Possibly the clearest water in all of Hawaii
Molokini is a tiny island about 3 miles off the southwest coast of Maui and is considered one of the best dive and snorkel locations in Hawaii. This ancient volcano rises out of the sea in the Alalakeiki Channel between the islands of Maui and Kahoolawe. The northern rim has eroded away, allowing the sea to flood the crater, forming its unique crescent shape.
The island is a state bird sanctuary and the inside of the crater is a Marine Life Conservation District, meaning no fishing is allowed. The fishing restriction maintains the abundant marine life. Molokini is only accessible by tour boat.
Because of it’s pristine off shore location, Molokini boasts some of the clearest water in Hawaii. Water visibility on a typical day exceeds 100 feet and it’s not unheard of to have visibility exceed 200 feet!
The old volcano walls protect the inner crater from ocean swells making it a safe spot to snorkel with the whole family. Most of the great snorkeling is up next to the shoreline where it’s shallow. The shallow water allows sunlight to reach the bottom, growing lots of coral for fish to make their homes.
If you’re into scuba, the outside southern rim of the crater is famous for being one of the best wall dives on the planet. The back wall is an underwater 350 foot vertical drop. If you’re scuba diving Maui, this dive should be on your list.
Molokini marine life
Here’s just some of the marine life I’ve seen at Molokini: Butterfly fish, parrot fish, damsel fish, surgeon fish, moorish idol, tang, wrasse, squirrel fish, soldier fish, perch, chub, trigger fish, the former Hawaii State Fish Humuhumunukunukuapuaa, goat fish, snapper, hawk fish, jacks, emperor fish, big eye scad, cornet fish, needle fish, eels, crustaceans, invertebrates, and reef sharks. There have even been sightings of humpback whales, whale sharks, manta rays, and Hawaiian monk seals visiting the crater.
Only from your boat
Molokini is such a terrific snorkeling and dive location there will be many other visitors there as well. Not to worry though, the crater area is very large and there will be plenty of ocean for you to snorkel. Because the island is a bird sanctuary, State law prohibits anyone on the island itself. All of your activities will be based from your tour boat.
Insider Tip: Speaking of tour boats… If you’ve ever spent time trying to decide which charter boat to take to Molokini, you know there are so many choices it’s down right confusing. Most people will only have the opportunity to travel to Molokini once in their lifetime. You want to make sure the charter boat you choose will maximize your experience and best fit your individual needs. Here’s the heads up on some of the most important considerations:
1. Size of tour – The amount of other people on the boat is important to think about. If you want more individual attention and shy away from crowds, a smaller operation may better suit your needs. On the other hand, if crowds don’t bother you, larger boats tend to have more on-board services available to their guests such as snuba or hot showers.
2. Type of boat – Not all boats are created equal. Twin hull catamarans tend to be the most stable of all boats, meaning they rock the least. An important consideration if you are susceptible to sea-sickness or just want a smooth ride.
3. Type of tour – Many operations have specific tour themes. Some specialize in themes like whale watching, eco-education, or turtle finding while on the way to and from Molokini.
4. Price – Prices vary greatly. If you have a strict budget there are definitely many reasonably priced charter boats available. Just remember, you usually get what you pay for, which brings me to my next point…
5. Amenities – Be sure to ask what the price of the tour includes. Many times you will have to pay extra for things like snorkel gear, a wetsuit top, and lunch.
6. Additional snorkeling locations – Many charters don’t only travel to Molokini. Some head to other snorkeling and dive spots like Turtle Town or Coral Gardens before returning to the harbor.
7. Departure location – Charter boats operate out of Ma‘alaea Harbor, Lahaina, and Kihei. All else being equal, choose one that leaves from near where you will be staying.
Go in the morning
Molokini snorkeling and diving conditions become unfavorable in the afternoon when the trade winds tend to pick up. Most tour boats only go out to the crater in the mornings. I always recommend going to Molokini in the morning, even if the charter company offers an afternoon trip.