Shore diving in Maui & Big Island: Hawaii’s best kept secret

The Hawaiian Archipelago is full of bucket list dives with exciting adventures such as diving in the crater of a volcano or night diving with manta rays, but all of these scuba diving trips come at a high price tag. To be clear, I have never paid so much for a dive. At the same time, in such an expensive place I was not expecting at all to find so many fantastic shore dive sites where I could go diving by only renting a tank at 5 USD.

Best shore diving in Hawaii:

my top 3 dive sites selection

Shore diving in Big Island Hawaii

Before entering the water at Two Steps, Big Island, Hawaii

By talking to local scuba divers (in dive shops, on the beach, online), I could get in the know of the best shore dives they recommend in Maui and Big Island, the two islands I visited on this trip. I may have not dived in all over the Hawaiian Islands but the local divers I met during my trip mostly agree that the three sites below were among the best shore dives in Hawaii.

  • Mala Wharf, Lahaina, Maui

My dive parameters: 70 min, 15 m, 27°C, 20 m visibility

Mala Wharf was by far my favourite shore dive of my scuba diving trip to Hawaii. I am so surprised it didn’t come up in my initial searches. It was during my West Maui Tour with Delphine of Unique Maui Tours, that I was introduced with the history of this old pier and why it was an incredible place to dive with turtles and white tip sharks.

The pier was built in the beginning of the 20th Century for the pineapple trade, and it remained almost intact for decades while not being much used except during WWII until a hurricane in 1992 destroyed it. The broken pillars that felt into the water formed an artificial reef full of life today.

Although popular, the site is far from being overcrowded. When my buddy and I entered the water, a buddy team of 2 divers was coming back, and we only saw another buddy team of 4 divers only at the end of our hour-long dive. Basically, we were alone on this incredible site.

The site can be dived all year-long, all day long and is much appreciated as a night dive also, but the entry can be delicate. It is easier in the morning at high tides when the waves are small. Booties will be necessary as you need to walk for a little while in the waves on coral rocks in shallow water. When you have enough depth below you can start fin-kicking at the surface to get closer to the end of the pier where the dive starts.

I started to look below the broken pillars covered in antler coral and found first many ornate butterfly fish and schools of blue stripe snappers. Very quickly I saw one green turtle, then another turtle, then 3 other turtles, when we reached the end of the dive site in the direction of the north at a depth of 15 m, I found a dozen of turtles and blue stripe snappers were swirling all around me.

On the way back to the shore, I finally saw one of the famous white-tip sharks of Mala Pier and my dive buddy spotted a few nudibranchs. We did our safety stops near the remaining standing pillars which were an excellent opportunity for some final atmosphere shots. While the visibility was not at its best that day (about 20 m), I guess you can easily understand why I am so enthusiastic about this shore dive.

Strong positive point of Mala Wharf: There is a dive shop near the dive site, so it is one of the rare shore dive sites where you don’t need to rent a car. You can walk from the town centre to Hawaiian Rafting Adventures, located only 2 minutes walking away from the dive site and where you can rent what you need.

 

  • Ulua Beach, Wailea, Maui

My dive parameters: 50 min, 12 m, 27°C, 20 m visibility

It was the first dive of my trip and the perfect introduction to scuba diving in Hawaii. It was warmly recommended by Maui Dreams Dive Co. in Kihei as a first dive before going on the charter scuba diving trip to Molokini Crater. Indeed, the location is nice and easy. The entry point is straightforward but if you want to see most of the site without turning back, it is better to fin kick at the surface as far as you can, which requires sustained efforts. This dive site is very shallow, I couldn’t go deeper than 12 m.

As I completely forgot the tank I rented was aluminium (duh!), I didn’t have enough weights and struggled on my buoyancy for most of my dive, so I had to end the dive quicker than usual. It didn’t stop me from taking a fantastic video of an enormous white-mouth moray eel and get accustomed to the local marine fauna of Hawaii with a purple leaf scorpion fish and red slate urchins in an antler and finger coral.

It’s important to note that many dive centres of the area come here for scuba diving training so don’t arrive too late as it can be quickly crowded.

Strong positive point of Ulua Beach: A wooden bench for scuba divers where you can prepare your tank and gear, you can also use the grass if the bench is already full. There are fresh water showers and clean bathroom facility.

 

  • Two Steps, Honaunau, Big Island

My dive parameters: 29 m, 67 min, 27°C, 30 m visibility

It was my last dive in Hawaii, but I didn’t know it yet when I entered the water. I was supposed to dive next at Old Airport in Kona, but as the weather deteriorated during the day, it was my final one as I had plans to go in higher altitude to visit the Volcano National Park before flying back home.

The dive site is called Two Steps due to the 2 tiny steps carved into the rock to make your entry. Because of the waves that day, entry and exit were delicate, especially with my underwater camera in hand, so please be careful.The dive site starts with small coral pinnacles and patches of sand in shallow depths (about 10 m). This is where I came face to face with an adorable young green turtle. Beyond this shallow part, you quickly arrive on a drop-off with a steep slope going down to a sandy bottom at 30 m of depth. While the visibility was excellent and we saw 3 turtles that day, there were slightly less fish there compared to other sites I dived in Maui and Big Island. Still, it is a dive site that will make both beginners and advanced scuba divers happy thanks to an impressive marine topography.

