Lahaina: Gateway to Diving

Welcome to Deepblu Travelogues, our brand new series focusing on getting the down-low on great dive destinations from first-person sources. Our first is by Geoff J. Skigen, who gives us a in-depth slice of Hawaii. All photos contributed by the author.

Where: Maui, Moloka’i, Lana’i

Dive Spots: Mala Pier, First Cathedral, Elephant Rock

Cost of Diving: $175 to $500

Spotted: White tip reef sharks, frog fish, Hawaiian green sea turtles, Hawaiian Monk Seals, Trevally, Flying Fish, Trigger fish, Parrot fish, Wrasses, Sting Rays, Eagle Rays, Moray Eels, Corals

A Warm Aloha

Peering out the airplane window, my heartbeat quickens as coral reefs reveal themselves in the azure blue waters of Maui. A fragrant plumeria flower scent fills my nostrils as I leave baggage claim. While Uber operates on the island, they have yet to receive the OK to pick up passengers from Kahului Airport, so it’s a $65 taxi ride for the 40-minute scenic ride to Lahaina, or Lahaina Town as the locals call it.

Diving Hawaiian Style

I chose to dive with Lahaina Divers because I had read nothing but great reviews. Lahaina Divers is the oldest and one of the top five PADI 5 Star IDC Dive Shop in the global PADI network. I have my own dive kit, but they do have a solid selection of dive gear to rent or buy at reasonable prices. Their prices depend on where you dive, what equipment (if any) you rent, if you dive Nitrox, and if you take a certification course or not. The dive shop is a short walk to the pier and a block and a half away from Front Street, the main drag in Lahaina. I stayed at an Airbnb just a few blocks away. There are several hotels and hostels in town with rates from $100 to $500/night.

Their boats hold around 20 divers, are clean, well maintained, and fast. They’re easy to get on and giant stride off. Divers are split up according to certification level and experience so you’re not bogged down with a newbie or struggling to keep up with Aquaman. An ancient Hawaiian prayer is played every time you leave the harbor for safe passage out and back.

What’s nice about diving out of Lahaina is the proximity to so many of the best dive sites on Maui as well as dive sites off the islands of Lana’i and Moloka’i. You don’t have to stay on those islands to dive them.

Mala Pier is a short 10-15 minute boat ride out of Lahaina harbor and is an easily accessible site. It’s proof that accidents can be positive. A concrete pier collapsed shortly after it was built a decade or so ago, and voila, an artificial reef was born. Frogfish, white tip reef sharks, Hawaiian green sea turtles, lobster, moray eels, and the usual cast of fish characters: Humuhumunukunukua’pua’a (trigger fish, which is the state fish of Hawai’i), angelfish, sergeant majors, butterfly fish, and more. This dive is only 30-40 feet (9-12 meters) down, so there’s a lot of bottom time.

The dive site known as First Cathedral off Lana’i is stunning. It’s a lava cave whose roof fell to the floor, creating an altar with sunbeams shining on it. I’ve dived it twice and actually liked it even more the second time. The visibility was amazing, easily 80-100+ feet.

Elephant Rock off the northeast tip of Moloka’i is remote, but worth the hour boat ride. It’s definitely a more advanced dive due to the strong currents. Also known as the “hammerhead dive,” this spot is one of the few places in the world where you can see the scalloped hammers school. The reef is the most pristine I’ve seen in Hawaii, bursting with coral and aquatic life. The currents weren’t as strong as expected, the water was 80º F (27º C), and we were the only people out there. Unfortunately we didn’t see the hammers, but we did see the protected Hawaiian monk seal sunbathing. But hey, this is nature, not an aquarium.

Lahaina Satisfies the Soul, and Your Appetite

Front Street runs about a half mile and is lined with restaurants ranging from hole-in-the-wall sandwich joints to higher-end dining. Some places to hit include: Paia Fish Market (fresh seafood, order at the counter), Down the Hatch (vibrant seafood restaurant and killer cocktails), Cool Cat Café (fun burger joint, great for groups), Betty’s Beach Café (great happy hour and pupus, ocean view), and, of course, the Kohola Brewery (former home of the Maui Brewing Company) for an impressive line of craft beers.

Bars, live music, art galleries, shops, and historical buildings from Lahaina’s early whaling days are yours to explore. Be sure to make a reservation to ensure a table, and if you’re lucky, one with an ocean view.

Dive Maui and live Aloha

There are few places quite like Maui and the Hawaiian Islands. You’ll see a dazzling array of reef fish, hordes of Hawaiian green sea turtles, reef sharks, hammers, tiger sharks, whale sharks and more. In the winter, humpback whales migrate here to bear their young. There’s a palpable reverence for the ocean and its inhabitants that is steeped in Hawaiian culture and with the local residents. Lahaina’s location gives you quicker access to more dive sites and more time diving. This 1800s town boasts a lot of topside dining, shopping, and other activities for all budget levels. I’ve dived here many times and can’t wait to return to arguably one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

– Geoff J. Skigen, Guest Contributor, Deepblu

For more on Geoff J. Skigen, click here.

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