Diving in Maui: a first-timer guide

Located in the heart of the North Pacific Ocean, the Hawaiian Islands, including Maui, are undoubtedly some of the world’s most popular scuba diving destinations. Thanks to world-class dive sites such as Molokini Crater, Maui is undoubtedly the best island to go scuba diving in Hawaii. Scuba divers visiting the Valley Isle can frequently see underwater large marine animals such as hammerhead sharks or even humpback whales.

Being a volcanic island, Maui also offers incredible macro diving opportunities for underwater photography enthusiasts, and the numerous shore dive sites are perfect for beginners. You can find many PADI dive centres on its west coast in Lahaina or Kihei. It is not exactly cheap to travel and scuba dive in Maui, but if you go through the following tips, you will be able to make the most of your money. Don’t forget to include on your itinerary the breathtaking natural sights Maui Island has to offer from coast to coast.

Call me lucky if you want, but it is true having a good friend of mine who decided to settle on the island a couple of years ago helped a lot in getting to know the best of the best things to experience on Maui during the couple of weeks I spent in Hawaii. Let me guide you through planning a first dive trip to Maui successfully, so you don’t rush trying to see everything and have an enjoyable diving holiday.

Diving in Maui at a glance

marine life

Rating: 3 out of 5.

unique features

Rating: 4 out of 5.

visibility

Rating: 4 out of 5.

marine protected areas

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Where is the best diving in Maui?

Diving in Maui

Maui’s island isn’t that big, less than 2,000 km², and includes Molokini Island on its west coast. Due to the reasonable distances, you can easily stay in the same place to go scuba diving in Maui, as most dive sites tend to all be located between Lahaina and Kihei. My top tip is to make sure you have the right scuba diving level to avoid any disappointment. Some dive sites are deep, others can have strong currents. Generally speaking, Hawaii is a dive destination that can be appreciated by both beginners and advanced divers thanks to its numerous shore dive sites.

My top 5 dive sites in Maui

To give you a quick idea of the main places to go scuba diving in Maui, if I narrow them down to 5 dive sites, you will quickly see that by staying in Lahaina, you can get a first excellent glimpse of some of the best diving of Maui for a first trip there. Chances are high anyway that just like me, you’ll want to come back again to Maui, so don’t try to do everything at once, keep it some for later.

  1. Molokini Crater, from Maalaea Harbour, maximum depth 40 m
  2. Mala Wharf, Lahaina, maximum depth 25 m
  3. Lanai Cathedrals, from Lahaina Harbour, maximum depth 30 m
  4. Molokai Pailolo Channel, from Lahaina Harbour, maximum depth 40 m
  5. Ulua Beach, Walea, maximum depth 25 m

Diving in Molokini Crater

Molokini Crater was the first dive site of Hawaii I added to my bucket list. 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, diving in Molokini Crater became my primary target for the day I would make it to Hawaii.

The scuba diving charter boats leave from Maalaea Harbour, a 30-minute drive north from Kihei. Note that the check-in time is usually early morning (6.15 am), to make it back around noon before the swell becomes too strong. From there, the ride to Molokini Crater takes about 45 minutes.

Depending on your scuba diving level, you can sign up for dive trips inside the crater (easier) or at the back wall (advanced divers only). There are 8 official dive sites at Molokini Island between the inner crater and the back wall.

“Middle Reef” is the main dive site inside Molokini Crater. With a maximum depth of 20 m, divers are usually surrounded by thousands of pyramid butterflyfish, sergeant fish and giant trevally. One of the greatest advantages of diving in Molokini instead of shore diving in Maui is the improved visibility underwater, which often reaches 40 m. Once at the bottom of the reef, look closer, and you may see Hawaiian damselfish, racoon butterflyfish and the rarest of all, the flame angelfish.

Right outside the moon crescent-shaped island, the “Back Wall” is a sensational dive along a breathtaking deep wall covered in finger coral and red pencil urchins. Advanced divers can descend down to 40 m, but the wall plunges far below. Beyond the depth of this dive, currents can be strong, but this is the exact reason why it’s also an excellent place for unforgettable encounters with pelagic species such as whale sharks.