Strong positive point of Two Steps: The nearby National Historical Park of Honaunau makes a perfect cultural surface interval to learn about the ancient traditions of Hawaii, so don’t hesitate to bring two tanks to dive two steps twice to enjoy this stunning spot at its most.

 

If you want to discover more excellent shore dive sites, I can recommend shorediving.com for the Hawaiian Islands that I used to get key information, but the website seems a bit outdated so always check information with local dive centres.

 

What gear do you need to go shore diving in Hawaii?

Shore diving in Ulua Beach Wailea Maui Hawaii

Letting my gear dry in the sun after my dive at Ulua Beach, Maui, Hawaii

 

  • Tanks & weights: this is all you will need to rent if you are travelling like me with all your scuba gear. Best price I found was in Kihei, Maui, with Maui Dream Dive Co., where one tank comes at 5 USD while you need to pay the weights a dollar per pound. In Big Island, the Jack’s Diving Locker offer seemed attractive with unlimited refills for 20 USD for 24 hours; however, with unpredictable changing conditions (which happens quite often in Hawaii), you might find yourself like me paying for only one morning dive.

 

  • A scuba diving flag or an SMB with a reel: Be aware that if you are going shore diving without, you could be fined. It seems it is one of the favourite activities of the local police to watch shore divers so be ready. If you have your own safety sausage or SMB (Surface Marker Buoy) take it with you, you will save renting a dive flag (usually 5 USD a day).
  • Dive site maps: All dive shops where I rented tanks could give detailed maps of the dive sites for free. They included tons of useful information with details about entry point, reference points for orientation and marine life highlights. I much appreciated how all dive centres in Hawaii, while giving me the maps, briefed me about responsible scuba diving practices and how to take care of the dive sites.
  • A dive computer & orientation skills: Even if it sounds obvious, but you need to be an autonomous diver to go shore diving without a dive centre. It means no one will be there to guide you and check your air consumption. It is best to have your own dive computer to check the non-decompression time. Besides, make sure your orientation skills are top-notch. If you feel more comfortable with a compass, don’t hesitate to bring yours if you have one. With the detailed indications of the dive maps, I used natural orientation (sun position or rock on my left shoulder), and it was always easy to navigate back and forth.

 

My special tips to go shore diving in Hawaii

Shore dive site Old Airport Kona Big Island Hawaii

Old Airport in Kona, Big Island, the site I couldn’t dive because of the weather in the afternoon, on the picture the car I rented parked on the former runway

  • Go diving as early as you can:  If possible after sunrise! From the beginning of my scuba diving adventure in Hawaii, everyone without exception told me to go diving early in the morning, like between 6.30 am and 7.30 am. The reason? The waves are calmer in the morning and get much bigger as the day goes by. Basically, when you see the surfers arriving on the beach, it is too late to go scuba diving. During my last diving day, I had planned to dive at Two Steps in the morning, go back to change the tanks at noon in Kona, and then go diving in the early afternoon at Old Airport, a famous shore dive site in Kona. In the meantime, the weather conditions had dramatically changed, the dive shop kindly warned me but I wanted to check the place even if it meant no diving. When I arrived at Kona Old Airport, surfers were already having fun with the waves. Game Over.
  • Rent a car at the best price: You just won’t go anywhere with scuba diving gear without one. The only exception would be Mala Wharf in Lahaina.  To find a great deal on my rental car I used discounthawaiicarrental.com. Cancellation is free so don’t hesitate to check often if you find a better deal as prices are fluctuating and rebook at a better rate at any time. I rented a car for a week on Big Island for 30 USD per day.
  • Don’t forget you need a dive buddy: the last but not the least, don’t go by yourself! You need a buddy team of two divers at the minimum to go on such an adventure without a scuba diving centre. If you are travelling on your own, you have two choices: booking a shore dive with a scuba diving centre (it is more expensive) or finding a local dive buddy on a Facebook group like the one I joined in Maui: Dive Buddies on Maui.

 

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Shore diving in Maui and Big Island Hawaii best kept secretShore diving in Maui and Big Island Hawaii best kept secret

 

  1. […] It was my best discovery of the year: Hawaii is also a shore diving destination, and Mala Wharf is my favourite spot! I could have completely missed it if a friend didn’t recommend it. With convenient access where a car is not necessary, a dive centre to rent tanks 2 minutes walking from the beach, showers and bathroom, warm water, a dozen of turtles and white-tip sharks, how not to fall in love with Mala Wharf in the pretty town of Lahaina, Maui? Every minute of the 70 I spent underwater there I was in total awe. Read the full story “Shore diving in Maui and Big Island: Hawaii best-kept secret” […]

    Reply

  2. […] It was my best discovery of the year: Hawaii is also a shore diving destination, and Mala Wharf is my favourite spot! I could have completely missed it if a friend didn’t recommend it. With convenient access where a car is not necessary, a dive centre to rent tanks 2 minutes walking from the beach, showers and bathroom, warm water, a dozen of turtles and white-tip sharks, how not to fall in love with Mala Wharf in the pretty town of Lahaina, Maui? Every minute of the 70 I spent underwater there I was in total awe. Read the full story “Shore diving in Maui and Big Island: Hawaii best-kept secret” […]

    Reply

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