If you’re headed to Maui, you’ll no doubt schedule your fair share of time at the beach. But don’t forget to arrange some time on the water as well. Maui’s western and southern shores are absolutely perfect for boating, with several islands offshore and many opportunities for wildlife sightings, especially whales in the winter. Scuba diving, sailing, kayaking, and fishing charters are also great ways to experience the ocean.
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Regardless of your activity level and interests, there’s a way for everyone to experience Maui’s waters. Below, we break down the available water activities on Maui.
There are opportunities to snorkel everywhere in Maui, but most of its revered spots are located on the south and western shores. From La Perouse Bay, ‘Āhihi Kinau, and “Turtle Town” down south, to Black Rock, Kahekiki Beach and Honolua Bay out west – not to mention Molokini more than two miles offshore – Maui is loaded with snorkeling experiences that span all abilities and all levels of adventure.
There are many “from the beach” snorkel opportunities on Maui, and at its most basic, snorkeling can be as easy as renting or buy a mask and fins and walking out into the water. There are also snorkeling tours that leave from Lahaina and Maalaea Harbor that will take you to deeper sites offshore, such as Molokini Crater or Turtle Town. These snorkel boats range in what they offer. Some take place on big boats (100+ people) and offer lunch and other activities, like slides or platforms to jump from. Other tours are smaller and basic. You’ll have to shop around to find the best combination of price and amenities. Either way, if you’re inexperienced, joining a tour is a great way to learn and snorkel safely, and regardless of ability, they provide a way to access deeper, offshore sites.
10 best snorkeling spots on Maui
To learn more, read our guide to snorkeling on Maui. There you can find a list of our 10 favorite snorkeling sites, along with a map, tips, and recommendations for beginners, families, etc..
No matter where you’re staying on the island, you won’t be far from a surf break. Though it lacks the quantity of breaks that you find on O‘ahu, Maui does have a lot to offer surfers, including an internationally-known surf break of its own, Pe‘ahi – better known around the world as “Jaws.”
This massive break, found off the coast of Hai‘kū on Maui’s North Shore, produces some of the largest waves recorded in Hawai‘i, sometimes up to 50 or even 60 feet in height. Obviously, Jaws is for world-class experts only, but do check in with locals to see if it’s breaking while you’re on island. If so, you may want to make your way over and watch.
For beginner surfers, there are a couple friendly breaks on Maui’s west coast. Puamana Beach in Lāhainā produces easy-going waves for longboarding, and nearby Launiupoko has a mix of novice and intermediate terrain. In Kīhei, try Kīhei Cove. Those with more experience can check out the scene at Hoʻokipa (North Shore), cruise east to Hāmoa in Hana, or out west in Honolua Bay.
If you’re interested in taking a lesson, or have questions about the swells or breaks, seek some expert advice. You can try well-known companies like Maui Surfer Girls (Lāhainā) or Maui Waveriders (Kīhei), but be sure to price hunt, as you may be able to find group deals or special offerings elsewhere with one of the many other surf schools on Maui.
If you’re not quite ready to stand up on a surfboard – or if you’ve been there done that – try another of Hawaiʻi’s favorite watersports, bodyboarding. In fact, going by the numbers, bodyboarding might be even more popular than surfing, considering it has a lower barrier to entry, is done close to shore, and is extremely popular with families and small children.
Bodyboarding can be done at just about any beach with a shorebreak, and for those just starting out, riding the whitewater is what it’s all about. Take a look as you travel around the island, and you’re sure to see people bodyboarding just about everywhere. Some beaches, like Kamaole III, or Fleming Beach Park, are known as bodyboarding beaches.
Keep in mind, while bodyboarding is accessible, it can also be very dangerous in strong wave conditions. Don’t underestimate the strength of shore breaks in Hawaiʻi. Always observe the ocean before getting in, and if you’re unsure, check with lifeguards before entering the water.
Read More: Check out our guide to Maui’s Beaches to discover other bodyboarding breaks.
Maui is a wonderful place to scuba dive thanks to its clear, calm, and warm water. Most tours leave out of the west and south shores in Lāhainā, Maalaea, or Kīhei area. There are many companies that offer both beginner and advanced dive trips, as well as personal instruction and lessons.
Popular dive sites in and around Maui include the backside of Molokini, Honolua Bay, Kahekili Beach Park, and many spots along the south shore in an area called “Turtle Town.”
Some companies, like Dive Maui, run trips to nearby Molokaʻi or Lānaʻi. Both of these islands have revered dive sites, like the Hammertime Channel on Molokaʻi, where hammerheads are often spotted, or the Lānaʻi Cathedrals, where you can explore underwater lava tubes.