Diving in Lahaina

From the harbour of Lahaina, the choice of dive sites is quite extraordinary. You can also go to Molokini Crater, although it takes slightly longer to get there, but above all, you can go wreck diving, shore diving with dozens of turtles or cross over the channel to go diving in Lanai or Molokai.

The Carthaginian II shipwreck was the only opportunity I had to go wreck diving while on Maui. The steel-hulled sailing boat built in 1920 was brought to Lahaina in 1973 to serve as a floating museum to explain the past whaling industry of the town. She was sunk in 2005 to create an artificial reef. It was an exciting dive with excellent visibility and a close encounter with a whitetip shark near the hull at 30 m deep.

Mala Wharf is maybe one of the most popular shore dive sites in Maui due to the easy access, the proximity of a dive centre to rent tanks and the dozen turtles you can meet there. It was initially a pier built at the beginning of the 20th Century for the pineapple trade. It remained almost intact for decades until a hurricane in 1992 destroyed it. The broken pillars that felt into the water formed an artificial reef full of life today.

Lahaina Harbour is also the spot to embark on a charter trip to Lanai or Molokai, where you can respectively go cavern diving and swim with hammerhead sharks. Unfortunately, at the time of my visit, the winds were too strong, and my Molokai trip was cancelled. However, I had the opportunity to take the ferry to Lanai and snorkel there, so next time I’m around, I will definitely sign up for these trips again.

Diving in the Wailea-Makena area

white-mouth moray eel Ulua Beach scuba diving shore diving Wailea Maui Hawaii

Theoretically, you can also go scuba diving in Molokini Crater since it is actually closer to Kihei. However, Kihei boat ramps don’t allow the big charter boats, so you may be able to go to Molokini Island in 15 minutes but only on a RIB.

The Wailea-Makena area is the main area for shore diving in Maui. If you are a beginner diver (or an advanced diver who wants an easy dive to start with), this is the place to go. I had to opportunity to scuba dive in Ulua Beach and snorkel near Makena Landing. To make the most of each dive, there might be some surface swimming required, but it is only to make a long dive to return to the beach. Ask the dive centres in Kihei when renting tanks; they usually have dive maps explaining how to enjoy each dive site.

In Ulua Beach, the antler and finger coral reef had a maximum depth of 20 m, and I could see an enormous white-mouth moray eel, a purple leaf scorpionfish and red slate urchins. Sights of sea turtles are also frequent in the area, especially in the Makena Landing area, nicknamed “Turtle Town”.

What to see underwater in Maui?

Turtle Mala Wharf shore diving Lahaina Maui Hawaii

Beyond being a fantastic place to visit, Maui has a lot to offer scuba diving-wise, with many endemic marine species you won’t see anywhere else outside of the Hawaiian Islands. There is something for every diver in its waters all around the island.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of the fascinating marine species you may be able to see underwater in Maui. I divided it into four parts, the large marine animals, including the pelagic species such as sharks, the tropical fish, the macro critters and I made a special list for nudibranchs. Generally speaking, if you love turtles, be prepared to see many, many of them!

Tropical fish

  • Yellow tangs
  • Pyramid butterflyfish
  • Racoon butterflyfish
  • Ornate butterflyfish
  • Longnose butterflyfish
  • Surgeonfish
  • Flame angelfish
  • Longfin bannerfish
  • Arc-eyed hawkfish
  • Fire goby
  • Frogfish
  • Leaf scorpionfish
  • Peacock grouper
  • Jackfish & Giant trevally

Large marine animals

  • Humpback whales
  • Whale sharks
  • Whitetip sharks
  • Green turtles
  • Hawksbill turtles

Nudibranchs

  • “Blue Dragon” Pteraeolidia Ianthina nudibranch
  • “Spanish Dancer” Hexabranchus Aureomarginatus nudibranch
  • “Gloomy” Tambja Morosa nudibranch
  • “Trembling” Goniobranchus Vibratus nudibranch
  • “Pustulose wart” Phyllidiella Pustulosa nudibranch

Macro critters

  • White-mouth moray eel
  • Marbled shrimp

Where to go diving when you visit Maui for the first time?

https://worldadventuredivers.com/2013/06/09/divemaster-journey-koh-tao/

If you are not yet an advanced diver with enough experience, you want to choose wisely where you go diving. The best spots for beginners are definitely the shore dive sites of Wailea-Makena near Kihei. Even if you are an experienced diver, it’s a perfect way to start your diving trip in Maui.

