Updated: December 2017

Molokini Snorkel Adventure

Old Hawaiian legend has it that Molokini was once a beautiful woman, in love with the same man as the fire goddess Pele. The jealous Pele cut Molokini in two and turned her into stone. Her head is supposedly Puu Olai, the cinder cone by Makena Beach. Her body has been left in the ocean. According to science, Molokini Crater is a volcano that has been dormant for thousands of years. Part of the cinder cone has crumbled away, allowing the crater to fill with water, so it has kind of a half moon shape. The remaining cone wall shelters the area from the treacherous current and strong tradewinds, making Molokini Crater a haven for fish and adventuresome tourists alike. The crystal clear, warm waters offer viewing to over 100 feet almost every day of the year. Fortunately, the US Navy no longer uses it as target practice as they did in WWII -- today, Molokini is one of the best snorkel and dive locations in the world. If you plan a vacation to Maui, be sure to include a trip out to Molokini on your list of things to do.

How Best to Embark on Molokini Snorkeling

Located three miles off of Maui's south shore, Molokini Crater has been designated as a State Marine Life & Bird Conservation District. As such, its waters and land mass are protected, so do not attempt to climb out of the water onto the island. The interior of the crater has a lush reef that is teeming with friendly sea life. Over 250 recorded species of fish, some of which can be found nowhere else in the world, call Molokini Crater their home. It is best to visit Molokini Crater early in the morning, before the winds and seas pick up. In the afternoon, the waters can get quite rough. Many tour companies departing from various points along Maui's western shore offer boat trips daily to Molokini Crater. Many leave from Lahaina Harbor, which is a 12-mile boat ride to the famed crater. For those who are staying in Kihei, there are convenient departure points for your Molokini snorkel adventure in Ma'alea Harbor.

Most Molokini crater excursions will offer breakfast during the trip out. Once at the Molokini crater, you will have plenty of time to swim and snorkel before enjoying a barbecue lunch. On the way back to Maui, you may stop and enjoy one or two other prime Maui snorkeling spots and turtle habitats. These excursions usually last five to six hours, and sunscreen is a must or you will end up with a scorching sunburn. If you prefer not to be part of the crowd on a guided tour to Molokini Crater, you can rent a powerboat from one of many marinas in Maui. Just remember that human visitors have already taken a heavy toll on the environment, and much of the coral on the crater's floor has died because of boats anchoring there. Mooring balls have been installed now and must be used to protect the rest of the coral habitat. When standing on the south shore of Maui, Molokini Crater appears to be very close and seems like an accessible kayaking trip. Do not attempt to kayak to Molokini Crater unless you are very experienced and very physically fit. The strong ocean currents and stiff tradewinds make the journey incredibly difficult. Kayaking should only be attempted by those who are very strong, during times when the tradewinds die down, and only with an experienced guide.

Regions for Molokini Snorkeling and Diving

Once you have reached Molokini Crater, there are several areas that are excellent for Molokini snorkeling or scuba diving, ranging from beginner shallows to advanced wall or drift dives.
  • Enenue- Enenue in the Molokini Crater offers a variety of depth and terrain, and is suitable for beginner divers in the shallow areas, but the increase in depth brings with it increased difficulty. Divers who do remain in the shallows will be greeted by schools of fish that are friendly enough to be hand fed. Butterfly fish, tuna, rudderfish, and chub can be found in abundance, and you might even spot the occasional whale during winter months.
  • Middle Reef - A raised circular mound in the center of Molokini Crater makes up Middle Reef. This is another area that is suitable for Molokini snorkeling, and it is alive with hard coral, trumpet fish, butterfly fish, and many other types of fish.
  • Shark Condos - At 130 feet, advanced divers have the opportunity to view the rarely seen boarfish in this section of the Molokini Crater. This area is made up of a series of terraces, which provide hiding places in the form of caves for lobster and sharks. White-tip reef sharks live in the shallower caves, and on clear days you can see the terraces cascading off into the distance.
  • Flying Sea Cliffs - Located along the back side of Molokini Crater, shelves protrude out at a depth of 50 feet. Underneath the main shelf, the drop-off is another 80 feet to the bottom. Beneath the shelves divers can see red sponge and tube coral, visible only when using powerful lights.
  • Reef's End - On the west side of Molokini Crater, the top of the cone continues underwater for another 200 yards, just below the surface. On the outside, there are steep drop-offs best left to advanced divers. The inside is more hospitable to beginners and intermediates and is home to many sharks, eel, and cauliflower coral.
  • Tako Flats - This area is a flat sand channel with coral heads and rock formations that make excellent hideaways for the elusive octopus. Manta rays can be seen in this part of Molokini as well.
  • Edge of the World - Unlike any other dive in the world, the shelf protrudes from the backside of the crater, with a drop-off from the shelf of 200 feet. Bottom depth here is one of the deepest in Molokini, and some of the bigger and more unusual fish live here.
  • The Back Side - This Molokini spot provides a drift and wall dive only for the experienced. This is a great opportunity for those who want to swim with white, grey, or black tip reef sharks. You may also see spinner dolphins, manta rays, and large schools of tropical fish. A vertical drop goes 360 feet to the ocean floor, but is best enjoyed at around 80 feet.