Within walking distance of southern Ka‘anapali, Hanakao‘o Beach Park is the northernmost beach in Lahaina and the site of many introductory classes. This is a good dive if you’re practicing your skills over sand. The shallow area is also good for spotting turtles and colorful reef fish.
The caverns of the pilings are home to numerous turtles and whitetip reef sharks, some of which can reach up to about six feet.The best dive in Lahaina is Mala Wharf, although it’s most often accessed as a boat dive. When Hurricane Iniki came storming through in 1992, the 30-foot waves it created were strong enough to destroy the outer half of Mala Ramp. Over 20 years later the collapsed pilings are still lying in 25 feet of water, and the result has been two decades of live coral development on what is now one of the island’s best artificial reefs. The caverns of the pilings are home to numerous turtles and whitetip reef sharks, some of which can reach up to about six feet. Even though the depth never exceeds 35 feet, this is still a favorite of island dive charters due to its proximity to the harbors and wealth of marine life.
The Carthaginian is an old whaling ship which was scuttled in 100 feet of water by Atlantis Submarines about a half mile offshore from Puamana. A couple of West Side dive charters include this deep-water dive in their weekly schedule, with a maximum depth of about 100 feet. While the Carthaginian hasn’t yet developed the same amount of live coral as at neighboring Mala Ramp, it’s the deepest dive in the area. Winter dives are punctuated by whale song.
Lahaina Divers (143 Dickenson St., 808/998-3483) has the largest number of dive options available. Their two, custom-built, 46-foot dive boats departing out of Lahaina Harbor are the largest dive boats on Maui. Two-tank dives range from $139 for dives off Lana‘i to $199 for a dive off Moku Ho‘oniki (Moloka‘i), famous for scalloped hammerhead sharks. There are also trips to the Back Wall of Molokini Crater as well as four-tank dive trips for those who just can’t get enough of the water. The full-service dive shop in Lahaina has everything from equipment sales to rentals. Since certain dives are only available on certain days, inquire ahead of time.
On the north end of Lahaina at Mala Ramp, Extended Horizons (94 Kupuohi St., 808/667-0611) is another reputable operation that offers tours to Lana‘i and the west shore of Maui. Extended Horizons only takes six passengers, and it’s the only charter boat on the island to run completely on 100 percent biodiesel. Morning tours check in at 6:30am at the Mala boat ramp for two-tank dives to Lana‘i, the cost of which is $149. Other dive options available include trips along the Maui shoreline as well as night dives, beach dives, and certification classes.
A smaller operation offering scuba tours of Lana‘i, Dive Maui (1223 Front St., 808/661-7333) departs from Mala Ramp aboard a rigid aluminum inflatable vessel. The group sizes are small and a deli lunch is included with the two-tank dive. The shop is conveniently located within walking distance from Mala Ramp.
Dive Sites South of Lahaina
Known to some operators as Turtle Reef or Turtle Point, Olowalu is an offshore, turtle-laden area popular with charter boats on the offshore reefs. Maximum depths are about 30 feet, and on nice days the visibility is close to 100 feet. This area is also popular with independent dive operators as a “confined water” area for practicing dive skills. If you are shore diving independently, the easiest way to get to deeper water is to enter around the mile marker 14 sign and swim in a straight line until you reach depths of 20-25 feet. When navigating your way through the coral heads, it’s imperative to make sure that your gear doesn’t drag across the reef, and bring a dive flag with you so that boats know you’re below.
Ukumehame is a special spot only accessible by boat charter. Huge manta rays congregate here to be “cleaned” by reef fish who nibble algae off their wings, and the depths here are a moderately deep 30-60 feet. Don’t even think about trying to do this dive as a shore dive because the manta ray area is about a 25-minute surface swim from shore and it takes trained dive instructors to determine if the water clarity is good enough for diving.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.