It was a perfect day for snorkeling on the west side of Maui. Ok, so Hawai'i is always beautiful, but on this day it was especially so! I grabbed the essentials: my mask & fin rentals, reef-safe sunscreen (to protect the coral), a towel, GoPro and a cute swimsuit.
Honolua Bay is well known as one of the best spots to surf on Maui during winter swells and to snorkel any other time, so I decided to check the place out for myself. The tradewinds were a bit strong in Ka’anapali (the weather app predicted 15mph by mid day), and I was told that Honolua Bay would be an ideal spot to snorkel since the cliffs provide a natural shelter. Snorkeling at Honolua Bay is extra special thanks to its status as a protected marine sanctuary under the Marine Life Conservation District. This means that it is illegal to fish or take resources, allowing marine life to flourish.
Getting to Honolua Bay
The 15-minute drive north from Ka’anapali follows the coastline and there is the option to take a more scenic, slower route along the ocean via Lower Honoapi’ilani Rd from Honokawai to Kapalua. After the resorts and golf courses, I passed by the entrance to DT Fleming Beach, and the staircase down to Slaughterhouse Beach (another beautiful beach and a great place to snorkel on Maui). There were a few lookout points along the way including a safe pull-off point at the Honolua sign with gorgeous views of the turquoise bay and reef from above.
The main parking area for Honolua Bay is just over the small bridge on the main road, but it is only large enough for a few cars so I ended up driving past there and turning around safely just up the hill at Honolua Point. Circling back, I found parking along the shoulder of the main road. Keep in mind, this was mid-day in August so the spot seemed busier than usual.
The entrance to the trail that leads down to the bay was super easy to find. There were a few porta potties (the only public bathrooms you’ll find north of DT Fleming beach) and even a food truck where you could buy fresh local fruits, food, and smoothies. There is also another trail that cuts down from roadway parking a few hundred yards south toward Slaughterhouse so you don’t need to walk far along the highway. Note that the secondary trail starts with a steep decline and can be slippery. There is also a river to cross (dry in August) so it is not ideal for anyone with mobility issues.
West Maui Jungle Walk
As I continued down the well marked path, I was in awe of the lush microclimate feeding this magical canopy of greenery. The gulch leading to Honolua creates one of the most vibrant pockets of jungle on this side of the island. I passed by tall trees draped in moss and vines, saw wild growing papayas, and funny enough... lots and lots of chickens! There were also multiple signs along the way reminding visitors to wear reef safe sunscreen and to keep the area clean (pack in and pack out). There are no trash cans at the beach and little to no cell phone reception at Honolua Bay, so prepare to unplug and relax!
The bay itself was beautiful. The water a vibrant shade of blue that encompassed the surrounding ships; the view was nothing short of picturesque. Honolua isn’t your typical white sandy Maui beach. Instead, the perimeter is made up of small rocks and flat pebbles (beach chairs are a good idea if you plan on lounging or picnicking).
Snorkeling at Honolua Bay
I put on my fins, mask, and snorkel, and went exploring. I saw so many different colored corals and a bunch of cool fish. Even though the beach was busy, there was plenty of room in the water for everyone to enjoy. The depth of the ocean was about 10-15 feet or so and was a warm temperature of 80 degrees.
As I made my way leisurely to the reef, I immediately recognized some of the marine life from my Hawaii fish & marine life guide including Humuhumunukunukuapua’a (the Hawaii State fish), a 50 lb Bluefin Trevally known locally as Omilu, and even a whole school of Goatfish known as Weke. There must have been over a hundred of them!
The best part about Honolua though, is the water clarity. Even at the deeper sections, it was crystal clear which made it so easy to spot lots of amazing marine life without needing to dive down below the surface. It is also easy to decipher where the reef lies by looking for the darker sections of water. This can be done from the shore, to determine the best areas for spotting marine life. Left or right, coral reefs thrive in both directions so you can’t go wrong. There were endless schools of fish, and it was clear that the plants and animals were thriving.
The calm waters made for a very relaxed snorkel and since I was able to stay close to the shoreline, I felt completely safe. This was a great spot to snorkel mid day when other beaches in Lahaina would be windy. Overall, Honolua Bay was such an amazing experience. I got to see the jungle (without driving to Hana), went on an awesome snorkeling adventure, and got some much-needed R&R on the beach.