When all factors are considered, Makena is the best area in South Maui for kayaking and paddling. Not only is the area far more culturally rich, but it takes the wind about an hour longer to reach down here than in neighboring Kihei or Wailea.

Since many companies will charge substantially more for a tour with food, you’re better off having a hearty breakfast or bringing a few snacks for a tour, which is only 2-3 hours long.When it comes to a paddling tour, don’t let the food be a deciding factor. Most tours are only a few hours long, and you can only do so much when it comes to paddling with food. Since many companies will charge substantially more for a tour with food, you’re better off having a hearty breakfast or bringing a few snacks for a tour, which is only 2-3 hours long.

My top pick for paddling activities is Hawaiian Paddle Sports (808/442-6436), a private tour operator that offers excursions on both the west side as well as the south side of the island. Every single tour is geared to the individual’s specific ability level, and owner and head guide Tim Lara perfectly fuses adventure and sustainability with a deep-rooted respect for Hawaiian culture and surroundings. The guides are all accomplished watermen and women who are active in volunteering in the local community. The company was awarded the silver level of certification by the Hawai‘i Ecotourism Association. While the private component can be pricier than a group tour, it’s guaranteed to be a cultural, historical, environmental, and thoroughly enjoyable tour which will exceed your expectations. For South Maui, Hawaiian Paddle Sports offers three-hour excursions in both outrigger canoes and kayaks, which depart from Makena and incorporate snorkeling, paddling, and storytelling. Trips cost $149 per person for the outrigger canoes and $109-159 per person for kayaking depending on the size of your group. If you’re an Ironman triathlete on vacation, tackle the Molokini Challenge where you leave at the break of dawn and make the 3.5-mile channel crossing to Molokini Crater (conditions permitting).

A kayak launches in the water in Makena Landing.

Launching into the water in Makena Landing. Photo © belindah, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Paddling Tours in Kihei

Though the actual location of your kayak tour is variable, Big Kahuna Adventures (1913 S. Kihei Rd., 808/875-6395, 7:30am-7pm Mon.-Sat., 7:30am-5pm Sun.) in Kihei Kalama Village can arrange a half-day kayaking excursion if you enquire at the office.

Down the street in the Island Surf building, ask Surf Shack (1993 S. Kihei Rd., 808/875-0006, 7:30pm-3pm daily) about its combination packages of surf lessons and kayak excursions if you want to spend a full day out on the water. There is a second location at the north end of Keawakapu Beach (2960 S. Kihei Rd.) open 8am-5pm daily.

Paddling Tours in Wailea

While there are a number of options for paddling tours in Wailea, the one that focuses the most on Hawaiian culture is Hawaiian Outrigger Experience (808/633-3547) operating from Wailea Beach. A play on words, the acronym, HOE, translates as “paddle!” in the Hawaiian language. From the moment you begin this tour, you will realize this is as much a cultural experience as it is about spending a morning on the water. In addition to the time you’ll spend snorkeling with Hawaiian green sea turtles, you’ll gain authentic cultural insight from instructors who are not only richly ingrained in the Hawaiian community, but also exude the genuine spirit of aloha.

If a full-on paddling tour is too much exertion for you, another activity with cultural roots is the family-operated Maui Sailing Canoe (808/281-9301), which departs off Polo Beach. The distinctly red sail of the sailing canoe Hina is visible off the shoreline of Wailea on most mornings, and this is the only tour where you can harness the light breeze to slowly sail along the coastline similar to the Polynesians who voyaged here centuries ago. Snorkeling time is also included in the tour, and this is a nice combination of snorkeling, paddling, sailing, learning, and relaxing in the sun. Rates for the tour are $99/adult and $79 for children. With a maximum of only six people, this is perfect adventure for families wanting to do something different.

Paddling Tours in Makena

Only two main places in Makena feature canoe paddling or kayaking: Maluaka Beach in front of the Makena Beach and Golf Resort and Makena Landing beach park on Makena Road. Unless you book with the operators through the Makena Beach and Golf Resort, more likely than not you’re going to be departing from Makena Landing.

The only options with land-based facilities are the tours that depart from the Makena Beach and Golf Resort (5400 Makena Alanui, 808/874-1111). Rent your own kayak for $25-30/hour or take part in a two-hour guided snorkeling tour for $75 with one of the knowledgeable guides. If you want to take part in a paddling experience that’s far more culturally oriented (and will give you a better workout), there are also outrigger canoe tours that depart from in front of the hotel and cost the same as the kayaks at $75 for a two-hour trip. Snorkeling time is included with both tours. The beach parking area is half a mile past the main entrance to the resort.

The rocky shoreline of Makena Landing is the preferred spot of all other kayak operators, most of whom also have operations elsewhere on the island. My top pick from Makena Landing is Hawaiian Paddle Sports (808/442-6436), but other operators you can choose from include Kelii’s Kayaks (808/874-7652), Aloha Kayaks Maui (808/270-3318), as well as Makena Kayak and Tours (808/879-8426), whose prices are usually the cheapest among many of the competitors. Most tours are about $55-70 for a 2.5-hour tour and $85 for a four-hour tour. There are usually two tours offered per day. If you plan on kayaking from Makena Landing, do yourself a favor and book the early tour, because not only will you beat the wind, but you’ll beat the crowds of snorkel boats that converge on the area later on in the morning.

Map of Makena, Hawaii


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.