Diving in Maui, Hawaii
Armed with a magic hook, the Polynesian demigod Maui cast his fishing line into the Pacific and reeled up the Hawaiian archipelago from the depths of the ocean. To this day, a crescent-shaped island, the second largest in the chain, bears the trickster's name. Every year millions of vacationers visit only the terrestrial part of this paradise, but the realm from which Maui pulled the island is equally magnificent.
The same easygoing aloha spirit that prevails topside also seems to guide the inhabitants beneath the waves. Turtles meander by, often within a few feet of curious divers. Schools of reef fish loiter about, oblivious to errant currents. Adorned with brightly colored patterns, sea slugs of all sizes slink along so slowly it seems they're hardly moving. Hard-to-see anglerfish do their best to remain hidden in plain sight, and octopuses pick out a leisurely path over the seafloor. Huge, velvety green morays stand sentinel over their hideouts and gnash their razor-sharp teeth. Green and pink parrotfish patrol the bottom; their constant gnawing on the reef makes a percussive background noise.
Even without the plentiful and colorful marine life, Maui's underwater topography is impressive — intricate lava tubes, drop-offs, caverns, sandy bottoms, and huge basalt boulders. Dozens of hard coral species cling to these formations like visual puns — antler, razor, plate, finger, wire, and cauliflower corals. Rare black coral grows at greater depths.
Besides bountiful life and intriguing underwater topography, there is another reason why Maui's diving is first-class: Many species are found nowhere else. Because Hawaii is the most isolated chain of islands on the planet — more than 2,000 miles from the nearest landmass — many of the plant and animal species are isolated from the gene pool. Early explorers found that 95 percent of Hawaii's plants were endemic. Two native mammals, the hoary bat and Hawaiian monk seal (now endangered), and countless birds and insects are found only in Hawaii. Of Maui's 450 species of reef fish, about 25 percent are endemic. Currently no indigenous fish or marine invertebrates are threatened. Unfortunately, the same is not true topside. Native plant and bird populations have declined dramatically throughout the Hawaiian archipelago due to habitat loss and competition from species introduced to the islands.
The sea remains a moderate 70° to 80°F year-round. Though swimmers may find it refreshing, most divers opt for a wet suit. There is no thermocline; the water temperature at the top is the same as at the bottom. Visibility on the calm, western side of the island is usually about 100 feet. Maui's many dive operators, most of them clustered around the towns of Kihei and Lahaina, hit the water at sunrise — often a big surprise to late-rising vacationers. But it's the early bird who enjoys the best diving. Trade winds and surface chop pick up later in the day and make for difficult boating and surface diving. Regardless of conditions topside, those below are invariably wonderful.
Diving the Crater
Only half of Molokini crater's lip breaks the surface, a crescent sliver of land, 150 feet high, around a deep blue pool. A 15-minute boat ride from the Kihei boat ramp, the tiny landmass is a bird sanctuary, off limits to humans. The surrounding waters are a marine reserve, but divers are welcome. In fact, this is the most popular dive site in all of Hawaii. Though the crater is only 400 feet across, sometimes as many as 20 boats bring snorkelers and divers here.
Continued In: Diving in Maui, Hawaii - Part 2