Should you snorkel or scuba dive in Molokini Crater, Hawaii?

Molokini Crater was the first dive site of Hawaii I added to my World Dive Map. The description of a semi-submerged crater of an ancient volcano was enough to get me thrilled about diving it. When I read the uninhabited atoll was a State marine sanctuary with excellent visibility, it became my primary target for the day I would make it to Hawaii. As I was on business trip to Japan for the second time this year, I decided to fly in the middle of the Pacific and explore the 50th State of the USA.

Yet, the price of scuba diving in Molokini, like most activities in Hawaii, was quite shocking compared to what I am used. I finally considered that spending a day snorkelling and then another day scuba diving was the best way to explore as much as possible of Molokini Crater for fewer dollars.

 

Day 1 – Snorkelling tour to Molokini Crater with Maui Reef Adventure

I was staying in Kihei with my friend Delphine, a private tour guide in Maui, a seaside town almost in front of Molokini Crater. As Molokini is only 4 km / 2.5 mi. from the shore,  I thought it would be perfect to get there in no time. Unfortunately, all the big boats for snorkelling or scuba diving don’t leave from Kihei Boat Ramp but from Ma’alaea Harbour, a 30-minute drive north from Kihei. With a check-in time at 6.30 am at Ma’alaea Harbour, be prepared for an early-bird day! However, Delphine, my buddy and I didn’t mind as we were too happy to spend the day underwater together.

The ride to Molokini Crater took us about 45 minutes. After a briefing of safe snorkelling practices, we started snorkelling at our first stop, the “Back Wall”, at 8.00 am in a 28°C water. My buddy and I spent 25 minutes exploring the backside of Molokini Crater. Just below the surface, there were hundreds of Scissortail Sergeant fish and Pennant Coralfish. The back wall of the crater was covered in Finger Coral and Red Slate Pencil Urchin. With a maximum depth of 80 m, I got rid of my snorkel, and we started to free dive along the wall. I’m not an excellent freediver but with the 30 seconds maximum I can stay underwater, it gave me enough time for breath-taking views in a clear deep blue water!

Our second stop was inside the crater, a site called “Enenue”, the eastern point of Molokini Crater. A school of Black Triggerfish was swimming below the boat. Here the crater goes into a gentle slope to approximately 15 m deep. For the first time, I made good use of my dive computer in freediving mode to see if I could dive a little bit deeper. 7 m deep was the maximum I could do, but that was enough to have a look at the Pencil Slate Urchins or crabs hiding in the coral.

After our two snorkelling sessions at Molokini Crater, at 9.00 am, it was time to go back closer to Maui’s shores. The reason the tour starts so early is that the swell becomes bigger around 10.00 am, making it difficult for boats to go back. Our last stop, “Turtle Town”, was near Makena Landing, a famous shore diving site. It was a great stop as we swam with a turtle at the surface and then I saw a white-tip shark while free diving! 20 minutes later, it was time to make our way back to Ma’alaea Harbour. We were offered wraps, crisps and drinks for a light lunch on board and in the sun. By the way, don’t forget to bring a UV protected rashguard and reef friendly sunscreen, the sun hits hard in Hawaii.

Green Turtle - snorkelling Turtle Town Makena Maui Hawaii

 

Molokini Snorkelling tour summary

  • Time: check-in 6.30 am – back at 12 pm
  • Price: 110 USD per person (+ fees/tax/tip, about 137 USD / 118 € / £ 105 per person)
  • 2 snorkelling stops at Molokini Crater, 1 snorkelling stop near Maui
  • Snorkel gear & Light lunch included

 

Day 2 – Scuba diving in Molokini Crater with Maui Dreams Dive Co.

The next day, check-in time was 15 minutes earlier at Ma’alaea Harbour. We made sure to have our scuba diving gear bag ready so we could just wake up, put our swimsuits on and go!

The scuba diving boat was bigger with a dry area and two sun decks, at the front and above the cabin. We were welcomed with a yummy breakfast as we started an extensive dive briefing. We went through all the marine species we would see underwater, and eco-friendly diving practices as Molokini Crater is a State sanctuary.

scuba diving in Middle Reef Molokini Crater Maui Hawaii USA

At 8.00 am, we were ready to dive “Middle Reef”, inside Molokini Crater. As we went down to 20 m, we were surrounded by thousands of Pyramid Butterflyfish and Scissortail Sergeant fish. Molokini Crater being only rock with no soil washing down, the visibility is much better than on the shores of Maui, it was about 40 m. As I started to look at the coral reef, a Giant Trevally just swam by me. During our 56 minute dive, we had the opportunity to see many of the endemic species of Hawaii: the Pyramid Butterflyfish, the Hawaiian Damselfish, the Racoon Butterflyfish and the rarest of all, the Flame Angelfish! Water temperature was 27°C even at the deepest, and with absolutely no current, I was a little bit too warm in my 5 mm full suit.

Around 9.30 am, it was time to leave Molokini to reach our second dive site near Maui’s shore, “White Rock”. For 67 minute, our dive guide took us to some tiny coral pinnacles in the middle of a seaweed field. He pointed incredible species: black and yellow Leaf Scorpionfish, Green Scorpionfish, Red-banded Shrimp, White-banded Cleaner Shrimp and the most beautiful of all, the Marbled Shrimp who seemed very curious about my camera! Exciting moments of the dive also included the super shy Day Octopus and Zebra Moray Eel hiding the best they could!

 

Molokini Scuba diving tour summary

  • Time: check-in 6.15 am – back at 12.30 pm
  • Price: 139 USD per person (+ fees/tax/tip, about 169 USD / 145 € / £ 129 per person)
  • 1 dive in Molokini Crater, 1 dive near Maui
  • Light lunch included; add 20 USD to rent scuba diving gear

 

Conclusion

On one hand, I saw more of Molokini Crater on the snorkelling tour by seeing the back wall and its eastern point, but on another hand, while scuba diving I saw better all the beautiful Hawaiian species of fish. In both cases, I could appreciate the incredible visibility, but as an underwater photographer, I had more opportunities of great pictures on my scuba diving day. While I loved doing both, if you have limited time and budget and you are a certified scuba diver, go on the scuba diving tour.

Besides, the difference in cost between the snorkelling tour and the scuba diving tour, especially if you have your own gear, was only 32 USD. I later saw that there were specific scuba diving tours for the back wall of Molokini Crater when enough advanced divers show up, but their price was 164 USD (don’t forget + tax/fee/tip). So my buddy and I saved approximately 62 USD (x2) by freediving at the back wall instead of scuba diving, enough to celebrate these incredible two days with a nice dinner!

snorkelling or scuba diving we love Molokini Maui Hawaii

 

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