When it comes to Lana‘i snorkeling, Hulopo‘e Beach Park easily trumps any other place on the island for the health of the reef, clarity of water, and variety of fish. Thanks to its protected status as a marine preserve, the reef here is in better shape than other places on the island, and snorkelers will revel in the large schools of manini (convict tang) and vibrant uhu (parrotfish) which flit around the shallow reef. The best snorkeling within the bay is on the left side of the beach. Since Hulopo‘e faces south it can be prone to large surf and shorebreak April-October. The shorebreak can make entry and exit into the water a little challenging, and the visibility won’t be as good as it is on days which are as calm as a swimming pool.
Don’t confuse Manele Bay with snorkeling in Manele Harbor, because that would be disgusting.Nevertheless, even a mediocre day at Hulopo‘e is better than a good day at many other places. The reef here never gets deeper than 25 feet. Occasionally the Hawaiian spinner dolphins will venture into this bay, although they usually hang out over the sand on the right closer to the hotel.
Not far from Hulopo‘e but equally as gorgeous is the vibrant reef at Manele Bay. Don’t confuse this with snorkeling in Manele Harbor, because that would be disgusting. Instead, the reef at Manele Bay is on the opposite side of the breakwall set between the harbor and the cliffs. Entry from shore can be tricky since you have to come off the rocks, but if you follow the driveway of the harbor all the way to the far end, there is a little opening in the rocks where it’s possible to make a graceful entry. Schools of tropical reef fish gather in abundance here, and the same school of spinner dolphins can sometimes hang out in this area as well. Although Manele Bay is a good quarter mile from Hulopo‘e Beach, it’s still part of the marine preserve, so the same rules apply: Don’t stand on the coral, don’t feed the fish, and you’re best off just not touching anything at all.
There isn’t anywhere on Lana‘i to rent snorkeling equipment for the day, so your best bet is to have your own before you get on the ferry or plane. The snorkeling equipment at Hulopo‘e Beach is privately reserved for Trilogy’s day guests who come over from Maui, and the gear at the Four Seasons beach kiosk is exclusively for hotel guests.
If you want to explore the island’s remoter reefs, which are only accessible by boat, Trilogy Excursions (1 Manele Harbor Dr., 808/874-5649) provides the best (and only) snorkel charter service operating out of Lana‘i. Aboard their 51-foot sloop rigged sailing catamaran Trilogy III, Trilogy offers a 3.5-hour snorkeling and sailing excursion which usually heads around the southwestern coastline of the island to the towering sea cliffs of Kaunolu. There can occasionally be other boats from Maui back here, but more often than not this trip provides the opportunity to snorkel the waters of the historic fishing village with only a handful of other passengers. Given that Kaunolu (also known as Shark Fin Cove due to the dorsal fin-shaped rock in the middle of the bay) is exposed to the deeper waters offshore, sightings of pelagic species such as spinner dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, eagle rays, manta rays, and whale sharks have been known to occur on an intermittent basis. The captain and crew aboard Trilogy’s catamaran were born and raised on Lana‘i, and if you snorkel close to one of the crew members, there’s a good chance they can find you an elusive tako (octopus). If there’s wind to sail on the way back to Manele, the crew will hoist the sails. The views afforded of the coastal cliffs make this the best way for exploring the southwestern coastline.
During whale season, Trilogy also offers two-hour long mammal searches, which depart from Manele Harbor on a jet-propelled inflatable raft for a high-paced marine safari focused on finding humpback whales, green sea turtles, the occasional Hawaiian monk seal, and various species of resident dolphins. The high-speed cruise of the coastline alone is worth the trip, and the crew on this trip are some of the friendliest and most knowledgeable in the industry.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.