Scuba Diving in South Maui: Ma’alaea Dive Sites and Charters

A moorish idol photographed in front of clusters of colorful coral.

A moorish idol at Molokini Crater. Photo © snorkelingdives.com, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

While Molokini Crater can be a great place to snorkel, to truly tap into the magic of the crater you need to put a tank on your back and go and see what’s down there. For experienced divers, Molokini ranks in the upper echelon of dive locations around the world. For novice divers who have just been certified, it’s a window into a new aquatic universe. Only certified divers are allowed to dive at Molokini Crater. If you aren’t certified but still want to experience Molokini from below, sign up for a 20-minute snuba dive to depths of up to 10 feet.

Even though diving at Molokini offers a chance of seeing sharks, if you want a 100 percent guarantee of diving with sharks, the most unique dive on the island is offered at the Maui Ocean Center where you can go diving inside the shark tank.What makes the crater such an exceptional dive spot is the combination of two different factors: Its pelagic location means there is the possibility of seeing anything, and there are multiple dive spots within the crater that cater to a wide range of ability levels. Novice divers will want to inquire about trips that go to either Middle Reef or Reef’s End, as depths on these dives don’t usually exceed 70 feet. Middle Reef is home to large schools of pelagic species such as jacks and reef sharks, and the sand channel houses curious-looking garden eels. There’s also a huge drop-off at the Middle Reef section where it can be easy to exceed your dive profile, so keep an eye on your depth gauge when swimming over the ledge. Similarly, at Reef’s End, the dive traces the wall of the underwater caldera to the point where it drops off into the abyss. Since this underwater promontory sits on the fringe of the crater, this is the area with the best chance of sightings of bottlenose dolphins, manta rays, humpback whales, and even the occasional whale shark. There was even a great white shark sighting out here captured on video by Ed Robinson’s dive charters, although encounters like this are so rare they aren’t even worth worrying about. While Middle Reef and Reef’s End are both fantastic dives, the best and most advanced dive in Molokini Crater is a drift dive of the legendary Back Wall. Beginning at Reef’s End, divers will follow the current along the back of Molokini where a vertical wall drops over 250 feet to the ocean floor below. If you’re the type of diver who dabbles in nitrox or mixed gases, this is the deepest dive available anywhere in Maui County, although you should still stay within the recreational dive limit of 145 feet.

Map of Makena, Hawaii

Makena

Even though diving at Molokini offers a chance of seeing sharks, if you want a 100 percent guarantee of diving with sharks, the most unique dive on the island is offered at the Maui Ocean Center where you can go diving inside the shark tank. As part of its Shark Dive Maui program, certified divers are able to spend 30-40 minutes surrounded by various species of sharks, some of which can include hammerhead and tiger sharks. The dive has a maximum limit of four divers, costs $199, and is only offered on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings. The cost includes the tank and the weight, although divers will need to provide the rest of their gear. Although diving at an aquarium might seem like cheating, even some of Maui’s most seasoned divers claim it’s a great dive. More than just a novelty, this is your best opportunity to be completely surrounded by the ocean’s most feared and misrepresented creatures.

One of the island’s newest wreck dives is a Helldiver WWII airplane which was abandoned by a pilot on a training run off Sugar Beach. When the pilot ejected, his plane sank in 50 feet of water, and for the better part of 60 years this plane sat forgotten in the mudflats off Ma‘alaea. When a local fisher tipped off a Kihei dive instructor that there was probably something down there, the exploratory dive mission yielded a historical discovery which is now property of the U.S. military; divers aren’t allowed to touch or enter the aircraft. While there isn’t an overwhelming amount of marine life here, this is a unique dive you won’t find in many people’s logbooks. There aren’t any regularly scheduled trips to the Helldiver, but many South Maui operators periodically plan excursions to the site, so inquire about when the next outing might be.

Rental Operators

The only retail operator in Ma‘alaea that rents out dive gear is Maui Dive Shop (300 Ma‘alaea Harbor Rd., 808/244-5514, 6am-6pm daily) in the Ma‘alaea Harbor Shops. Although most dive operations will furnish their own gear, this is a good place to pick up equipment if you’re diving at the Maui Ocean Center, are planning a dive off a nearby shoreline, or need some accessories such as a flashlight or a knife.

Dive Boats

Although most Molokini dive boats depart from the Kihei Boat Ramp, two that depart from Ma‘alaea Harbor are the 48-foot Maka Koa which is operated by Maui Dive Shop (808/875-1775) as well as the 40-foot Maui Diamond II (Slip 23, 808/879-9119). Maui Dive Shop offers two-tank trips to Molokini Crater three times per week, and the second dive is either along the shoreline of Maui or at the St. Anthony wreck off Kihei. Rates for a two-tank dive are $139, and BC and regulator rental is an additional $20. Snorkelers are allowed to accompany divers for a reduced rate of only $80, and this is a good option for the novice to intermediate diver who wants to explore in the 65-70 feet range. In addition to providing a good trip, an added perk of booking with Maui Dive Shop is that they provide complimentary transportation from your hotel to Ma‘alaea Harbor. If you’re driving yourself to the harbor, check-in is at 6:30am at the store in the Ma‘alaea Harbor Shops.

For a few dollars less, Maui Diamond II offers 2-tank trips to Molokini and the South Maui shoreline for $129, and BC and regulator rental is an additional $15. If you aren’t a certified diver, you have the option of partaking in a Discover Scuba Diving introductory class in which you will snorkel at Molokini and then dive with an instructor at the second spot along the shoreline. The rate for the snorkel and introductory dive combo is $145, although the price is inclusive of all your equipment. This boat is a little older and a little slower, but they feed you well, so the added transport time can be devoted to digestion.


Excerpted from the Ninth Edition of Moon Maui.

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