Experienced divers will love the Molokini Crater back-wall, where strong currents can be expected. If you are a certified diver but with less experience, you can still have a wonderful time by exploring the inner crater of Molokini Island.

In any case, beginners like experienced divers, don’t miss a shore dive at Mala Wharf in Lahaina on your first trip to Maui!

Which scuba diving centres to choose on Maui?

Diving in Maui

With less than 20 dive centres on Maui, primarily located in Kihei and Lahaina on the west coast, you can quickly find your favourite one. I used the services of 3 different dive centres in Maui. The good news is all of them were highly professional, as you can generally expect in the US.

First, choose your dive centre based on your accommodation location and where you want to go diving. For instance, while Lahaina is a great place to look for dive centres, you may want to book with the other dive centres that go from Maalaea Harbour to Molokini as it may be cheaper.

My only complaint would be that the “no touching rule” is not embraced by all dive guides (one case during my trip). Well, as you need to tip for scuba diving services in the US, I can tell you this is an excellent way to remind them of responsible diving best practices.

Scuba diving centres on Maui are located in:

  • Lahaina
  • Maalaea
  • Kihei

How much is diving in Maui?

Shore diving in Ulua Beach Wailea Maui Hawaii

Generally speaking, scuba diving in the US and even more in Hawaii is expensive. You need to pay attention to the fact that prices are given without tax, and after that, you are expected to provide a tip for the crew (giving the equivalent of the tax amount is a good rule of thumb). Life is costly on the Hawaiian Islands; it’s hard to blame them.

However, the good news is, if you are experienced enough to go shore diving with a dive buddy by yourselves and you brought all your scuba diving gear, then you only need to rent a tank for 5 to 10 USD! You need to have your own car to reach the dive sites, but this is a cost that can be offset by doing other activities on the island. In case you need a dive guide and transportation, the cost of shore diving is usually 129 USD for 2 dives (+tax/tips) when booking it with a dive centre.

When booking a charter trip, usually 2 to 3 boat dives, the price will depend on the dive site’s distance. Wreck diving the Carthaginian shipwreck, closer to the shore, is much cheaper than going diving in Molokini Crater.

To give you an idea, here is the breakdown of my diving trip to Molokini Crater (2 dives):

  • 139 USD per person (price update 2021 – 149 USD)
  • 30 USD fees/tax/tip
  • 20 USD extra if you need to rent scuba diving gear

Some dive centres offer multi-dive discounts, up to 20% for 5 days of diving, for instance, so don’t hesitate to shop around and ask.

Is Maui a good place to learn scuba diving?

scuba diving in Middle Reef Molokini Crater Maui Hawaii USA

Thanks to its accessible shore dive sites, clear and warm waters, in addition to so many turtles around, Maui is an excellent place to learn scuba diving. Although, it might be one of the most expensive places to take the class.

Prices for beginner scuba diving courses in Maui go from 399 to 699 USD (+tax/tips). Just remember that the Open water course takes from 3 to 4 days to complete, so plan your holidays accordingly if you really want to do this.

If you don’t want to spend several days during your holidays on Maui and just want to try diving by doing a discovery dive, then the price usually starts from 119 USD (+tax/tips). Note a discovery dive is not a scuba diving certification, and you won’t be able to dive on your own after doing it.

When is the best time to go scuba diving in Maui?

Hawaiian Damselfish and Antler Coral - scuba diving in Middle Reef Molokini Crater Maui Hawaii USA

With air temperatures between 20 and 30°C and water temperatures between 24°C to 27°C, you can travel to Maui all year long.

“Summer”, from May to the beginning of October, has the hottest and sunniest days.

In “winter”, it is just raining a bit more, but it’s also the whale watching season, especially from February to March. In Maui, you can start seeing them from December.

However, as one of the most touristic places in the world, some periods are more crowded than others. July and August are the peak season, while October and November are the quietest months. You have no idea how happy I was to visit Hawaii in October to avoid the crowds.

