can make arrangements to plumb the depths at both popular and off-the-beaten-path dive sites.
Molokini Crater is arguably Maui’s signature diving and snorkeling site. Situated in Alalakeilli Channel, halfway between Maui and the island of Kahoolawe, Molokini’s crescent shaped land mass is an extinct volcano that is just a 25-minute boat ride from Maui. Owing to the caldera’s gaping size, this place offers a multitude of astonishing deep or shallow dive sites all at one location. It’s also best to book an early-morning trip from, as this very popular site is often teeming with scuba and snorkel day-trippers by mid afternoon.
Molokini’s unique subsea terrain is made up of irregular lava rock patterns, deep fissures, giant boulders and beautiful coral formations. The highest elevation of this protected marine park is 160 feet, while beneath the waves; depths can exceed 300 feet at the outer edges of the crater. Molokini certainly ranks as being one of the best locations to observe or photograph some of Hawaii’s more than 600 fish species, 34% of which are endemic to this ocean domain. I was awe-struck over the stunningly diverse array of fish that congregate at this mid-channel oasis. When divers submerge here, they are quickly surrounded by schools of yellow lemon butterfly fish seeking a handout. Exquisitely colorful parrotfish insatiably scraped algae off the surface of rocks and hard coral as a fearsome-looking moray eel emerged from beneath a lave ridge.
All over the reef, freckled hawkfish were conspicuously perched on coral heads awaiting an opportunity to dart suddenly at smaller prey passing by. Peering into the shadowy recesses of one crevice, I saw a large school of squirrelfish sharing their daytime hangout with two, sleeping white tip reef sharks. At around 70 feet, I encountered a solitary grey reef shark cruising lazily in open water. If divers take time to look, this monochromatic “blue water” zone will occasionally yield unexpected sightings of manta rays and the seemingly rare, whale shark.
Off the island of Lanai, underwater photographers are seduced by the macro and wide-angle subject matter found in 70 feet of water at “The Cathedrals”. First Cathedral is a large lava tube approximately 100 feet long and two stories tall. This dive site was so named because during certain times of the year shimmering shafts of sunlight filters through the openings in the ceiling of the lava domes ceiling illuminating the rock giving it the feeling of an old style church cathedral. The unique underwater scenery is pockmarked with lava tubes, archways, unusual coral formations and imposing pinnacles that rise up from the sea floor. This area is also home to Hawaii’s official state fish, the “Humuhumunukunukuapuaa”. Second Cathedral, is a cavern dive like First Cathedral, except the chamber is larger and has a fracture in the middle with two gaping archways. Both cavern interiors harbor an abundance of marine life in the numerous nooks and crannies.
One of West Maui’s popular dive sites lies just west of Kaanapali. Named after its similarly named nearby hotel resorts, Hyatt Marriot Hotel Reef is a shallow coral ridge separated by sand channels. The reef is inhabited by a myriad of tropical fish, invertebrates, resident green turtles and the occasional eagle ray. Descend to deeper depths and amid the broken coral rubble divers may discover more reclusive reef creatures such as damselfish, devil scorpion fish and octopus.
With a wealth of more than 50 different intriguing dive sites it is virtually impossible to explore all of Maui’s dive sites on a single visit. The underwater topography is diverse and the marine life plentiful. It is also one of the few places in the world where scuba divers can fathom the beguiling song of the humpback whale as they plumb the ocean depths of Maui’s waterworld.
Maui Quick Facts
Diving Season: Year round
Cost: Scuba diving is generally viewed as being slightly more expensive when compared to other diving locations around the world. Single day, two-tank dives can run from $100 to $125 per person, and three-tank “adventure” dives can go up to $160. Most operators only have small discounts, if any, for multi-day packages. Crew tips are appropriate if the service level adds to your enjoyment.
Water Temperatures: Hawaiian waters average 77 degrees during winter to 82 degrees in the summer.
Average Air Temperature: 75˚-85˚ F.
Time Zone: Hawaii Standard Time is in effect year-round. There is no daylight savings time. Hawaii is 2 hours behind Pacific Standard Time and 5 hours behind Eastern Standard Time. When daylight savings time is in effect on the mainland, Hawaii is 3 hours behind the West Coast and 6 hours behind the East Coast.
Languages: English, Hawaiian
Currency: US dollar. Credit cards are widely accepted.
Accommodations: Luxury resorts, hotels, bed and breakfasts, rental cottages, and condos are located throughout the island.
Whale Season: Late January through March is “high season” when the Humpback Whales are breeding. While it is actually rare to see a whale while you’re underwater, just about every scuba trip during this time of year becomes a quasi whale watching trip.
Maui Dive Operators
Scuba Shack , 2349 South Kihei Road, Kihei, Hawaii 96753 (In the ABC Store Complex, across from Kamaole Beach Park 1) Reservations: Toll Free 1-877-213-4488, Retail Store: 808-879-DIVE E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lahaina Divers Inc, 143 Dickenson St, Lahaina, HI 96761, (808) 667-7496, Email: email@example.com, www.lahainadivers.com
Michael Miller Happy Maui Diving & Tours 840 Wainee Street – Suite 106 Lahaina, Maui HI 96761 Phone: (808) 669-0123 Fax: (808) 669-7800 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Pacific Dive 150 Dickenson Street (The Old Captain Nemo’s Building) Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii 97671 phone: (808) 667-5331 Fax: (808) 667-6996E-mail: email@example.com Web: http://www.mauigateway.com/~scuba/
Scuba Gods 2130 South Kihei Road Kihei, Hawaii 96753 Web: http://www.scubagods.com
Water Fantasy Diving phone: 808-385-3483 http://www.waterfantasydiving.com