Maui Shore Diving Official Guide
Shore diving is quickly becoming one of the most popular Maui activities for both certified and beginner divers. Maui scuba diving tours are currently ranked as the number one activity on TripAdvisor’s list of things to do. However, it is little known that most Maui dive sites are actually shore dives. The accessibility to vibrant coral reefs, coupled with the convenience of completing two scuba dives before lunchtime, makes many divers think twice about committing to long boat excursions to neighboring islands.
Maui has enticing dive sites and dive conditions for all comfort levels. Whether you are a seasoned certified diver or looking for scuba diving lessons, use this Blog as your Maui Shore Diving Official Guide. You will learn about popular dive sites, what you can expect to see, as well as tips and tricks for safe Maui shore diving.
West Maui Scuba Diving
Airport Beach (Kahekili Reef) in Kaanapali
Located in front of the Westin Kaanapali Ocean Resorts Villas is a long stretch of fringing coral reef that extends along the sandy coastline. Known locally as Airport Beach, this dive site is used by many scuba companies focused on Maui shore diving. The coral reef here begins immediately as you enter the ocean, so you will not have to make a long surface swim to begin your dive. Shallow sandy channels make for great “classrooms” to teach beginner divers the basics of scuba diving. Hidden coral heads full of fish can be found at 50 to 80 feet, making this site incredibly versatile for all comfort levels. Dive conditions at Airport Beach are often the best during the summer months of June to September. You will find the ocean calm and flat like a lake, which provides excellent sunlight penetration and optimal underwater visibility.
What you might expect to see at Airport Beach:
Aside from the colorful neon green to bright purple corals, divers can expect to see a variety of marine life. Moray eels are a common sight. The yellow margin moray eel is a large resident growing to lengths of up to 4ft (1.2m). If you are lucky you can sometimes see these hunters free swimming in the open looking for injured prey as an easy meal. Slightly smaller spotted moray eels can also be seen hiding in coral crevices. This is a perfect reason not to reach into any holes that might be home to defensive moray eels. We were once lucky enough to see the very uncommon dragon moray eel at this dive site during a stormy swell when conditions were less than ideal. It just goes to show that even if conditions aren’t perfect, you never know what treasures you will find on any dive.
Turtles are certainly at the top of most divers’ lists when Maui shore diving. Airport Beach is a massive dive site and turtle sightings here can be hit or miss. When we do encounter turtles they are usually quite large and are either passing through the dive site, or stopping for a hearty snack. This site is a congregation site for hawksbill turtles during the summer and fall months. Hawaii Wildlife Fund conducts research and monitoring at this site, and collects underwater photos of resident hawksbills. Send your photos of a hawksbill encounter to the email listed here and help contribute to important research and conservation efforts!
Hawaii hosts an incredible amount of endemic species. 25% of the sea life found here can be seen nowhere else in the world. Airport Beach is a place where you can see the Hawaiian damsel fish in abundance and lucky divers even have the chance for a Hawaiian monk seal sighting.
Airport Beach Tips and Tricks:
While Airport Beach is considered a good place for novice divers, special attention must be paid to safely entering and exiting the water. The rocks begin almost immediately and it is a necessity to protect your feet with dive boots. This means that you will want to have open heel fins for diving. Be wary of dive operations that do not provide foot protection and proper diving fins.
Most days are calm but sometimes Airport Beach can have some pretty heavy shore breaking waves. If you plan to dive when shore break is present, then make sure you get buoyant and past the shore break before putting on your fins. Entry in these conditions is much easier than the exit. When exiting the water leave enough time to remove your fins before reaching the shore. Heavy surf can send unaware divers for a ride up the beach. Not only is the spectacle incredibly entertaining for beach goers at your expense, you risk damaging your dive gear by filling it with sand. Ultimately it is not recommended for novice divers to enter the water when these kinds of conditions are present. Know your limits!
Mala Wharf in Lahaina
Mala Wharf, Mala Pier, or just Mala, no matter what you call it, this is the premier Maui dive site to visit. Divers arrive each day from all over the island to experience an abundance of sea life that gathers at this sunken pier. In 1992, the structure was decimated by hurricane Iniki. So it’s had over 20 years to settle and develop into a beautiful artificial reef. The concrete shelters serve as great hiding places for all sorts of sea life, and provide swim throughs for curious divers. A shallow maximum depth of just 30 feet allows for an extended bottom time. Plus, this dive site is wonderful for night diving. Your Maui scuba diving experience is not complete without a visit to Mala Wharf.
What you might expect to see at Mala Wharf:
Where do we start? Almost any creature that you can hope to see shore diving on Maui can be found at Mala Pier. Turtle sightings are almost guaranteed. White tip reef sharks are also commonly seen here. A plethora of macro life can be found including the well camouflaged frogfish, nudibranchs, crabs and scorpion fish. In the fall, Spotted Eagle Rays visit to mate, and in the spring Great Barracuda make their way to the cleaning station. The vast array of animals all congregating at one Maui dive site is truly a sight for scuba divers to behold.
