Slaughterhouse, otherwise known as Mokule’ia Beach is one of the best places to snorkel on Maui because it is a protected reef with thriving aquatic life. In summer months the ocean is typically calm and visitors can snorkel, swim, and enjoy body boarding in the small shore break. During the winter months, swells can cause large waves in this area so check the weather online or ask the friendly staff when you rent snorkeling gear about current conditions.
This west Maui shoreline is unique thanks to a beautiful white sand beach, cliff faces providing shelter from strong winds, huge reefs full of marine life, and less crowds due to the stairway access and limited parking. I also love that no development is visible from the beach. Back in the 1960’s, the Honolua Ranch slaughterhouse and tanning/storage shed operated on the edge of the cliff above the beach and served as a landmark for people to find the location, and although the buildings were torn down some 60 years ago, its name has remained the same.
How to get to Slaughterhouse Beach
Slaughterhouse Beach is located between DT Fleming Beach and Honolua Bay (mile marker #32.2) on Honoapi’ilani Highway. This is on the west side of the island, north of Lahaina and not far past Kapalua. The entrance to Slaughterhouse Beach can be identified by a long bright green chain link fence that travels along the ocean side of the road. Parking here is limited, early morning is ideal for securing a safe parking spot and enjoying calm, clear ocean conditions for snorkeling. This beach is not appropriate for visitors with disabilities and may be difficult with small children as there are a little more than 80 stairs descending about 100 feet. Packing light is also recommended. There are no restroom facilities or cell phone service at the beach and limited rubbish removal so plan accordingly (pack it in, pack it out).
Snorkeling at Slaughterhouse Beach
The water is absolutely stunning at Slaughterhouse Beach, with a temperature of about 80 degrees, clear visibility, and a wide variety of marine life. From shore, I noticed that there were three main areas to snorkel. The reef to the left and right, and a small area located directly in the middle only about 15 feet from shore. I put on my mask and fins and headed over to the right side (where the majority of people were snorkeling) and immediately saw lots of different reef fish. I encountered a school of ‘nenue’ (rudderfish), ‘manini’ (convict tang), and lots and lots of ‘weke’ (goatfish) often seen in huge schools. One of my favorite discoveries on this snorkeling adventure was a baby octopus, or ‘he’e’. As I dove down to get a closer look at one of the goatfish, I noticed that the light gray rock that was covered in sand…was moving! As I got closer, the octopus darted behind a brown rock, and immediately changed colors to blend in. These amazing creatures are so intelligent and masters at camouflage, it was lucky to find one outside of its den.
After about an hour of perusing the area (felt like 20 minutes), I decided to head back to shore. On my way in, I stopped by the closest reef and found lots of underwater caves filled with fish. The landscape was incredible, and the water was only 10-15 feet deep in the sand channels, even shallower where the coral reefs were. Needless to say, I got a front-row seat to some of the best snorkeling on Maui!
Mokule’ia’s Protected Reef
Mokule’ia beach is protected under the Marine Life Conservation District where it is illegal to fish or take resources. As you descend the stairs, there are a plethora of signs reminding visitors to use reef-safe sunscreen to protect the coral reefs. Not only are the reef systems extremely vital to the ocean’s ecosystem, but also provide other marine life with food and nutrients (algae), habitats for fish populations (including hatcheries), and protection for fish species and the island’s shorelines from significant erosion. When snorkeling, it is important to not touch the coral as they are living, breathing, organisms that are incredibly delicate. In fact, one touch from a person can kill the entire coral area surrounding it because of the various bacteria and oils found on our skin!
Slaughterhouse Beach is not as crowded (due to the limited parking spaces) as other beaches on Maui. The white sand beach is stunning, and the snorkeling fantastic. The location is easy to find, and I even got in a little workout at the end, climbing the stairs on my way back to the car 🙂 This is a great location for islands visitors to enjoy breathtaking views of the Hawaiian sea, exceptionally soft white sand, and intricate cliff faces surrounding the beach. If you find yourself on the west side of Maui, Slaughterhouse is one of the best places to explore above and below the surface.