When travelling in the US, try to avoid American holidays to find better deals on transportation and accommodation, besides beating the crowds:

  • Spring Break (Different period State by State, from mid-March to mid-April)
  • Memorial Day (Last Monday of May)
  • Independence Day (4th of July)
  • Labour Day (1st Monday in September)
  • Xmas holidays from the 24th of December to the 5th of January

How to get around Maui with scuba diving gear?

Road to Hana Maui Hawaii

There are different ways to travel around Maui between dive sites during your trip. I personally rented a car because I found it more convenient than the few local buses with all my big scuba diving bag in tow. The only exception would be Mala Wharf in Lahaina, where you can walk to the town centre.

To find a great deal on the rental car, I used discounthawaiicarrental.com. Cancellation is free, so don’t hesitate to check if you find a better deal as prices are fluctuating and rebook at a better rate at any time. To give you a reference, I rented a car for a week for 30 USD per day.

If you don’t want to drive around Maui, here are the other options you can consider:

  • Taxis: Taxi are, of course, available on Maui, but the fares can quickly add up. Alternatively, you can also use Uber or Lyft on Maui, but prices won’t necessarily be lower for information.
  • Hiring a driver: Many private tour guides can drive you around the island aboard a comfortable SUV. This is the most expensive option but one of the best if you have limited time to see all the best sights.
  • Bus: A few bus lines are going across the island. I used it once to go back from Maalaea Harbour to Lahaina. The price of the ticket was 2 USD at the time of my visit.
  • Ferry: The only remaining ferry of all the Hawaiian Islands is the one connecting Maui to Lanai. You can buy the ticket and board the ferry in Lahaina Harbour.

Where to stay on Maui to go scuba diving?

The Lahaina Guesthouse Maui Hawaii

Usually, in the US, everything is a car ride away, and there is no such thing as walking to your dive centre, boat or shore dive site! However, on Maui, there is an exception with the lovely town of Lahaina!

I had to put the alarm clock at 5 am in Kihei to be ready for check-in at 6.15 am to go diving in Molokini Crater from Maalaea Harbour. It was a 25-minute drive. In Lahaina, I could just walk from my guesthouse to the dive centre and their boat in the town centre’s marina. If you don’t mind walking for 30 minutes, it’s even possible to go shore diving at Mala Wharf without a car.

Basically, depending on if you are going to rent a car during your stay on Maui, choose between Lahaina and Kihei.

Luxury resorts

Maui is no exception in the Hawaiian Islands; luxury resorts’ choice to choose from is wide from coast to coast. If you can afford these fabulous locations’ budget, you can also certainly afford to rent a car or to take a taxi, so between right next to the dive centre is not the main criteria.

Prices at resorts start around 400 USD a night, the price includes the resort fees, but you need to add the tax and tips.

I didn’t stay myself, but I had brunch with my friend while on our West Maui road trip and found Kaanapali Beach’s location, just 10 minutes driving north of Lahaina, fabulous. There you can book a room at:

Guesthouses & small family-run hotels

Guesthouses are usually my favourite options while travelling. However, to find something nice at a reasonable price is not so easy on Maui.

However, I was lucky to find the Lahaina Beach House on booking.com. The owner refurbished his grandma house into a cosy luxury hostel which is right on the beautiful beach of Lahaina. I stayed there for two nights, but I wished I had a few extra days there. Guyton was kind enough to keep my scuba diving bag before checking in while I was on my West Maui tour. Warmly recommended!

Hostels & dormitories

Being an expensive destination, you could believe that there wouldn’t be any hostel on Maui. But Maui is also a surfers’ destination hence affordable accommodation do exist too! However, all the hostels are in locations that require you to rent a car, so calculate your budget accordingly.

On my arrival, I stayed a couple of nights in Wailuku, not far from Kahului Airport, as the hostel was both offering complimentary airport shuttle and Road to Hana tours! You can either stay in dormitories for 50 USD a night or a private room for 115 USD a night (+ tax).

Do you need more information to plan your dive trip to Hawaii? Check these additional articles about travelling and scuba diving in Hawaii:

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