Night diving at Mala Wharf features a mind boggling array of nocturnal life, like Slipper Lobsters, Crabs, and Conger Eels. Encounters with the resident White Tip Reef Sharks are also common. At night the reef sharks are become more active!
Mala Pier Tips and Tricks:
The popularity of Mala Pier has led to an increase in visitors in recent years. It is of the utmost importance to respect this finite area of reef and protect it for generations to come. It’s an all to common theme that popular dive and snorkel sites risk becoming “over-loved” by careless divers and snorkelers. Maui shore diving requires extra care. Entering and exiting from shore can lead to multiple, unnecessary interactions with live coral. We implore scuba divers to follow these important diving practices to ensure not only personal safety, but safety for the reef and its inhabitants.
Rule #1: Keep your hands to yourself
Many certified divers have heard the phrase “take only photos and leave only bubbles.” We have personally witnessed divers picking up sea life such as pencil urchins, sea stars, even an octopus and passing them around for a photo op. We have also seen divers and snorkelers touching turtles at this site which carries a hefty fine in Hawaii. We have even seen people harassing the reef sharks resting on the bottom in order to get them to swim around for customers to see. Banyan Tree Divers Scuba is strictly against touching, teasing or harassing sea life. Touching turtles or even a seemingly inanimate object such as sea star or a conch causes it stress, and puts it at risk of infection from bacteria found on human skin.
Any sea turtle harassment or illegal interactions should be reported to Hawaii’s Department of Conservation and Resources Enforcement at (808)-984-8110
Rule #2: Protect the Coral
Mala Pier is a fairly small dive site and reef growth is limited to a confined area. Adequate buoyancy control is an absolute must. Be aware of where you are kicking. Even slightly brushing up against coral can not only cause a nasty cut but can also kill the coral itself. The silty bottom composition means that inadequate buoyancy will stir up the sand and not only harm the visibility, but also cause silt to settle on the reef which chokes it. According to the PADI website divers have on average 10 interactions with coral on each dive. If you imagine many divers in one small area constantly hitting the reef, it’s easy to see how corals get damaged over time. Being mindful is all it takes.
Rule #3: Enter/Exit Safely and Legally
Mala Pier is located directly next to a boat launch. It is illegal to enter the water via the launch ramp. Boat traffic is common and even divers with dive flags can be missed. Speaking of dive flags, always have a dive flag with you. It is a $500 fine to dive without a flag and they are especially necessary in areas with high boat traffic.
You must enter and exit along the south side of the pier. The entry is rocky, very shallow and should not be attempted without dive boots for foot protection. The area closest to the pier itself is the least rocky and you won’t be walking on live coral. Once it is deep enough to float you can put on your fins and kick out the rest of the way.
This site sits adjacent to burial grounds and a local beach. Show reverence to the surrounding land and burial grounds by staying out of the grave sites, and respect the local residents. Dive this site with Aloha and you will be rewarded with an unforgettable experience!
Mile Marker 14, Lahaina
Mile Marker 14 is a shallow dive site that sits right on the coastline. Located south of Lahaina, the area is called Olowalu. The West Maui mountains provide a dramatic backdrop to make this area incredibly photogenic. The corals here are some of the oldest in Hawaiian waters. You will dive along shallow coral reefs that slowly descend to fingered coral formations and sandy valleys. Diving from shore you can reach a maximum depth of 40 feet, however you will only average about 20 feet.
The Mile Marker 14 dive site has one of the most developed, yet fragile coral reef systems in West Maui. To prepare for a difficult future, Olowalu was recently named a “Hope Spot” by conservation giant Mission Blue. Carrying a Hope Spot designation should bring wide-scale reef conservation awareness to Maui, while providing greater funding opportunities to better preserve, protect, and understand this delicate seascape.
What you might expect to see at Mile Marker 14:
Parrot fish can be seen and heard taking bites out of their coral food sources. Parrot fish are absolutely intrinsic to the health of a reef eco-system. Not only do they keep coral free of algae overgrowth, their excrements provide the very sand we sit on while at the beach! If you are mesmerized by butterfly fish and yellow tang, then this is your spot.
Some of the large lobe corals at this site are massive and striking. Green turtles rest around these large coral formations and line up to get cleaned by resident cleaner wrasse and tangs. Manta rays have been known to pass through this site but are becoming more and more of a scarce encounter. Octopus can sometimes be found hiding in crevices and changing color and texture to reflect their surroundings. The occasional white tip reef shark can also be seen here.
