For millennia, life in Hawaii has revolved around the ocean. The early Hawaiians relied on the sea for both sustenance and recreation. While the islands have changed drastically since pre-contact days, a deep connection to the ocean remains among kamaʻaina today. Maui’s warm crystal blue seas also serve as a focal point for the millions of travelers that visit the island’s shores each year. From surfing to fishing to snorkeling, there are countless ways to experience the magic of the sea. Here are the top 10 best Maui ocean activities.
Ocean Safety and Conservation Tips
While the ocean might look inviting, it is a powerful entity. Drowning is the number one cause of death among Hawaii visitors. Always assess the conditions before entering the water and know your limit. As the saying goes, “If in doubt, don’t go out.” Avoid snorkeling, stand-up paddling, or kayaking on windy days. Maui’s strong tradewinds sweep unsuspecting ocean goers out to sea weekly. Remember to check the surf report before deciding on a snorkel spot for the day and pay attention to weather warnings like high surf advisories or high wind warnings. Avoid swimming in high surf and heavy shore breaks, particularly at Makena State Park, DT Flemings Beach, and Kaʻanapali Beach. Always snorkel or surf with a buddy!
When spending time in the ocean, remember to wear reef-safe sunscreen: ideally, mineral-based sunscreen made with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, free from harsh reef-harming chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate. Do not touch or step on any corals– they’re alive! Remember to keep your distance from marine life like turtles, monk seals, and dolphins. Finally, always leave the beach better than you found it, and remember to pack out all your belongings and trash when leaving. Keep in mind Hawaii’s coral reefs contribute around $800 million to the state’s economy annually through tourism-based activities. Additionally, Maui’s reefs provide the island with $375 million worth of flood protection each year- please help us conserve our coral reefs!
The Top 10 Maui Ocean Activities
What do you get when you combine thriving reefs, countless protected bays, excellent visibility, and ideal snorkeling conditions year-round? If you answered Maui, you’d be right. Maui’s south and west coasts are snorkeling hotspots, boasting pristine morning ocean conditions and dozens of reefs just meters from the sand. In fact, some of Maui’s most popular beaches are home to great snorkeling, like Kaʻanapali Beach and Wailea Beach. What’s more, the crown jewel of snorkeling in Hawaii, Molokini Crater, sits directly off Maui’s south coast. This dormant volcanic crater is now a flourishing marine preserve and offers one of the most unique snorkeling experiences in Hawaii.
In the calm early morning, kayakers around the island slip into the glassy sea- en route to snorkel, fish, whale watch, or simply paddle. For visitors, kayak tours are an excellent way to explore offshore reefs, watch for whales or dolphins, and enjoy a morning on the ocean. Makena Landing and Olowalu are hubs for kayak tours.
Both are located in the shadow of massive mountains (Haleakala and the West Maui Mountains, respectively), which help stave off the relentless tradewinds and create pristine kayaking conditions. Plus, these areas are home to some of Maui’s most enchanting reefs, where green sea turtles, rays, and vibrant corals proliferate. Kayak tours can also act as an immersive whale watch experience in the winter months. Curious whales will sometimes “mug” unsuspecting kayakers for a closer look.
Surfing is Hawaii’s heart and soul, and the islands are the epicenter of the now globally-recognized sport. While Maui is known for its big wave breaks and expert-level waves, beginners shouldn’t be discouraged! There are many mellow breaks near Kihei and Lahaina and world-class instructors to go along with them. With the right instructor, you’ll be riding waves during your first session, regardless of your size or shape. If you’d rather watch waves than ride them, you can spot surfers at Honolua Bay, Lahaina Harbor, and Ho’okipa Beach Park, depending on the season.
4. Stand-Up Paddling
Not only is stand-up paddling a fun ocean activity, but it’s also great exercise! Plus, unlike surfing, it doesn’t take years of practice to get comfortable on board. If you’re a first-timer, take a tour or a lesson to get a feel for paddling. You’ll be rewarded with beautiful views of the coastline and maybe a quick hello from a passing sea turtle or whale. Plus, if you live near any body of water, stand-up paddling is a skill you can take home with you.
5. Scuba Diving
If you’re an avid snorkeler looking to take your underwater explorations to the next level, scuba diving is the natural next step. Contrary to popular belief, just about anyone can scuba dive- and there is no better place to start than in Maui’s perfectly clear waters. Check out these tips for taking great underwater photos.
Whether you’re interested in trying out a quick off-the-beach intro dive or you’re ready to commit to a two-day certification course, there are renowned local dive schools across the island that can tailor to your needs.
6. Whale Watching
From November to April, thousands of humpback whales make themselves at home in the warm waters around Hawaii to mate and give birth. The whales particularly seem to like Maui’s shallow channels and protected waters. There are more humpback sightings around the Valley Isle than any other island in Hawaii.
In turn, there is a myriad of whale watch tours on Maui, departing from Lahaina Harbor, Maalaea Harbor, or Kihei Boat Ramp. Most tours employ a marine naturalist- on hand to offer valuable insight and information about these gentle giants. Whether you choose a large catamaran, a private sailing charter, or just standing on the beach, seeing whales on Maui is a lifetime memory.
7. Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe Paddling
Outrigger canoes are a fundamental part of Hawaiian history and culture. The first Polynesian voyagers arrived in outrigger canoes, carrying plants and animals essential to survival thousands of miles across the Pacific. Early Hawaiians also used canoes to transport goods to different ahupuaʻas (regions) and travel between islands. However, canoes were also used for recreational purposes, namely, racing. The sport was named hei hei waʻa, primarily practiced and bet upon by Hawaiian chiefs. Sadly, hei hei waʻa was later banned under missionary influence. Fortunately, Hawaiian outrigger canoe paddling and racing has undergone a full-scale revival.
There are now over 60 canoe clubs that race in Hawaii today- each one adhering to strict Hawaiian racing customs and traditions. Consider taking a Hawaiian outrigger canoe tour to learn more about the islands’ culture and get a taste for the original Hawaiian water-sport.
8. Submarine adventure
If the thought of snorkeling, scuba diving, or entering the ocean, in general, makes you feel less than comfortable, don’t despair. Thanks to Atlantis Submarine, you can still experience Maui’s captivating underwater world without getting your feet wet.
Climb aboard Atlantis’ Undersea Adventure, where you’ll descend over 100 feet below the surface and visit a shipwreck, which today serves as a habitat for vibrant schools of fish and even predators like white-tipped reef sharks. A marine naturalist narrates the excursion, and the submarine is even air-conditioned for ultimate comfort.
Parasailing is a dreamlike activity- participants soar high above the sea, taking in panoramic ocean, mountain, and beach views while being towed along by a speedy boat several hundred feet below. Don’t worry; the take-off, flight, and landing are safe and easy.
Maui is home to several reputable parasailing companies, equipped with a highly trained crew and even photographers to document your experience. Parasailing is only offered outside of whale season, from May to December.
Maui’s teeming seas are a haven for all types of anglers. Shore fishing is extremely popular in the islands, but nothing compares to fishing in the deep blue.
Local fishing charters can take visiting anglers or first-time fishermen/women into the heart of Maui’s most prime fishing grounds for a day of trolling and bottom fishing. While reeling in something tasty is not promised, a good time on the water and valuable insight from local anglers are guaranteed.