Before sunrise, Lahaina Harbor teems with activity as fishers fuel their boats and charter captains prepare for the day ahead. The harbor basin is a whirlwind of activity with lines forming and reforming, food coolers being slung across the docks, and fresh fish being laid on ice. Most snorkeling charters depart from behind the banyan tree on Front Street; a few set out from Mala Ramp on the northern edge of town. Lahaina snorkeling charters run the gamut from small inflatable rafts to massive two-tiered catamarans. It’s important to match the tour company to the type of experience you want.
The company with the largest number of snorkeling charters out of Lahaina Harbor is Trilogy (808/874-5649), which offers all-day cruises to Lana‘i as well as a four-hour snorkel along the West Maui coastline. While a couple of other boat companies also travel to Lana‘i to snorkel for the day, Trilogy is the only one with a commercial permit to have crew and facilities based on the island. The all-day experience is truly in a class of its own.
Departing from Lahaina Harbor at 10am (during busier times of the year there can also be a 6:30am departure), the 60-foot sailing catamarans travel to Manele Harbor on Lana‘i where passengers will disembark to snorkel at Hulopo‘e Bay. Since Hulopo‘e faces south, during summer there is the potential for large surf, so the snorkeling can be subpar. While this is only during a handful of days in summer, winter is nearly guaranteed to have pristine conditions. On the beach itself, Trilogy has exclusive access to the left side of Hulopo‘e Bay and it is the only company with lifeguards, beach mats, beach chairs, refreshments, beach volleyball, and all of the snorkeling gear right on the beach. Also included with the price is an optional guided van tour of Lana‘i City.
The other sailing catamaran departing out of Lahaina Harbor and heading to the island of Lana‘i is Paragon (808/244-2087), a 47-foot boat that only takes 24 passengers and is the island’s fastest catamaran under sail. The seven-hour, $159-trip departs at 8:30am and docks at Manele Harbor on Lana‘i. You’re unsupervised while you snorkel (since the crew doesn’t have permission to operate on shore), and you’re given a picnic lunch to the enjoy while at the beach. The trip returns to Lahaina around 3:30pm, and on lucky days the crew might even hook up with an ono or mahimahi while trolling the fishing lures under sail.
While it mostly focuses on sunset sails and sailing charters, Scotch Mist II (808/661-0386) is a 50-foot Santa Cruz monohull that also operates four-hour sailing and snorkeling charters along the western shoreline of the island for $109.
Of the larger diesel boats that operate out of Lahaina Harbor, Pacific Whale Foundation (612 Front St., 808/942-5311) offers the most options. Its large boats can fit upward of 149 people, and while that’s a crowd, there’s simply no arguing with the price. Its five-hour tour to Lana‘i departs at 9am. It’s only $80 for adults; each paying adult is allotted one child free of charge. Unlike other boats that dock at Manele Harbor, the Pacific Whale Foundation cruises snorkel off the boat, with the two preferred destinations being either Kaunolu (Shark Fin Cove) or the Manele reef outside of the small boat harbor. The level of customer service on a boat this size isn’t quite the same as on the more intimate vessels, but for families who are on a budget and want to go snorkeling for the day, it’s tough to argue with the affordability.
During summer, a smaller adventure rafting tour departs Lahaina for Lana‘i at 7:30am. The price is significantly higher ($119 adult, $75 child), but you get a much more personalized experience than on the larger boat and you’re able to hug the shore for a better view of the undeveloped coastline. Another summer rafting excursion ($55) departs at 10:30am to snorkel along the West Maui coastline instead of going all the way to Lana‘i. All trips for Pacific Whale Foundation check in at the storefront across the street from the famous banyan tree, and loading is by the main loading dock of the harbor where you will wait for one of the crew to escort you down to the boat.
Also during summer (many of these boats defer to whale watches in the winter), Lahaina Cruise Company (877/500-6284) has a fleet of aging but functional diesel boats that offer snorkeling charters to Lana‘i and along the coastline of West Maui. While much of the focus for these boats is on whale-watching during the winter and cocktail cruises in the evening, there are still snorkeling charters available for those who are on a budget. The cost of the snorkeling tour is an affordable $79 for adults, and trips are offered Monday-Saturday on vessels that can accommodate up to 149 people.
Captain Woody’s (808/667-2290) operates charters of only six people for private excursions. Fishing, snorkeling, and seasonal whale-watching can all be included in these small group tours, and six-hour tours usually depart from Mala Ramp at 7:30am.
For those who don’t like crowds, there are a number of rafts that have small group sizes and place you closer to the water than any other type of vessel. Due to their bouncy nature, however, rafts aren’t recommended for women who are pregnant or anyone with back problems, and if you’re prone to seasickness, they won’t be the best option since the waters can often become rough during the afternoon. Some companies will swap their snorkeling charters for whale watches during winter, however, so check ahead of time that snorkeling tours are available for the date of your excursion.
Of all the rafts, Ultimate Snorkel Adventure (808/667-5678) is the best option. It operates out of slip 17 of Lahaina Harbor. Group sizes are kept to a minimum at only 16 passengers, and this rigid inflatable is the fastest boat in Lahaina Harbor at speeds in excess of 35 mph. Snorkeling locations are chosen off the island of Lana‘i based on the best conditions, and unlike some of the other options which head ashore on Lana‘i, this excursion takes place from off the raft. Due to its small size, the raft can navigate close to the shoreline of Lana‘i to find blowholes or follow pods of spinner dolphins hanging out by the rocks. Five-hour snorkeling trips are offered at $139, and there is also a two-hour option available along the West Maui shoreline for only $49. Snorkel gear, drinks, and snacks are included in the price of the excursion. This is a great option for those wanting a semiprivate tour with relaxed but professional captain and crew.
Hawaii Ocean Rafting (808/661-7238) operates out of slip 8 in Lahaina Harbor. Group sizes are kept low on these charters, which are offered as either full-day tours to Lana‘i for $115 or half-day tours for $73. Full-day tours depart at 6:30am and return at 2:30pm, whereas the half-day option departs at 7:30am and is back in Lahaina by 12:30pm. Snorkeling gear, snacks, and beverages are included.
For a raft that docks at Manele Harbor and spends time on the island of Lana‘i, Maui Adventure Cruises (808/661-5550) operates two trips from Lahaina Harbor, one of which allows passengers to spend three hours of beach time at Lana‘i’s Hulopo‘e Bay. This $115 excursion operates on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, docks in Manele Harbor, and allows its guests to walk Hulopo‘e Bay unsupervised. Breakfast, snacks, and a deli lunch are included in the cost of the trip. Excursions depart at both 7am and 9pm from slip #11 in Lahaina Harbor. On Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, an abridged 4.5-hour trip is offered for $87 where you will still have the opportunity to snorkel off Lana‘i from the boat, rather than docking at Manele Harbor.
Departing from Mala Ramp at 6:30am, Maui Ocean Riders (808/661-3586) is the only boat to circumnavigate the island of Lana‘i. Covering an astounding 70 miles over the course of the trip, this excursion features multiple snorkeling spots and the opportunity to witness little-seen areas of Lana‘i, such as the waters off Shipwreck Beach, Polihua Beach, and the snorkeling area known as Three Stone. On calm days this excursion is the best of all the rafting options. On days when the trade winds are blowing early in the morning, the ride can get rough.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.