Mile Marker 14 Tips and Tricks:
Since Olowalu has such a shallow entry, special care must be utilized when entering and exiting the water. The tide is often so low, that exposed coral can easily get divers and snorkelers into a dangerous situation if pushed by waves on top of the coral’s razor sharp surface. We sometimes see ignorant snorkelers standing on top of the coral, and after a proper cringe, we kindly share with them the dangers they pose not only to themselves but to the coral by touching it. There is a specific sandy channel that is the only way to safely enter and exit this dive site. Divers should be comfortable with navigation skills to dive this site without a guide. Ending up in the wrong place can lead to a treacherous route back to shore over shallow, sharp coral heads.
This area of Maui, with its close proximity to a deep valley and rich Hawaiian history, is a particularly sacred part of the island. It’s a reminder that respect should not only be paid to the surrounding ocean, but to the people and land.
Black Rock in Kaanapali
Black Rock is west Maui’s one and only wall dive. While shallow (maximum 35ft), its unique rock formation features small caverns and great photography opportunities at different times of day. Access to this dive site is limited by restricted hotel parking so the walk to shore can be a bit longer than other dive sites. However, the abundance of sea life makes the stroll worthwhile.
What you can expect to see at Black Rock:
Black Rock usually features turtles and big schools of tang and goat fish. Hawaii’s state fish the Picasso Trigger Fish, is a common resident. At times, a large monk seal likes to take naps under the awning of a small cavern. White tip reef sharks can also be seen hiding in these caverns during the day. Small schools of squirrel fish can be seen resting with them
Black Rock Tips and Tricks:
Unless you are staying at the Sheraton, Black Rock is really only accessible from the north end. Public parking is limited in this area, requiring a bit of a walk to the beach. While not the most ideal scenario with dive equipment, it is still a dive worth doing. Currents can be strong and unpredictable at this dive site. Maui shore diving currents can change with the change in tides. It is important to be comfortable diving in current before attempting this dive. While considered a novice dive site, proficient swimming ability is necessary.
South Maui Dive Sites
South Maui shore diving also has some location gems to be explored. While Banyan Tree Divers focuses on diving in West Maui, contact us for great recommendations to shore dive in Kihei and Wailea.
Makena Landing/ Five Graves/ Turtle Town, Wailea
This dive site has many names. It is a popular dive site for both boat diving operations as well as shore diving. The abundance of turtles that frequent this area lend to the name Turtle Town. Five Graves refers to the grave site located close by. No matter what you call it, this dive has the potential for jam packed fun. The maximum depth is about 40ft and various swim throughs allow for exciting exploration. Though it has been deemed Maui’s Turtle Town, I feel compelled to mention that almost every dive site on Maui can be called “Turtle Town.” They are everywhere!
What you can expect to see:
Aside from turtles, there are a few white tip reef sharks that like to hide in the shallow caves. Eels are a likely sighting, as well as cleaner shrimp and colorful fish. Spotted eagle rays also like to visit this area. Lucky divers can even see manta rays here.
Makena Landing Tips and Tricks:
While Maui shore diving is often convenient, this is one site that requires a rather long surface swim. There is a sandy beach that offers the easiest entry, and the 200 yard swim to the drop point near the caves will take about 15 minutes. There is also a rocky entry that is closer to the descent point, but makes entry and exit more difficult, and there is no parking nearby.
Around the point you will find various caves that are definitely worth exploring. Because of these overhead environments this site is recommended for advanced divers that are comfortable with buoyancy control.
Ulua Beach, Wailea
This beach features the most popular scuba refresher and training dive site in South Maui. Parking can be difficult, but Ulua Beach has good facilities. The easy entry and exit, short surface swim, and variety of sea life make this spot a great introduction to Maui shore diving.
What you can expect to see:
There is a turtle cleaning station which makes turtle sightings likely. Eels and reef fish including trigger fish, moorish idols, and butterfly fish are also abundant. An occasional scorpion fish, nudibranch or frog fish is also a possibility.
Ulua Beach Tips and Tricks:
As with most dive sites on Maui, it is best to dive Ulua Beach in the morning when conditions are calm and the wind has not picked up. Be careful not to touch or tease the sea life. This is a popular place to snorkel and dive so frequent interactions with humans are not healthy for the animals.
Without question, Maui shore diving is unique and has something enticing for any water enthusiast. Whether you are looking to interact with sea turtles or find obscure creatures, you don’t have to venture far to have some unforgettable scuba diving experiences!
Banyan Tree Divers Scuba caters to a wide variety of comfort levels. Will this be your first Maui scuba dive? Discover diving with an Introductory Dive. Are you already a confident certified diver? Find out more about our Certified Shore Dives. Certified divers in need of a Scuba Review only pay an extra $20 because we want to encourage responsible diving practices.
Perhaps you are headed to Maui on your honeymoon and looking for a more private experience. Do you want to ensure one on one attention from your instructor? The Private Dive for 2 is the best option.
Thank you for reading and happy diving!