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Maui is Great!
The scuba diving off Maui's Southwest coast is a favorite location. In particular, the famous Molokini marine sanctuary, a partially sunken volcanic crater, is a magnet for marine life. Its backside is a vertical wall that drops to 300', and its interior offers nice sloping ridges that run from snorkeling depth down to 130' plus. There are also great dive sites along the coast off Kihei, Wailea and Makena, a couple of which are deep, like the 110' "battleship" site (it's not a wreck). Often the shore diving around Maui is excellent also.
Lanai & Molokai diving also originates from Maui!
While the diving in south Maui and Molokini Crater is really good, a dive trip to Maui County wouldn't be complete without a trip to dive the Cathedrals off the south shore of Lanai. There are 30+ dive sites off Lanai and most feature some sort of geological structure, such as a lava tube (Second Cathedral & Menpache Cave), a lava bubble (First Cathedral), double pinnacles (Wash Rock, Fish Rock, Sergeant Major, NoName/Paradise), single pinnacle (Monolith & Shark Fin), arches (Knob Hill) and swim-throughs. The endemic Bandit Angelfish and Reticulated Butterflyfish are often spotted.
If the weather gods smile upon you and you get the chance to dive Molokai, you'll most likely go to a structure 1.5 miles off the east end called Moku'ho'oniki Rock where you will have a shot at seeing some of the bigger sealife such as Scalloped Hammerhead sharks, manta rays, pods of spinner dolphins, the rare Hawaiian Monk Seal, or Galapagos sharks, along with a reef system teeming with fish the way Maui reefs used to be 20-25 years ago. Google "Lanai diving" or "Molokai diving" for the most current information on the dive boats going there.
How it Works
Scuba operators originate dive boats from four locations on Maui. Kihei Boat Ramp is on the south side of Kihei just north of Wailea. There is a public parking lot there that fills up pretty fast, so get there early. Mala Boat Ramp, located on the west side of Maui behind Cannery Mall, operates very similar to Kihei Boat Ramp. You'll see most dive boats getting set up to launch between 6:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. Ma'alaea Harbor in North Kihei and Lahaina Harbor house some of the larger dive boats in slips. Some operators may want you to come to their dive shop first, while others will just meet you at the ramp or slip. Most operators get back by noon or 1:00 p.m. The early morning diving is driven by the fact that the trade winds usually start to blow in the late morning or early afternoon, and the seas in the channels and along the Kihei/Wailea coast get quite choppy. West Maui coast is a bit more protected from the trade winds, so the dive operators often run afternoon charters as well.
Choosing a Dive Operator
Which operator you choose should depend mainly on the quality of trip you are looking for and your experience level. Some operators like "Mike Severns Diving" take out divers who are newly certified or very experienced. The twelve divers are split into 2 or 3 groups of 4-6 divers. "Ed Robinson's" caters to the very experienced scuba diver. They typically take up to a dozen divers at a time, often diving in two groups (each led by a Divemaster). First dives are often to 130', and a dive computer is a must to maximize your multi-level bottom time. Note that dives along the back wall of Molokini or Molokai are "drift dives" with a slight current.
Less experienced divers might want to choose operators like "Maui Dive Shop" or "B&B Scuba". These folks are more conservative and will make you feel more comfortable if you're a new diver or have been out of the water for a while. First dives often start inside the Molokini crater and follow a 50' to 70' profile.
Divers wanting to originate from west Maui will want to look into Extended Horizons, Hawaiian Rafting Adventures, Lahaina Divers or Maui Diving Scuba Center.
In any case, talk directly with the dive operator and ask lots of questions to get a feel for the type of diving they cater to and to see if it feels like a good "fit" between the dive op & your experience level. Don't forget to check their websites as well.
What Does It Cost?
Scuba diving in Maui is generally expensive compared to locations in the Caribbean (just like everything else). Single day, two-tank dives can run from $110 to $159 per person, and three-tank "adventure" dives can go up to $200. Most operators only have small discounts (5%-20%), if any, for multi-day packages. As usual, tipping the crew is as appropriate as your enjoyment level was.
When is the Best Time to Go?
Late January through March is the peak of the "high season" because it is winter on the mainland. It is also Humpback Whale season. It's rare to see a whale while you're underwater, but every scuba trip is a whale watching trip as well. While diving, you can hear the whales singing very clearly. Water temperatures in the winter are about 74 degrees F, so a 5mm to 7mm wet suit is a must.
Summer water temperatures reach into the low 80's and a 3mm suit is fine for some people. Sadly, no whales. July & August are also "High Season" in Hawaii (all islands).
If your trip to Maui is centered around scuba diving, stay at a resort or condo close to the origination point of the dive operator you select. On the south side of Kihei, you can rent a condo at the Maui Mana Kai or get a room at the Kihei Surfside Hotel. Both are right on the beach and within easy walking distance of the boat ramp. There are also more condos and resorts across the street and just north of the boat ramp. If you're staying in Lahaina or further north, look at diving with one of the dive operators leaving from Lahaina Harbor or Mala Boat Ramp.
One operator offers diving to all of Maui County, Molokini, Molokini Backwall, Lanai, Molokai, and Coastal Maui. It is the largest dive operation, Lahaina Divers, using a larger boat. It offers multi-charter discounts in the 15 - 20% range.