Read more: See also our guide for scuba diving on the Big Island.
Whale watching / Sailing (Tours)
We’ve combined these two sections because, at certain times of year, you can’t go on a sailing or boat tour without it being a whale watching tour.
Every year from November through April, more than 10,000 humpback whales make their way from Alaska to Hawaiʻi to give birth in its warm waters. The whales can be found throughout the state of Hawaiʻi, but they are most concentrated in the ʻAuʻau Channel off Maui’s west coast. The whales like the deep, protected waters here that allow them to raise their young in peace.
Believe us, during this time of year, everything you do along the western and southern shores of Maui could be considered a whale watch. At all times of the day you will see them breaching, tail slapping, and breathing at the surface, whether you’re eating at a waterfront restaurant, walking a beach path, or boating out in the channel.
Whale Watching Tours
Of course, the latter is where you get an up close and personal look. There are many types of whale watching tours available on Maui, from big boats like the Pacific Whale Foundation to small-group experiences on pontoon boats, such as the adventure offered by Captain Steve’s Rafting. Whale Trust, a local non-profit dedicated to scientific research and public awareness of whales and their environment, provides excellent tips on how to select a tour boat, and which companies they recommend. We highly recommend giving it a read.
If you find yourself on Maui outside of whale season, fret not. The boating and sailing tours are still spectacular, providing views of Moloka‘i, Lāna‘i, Kaho‘olawe, and the Molokini Crater – not to mention the views from the boat looking back on Haleakakā, rising 10,000 feet from sea to summit. Most of the same companies who offer whale watching in the winter pivot to scenic tours during the summer, often combined with snorkeling. In both seasons, the majority of tours leave from Lāhainā or Maalaea harbors.
Whale Watching on Oʻahu and the Big Island
There are many non-motorized ways to get out on the water that don’t include riding big surf. Kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding are popular at many beaches and scenic coastlines, and paddling Hawaiian outrigger canoes is both a historic and modern day favorite amongst locals.
Kayaking can be as simple or as extensive as you want. Many people simply rent a kayak from the nearest outfitter and launch off the closest beach. From there, they cruise around and enjoy the exercise and views back toward land. Those looking for more adventure launch in areas like La Perouse Bay or ‘Āhihi Kinau, where they can explore the volcanic coastline.
The same goes for stand-up paddleboarding. You can rent one and take it out on a calm day or in a protected bay; or you can head out to a surf break and use it as a longboard.
Paddling (outrigger canoes)
Paddling Hawaiian outrigger canoes is a more unique experience, as it’s not regularly found in other places. In ancient times, Hawaiian’s used outrigger canoes as their main transportation and fishing vessels, and today, paddling clubs can be found all across the state, in almost every region of every island. A combination of community and exercise, paddling clubs range in competitiveness. Some are there for fun; others train to compete in races, of which there are many throughout the year.
Regardless of your interest in either of the three sports, we recommend going beyond the basics. For example, Hawaiian Paddle Sports in Kīhei combines history, culture, and adventure in its tour offerings. Whether you want to kayak, SUP, or paddle, their tours take the time to explain the cultural significance of the areas you visit and pay homage to Maui with a number of give-back, community programs.
Fishing and fishing charters
Considering that Hawai‘i is a state surrounded by water, it should come as no surprise that fishing is one of the most popular activities amongst locals. Tuna, wahoo, marlin, mahi mahi, shark, snapper, mackerel, and many other species can be caught off Maui’s shores.
If you just want to buy a pole and fish from the shore, you can simply do so – no permit or license is required, and fishermen are literally everywhere, so it shouldn’t be hard to strike up a conversation and ask for some advice.
If you’re looking to fish offshore from a boat, there are two main types of trips on Maui: sport fishing and bottom fishing. The former is where you go after bigger fish, like tuna, out on the open ocean. Bottom fishing tends to be more mellow and family-friendly, with a higher likelihood of catching smaller fish. Some companies combine bottom fishing with the chance to snorkel as well.
Something important to keep in mind and ask when booking a fishing charter: By Hawaii law, the fish you catch is not your fish. Anything caught while on a fishing trip remains the property of the charter company, and it’s up to them whether or not they distribute it to guests on board (yes, even if you caught the fish yourself). This is a major point of frustration for many guests, so be sure to ask when booking so you are aware of such a policy up front. Many boats will only allow guests to keep part of the fish, with the rest being kept by the boat or sold to market. Some have very specific policies regarding the weight of the fish, so you’ll have to inquire individually with each company.
Read More: If you want to know more about fishing on Maui, Fish Maui is a good resource, with explanations of the local fish, local charter policies, and booking services.