Diving in Maui, Hawaii - Part 2

At the crater's center, clouds of reef fish hover over a sandy bottom. In the coral rubble at the crater's edge reside nearly motionless rockfish, and the camouflaged scorpionfish blends seamlessly with the background, pectoral fins spread like steady legs. Only the riffle of fins gives away its presence. The hard-to-find flame wrasse flashes a brilliant red, but only for a moment as it darts quickly between crevices.
 
The muted black Hawaiian damselfish may be the most plentiful fish in Molokini crater. About the size of a hockey puck, these are the territorial Pomeranians of the fish world; physically tiny, they have an attitude the size of a shark's. Dive guides may point out male damselfish that have lived in Molokini for a while, always staying in the same three-foot radius and bearing war scars along their dorsal fins proving their steadfastness. Down the slope of the submerged volcano, lobsters hide in crannies, and schools of indigenous Hawaiian long-fin anthias trail brightly colored pelvic fins above them as they swim upside down under ledges.

Launching from the Beach

Though many divers argue that the best sites must be explored from a boat, there are plenty of great shore dives on the southwest coast of Maui. Provided that the surf is calm and access isn't too tricky, most beach-entry sites are suitable for beginner and intermediate divers. The dive profile usually doesn't exceed 40 feet, so there's an extra margin of safety. A brief inquiry at one of the local dive establishments usually reveals the good shore dives in the area.
 
One of the finest, Black Rock, was regarded as a sacred site by ancient Hawaiians, who believed this was a place where the spirits of the dead leaped from this world to the next. This shore dive off the well-developed Kaanapali coast is accessible, not too challenging technically, and truly amazing — especially at night. Lying off the point of the largest tourist area on Maui, the entire dive is no more than 35 feet deep, which means plenty of air time to explore the site. A craggy wall meets a sandy bottom riddled with large boulders, rock outcroppings, and plenty of crannies for marine life such as octopus and lionfish.
 
Scores of free-swimming morays and congers go on the hunt at night. Butterflyfish cloud the water with color. Of the 24 species of butterflyfish in Maui waters, three are endemic to Hawaii — the yellow or milletseed, bluestripe, and multiband. Flitting over the reef, butterflyfish mate for life and often travel in pairs. Blennies poke their heads from crevices, a permanent look of surprise on their faces. Black Rock is the Turtle Dream Inn, with dozens tucked away under ledges and in caverns for the night, breaking their slumber only to snatch breaths periodically at the surface. Colorful nudibranchs are numerous, and the Spanish dancers — in brilliant pinks, reds, and yellows — put on a show. Use a dive light to observe the nudibranchs as they slowly propel themselves upward and then drift, spinning, to the seafloor.
 
A visit to the Valley Isle — above and below the water— provides ample reason to celebrate the Polynesian trickster's fishing prowess: chittering damselfish, schools of yellow butterflyfish, singing whales, black-sand beaches laced with spindrift, cliff-lined shores hung with veils of water. It's not difficult to see why Maui is one of the world's most popular scuba diving destinations.
 
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