Snorkeling at Ahihi-Kinau Reserve

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Ahihi-Kinau Reserve

Nestled between two popular south shore beaches, Big Beach to the north and La Perouse to the south, you’ll find Ahihi-Kinau Reserve. This is a smaller, intimate bay known for clear water and an abundance of tropical fish and marine life. Located on the southwestern coast of Maui in the area of Makena, this protected marine reserve is home to a vibrant coral reef system. You’ll also find beautiful Hawaii fish such as brown surgeonfish, peacock grouper, peacock fish, and many more! This reef is a fish nursery, so you are sure to see some cute baby fish while snorkeling at Ahihi-Kinau Reserve.

History of Ahihi-Kinau Reserve

The Ahihi-Kinau Reserve is a protected marine reserve that covers about 1,238 acres. It was established in 1973 to protect the unique and diverse marine ecosystem of the area. The reserve is named after two ancient Hawaiian chiefs, Ahihi and Kinau. The two were said to have lived in the area many centuries ago. The reserve’s coastline was once a thriving fishing and gathering ground for the Hawaiian people, who would come to catch fish, collect seaweed, and harvest other marine resources.

In the early 20th century, the area around the reserve was used for cattle grazing, and later as a target range for World War II military training. In the decades that followed, the area suffered from overfishing and other forms of exploitation. This sadly led to a decline in the health and diversity of the marine ecosystem.

Recognizing the importance of preserving this unique marine ecosystem, the State of Hawaii designated Ahihi-Kinau as a Natural Area Reserve in 1973. Since then, the reserve has been managed by the State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources. The focus is on protecting the delicate marine environment and restoring the area’s natural balance.

Where is Ahihi-Kinau Reserve?

Ahihi-Kinau Reserve is located on one of the most scenic roads in south Maui. Makena Alanui Road runs parallel to the coastline and offers incredible views of the ocean and nearby islands. You’ll also pass by a long strip of some of the most popular resorts and best beaches on Maui.

Before heading too far south on Makena Alanui, I recommend making a pit stop at Island Gourmet, located in the Shops of Wailea. This is the last stop for food and drinks, and they have some pretty stellar fresh poke!

After loading up on snacks, continue to head south on Makena Alanui Road. Follow this road for about 15 minutes until you see the ‘Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve’ sign on the right side. This will be just past mile marker 7. Turn right onto the dirt road after the sign and park in the designated parking lot. Parking is about ¼ mile after the snorkeling bay, and the cost is $5 for visitors. From there, you can easily walk back to the bay.

Snorkeling at Ahihi-Kinau Reserve

Arriving early is the best way to beat the crowds and ensure idilic underwater clarity for snorkeling at Ahihi-Kinau Reserve in Makena. I definitely didn’t want to skimp on any clear views of the schools of manini and abundant sea urchins that I had heard so much about!

After renting snorkel gear in Kihei, I arrived at the parking lot around 9:00am. Upon arrival, the first thing I noticed about Ahihi-Kinau Bay is that it does not have a sandy beach. Therefore, I decided to leave my personal belongings and beach chair in my car. Keeping it simple, I just brought my towel, GoPro and snorkeling gear with me.

Once I arrived at the snorkeling bay, I took a moment to take in the beauty of the crystal clear waters surrounded by stunning lava rock (Pohaku). It was breathtaking! After a much needed pause of appreciation, I applied my reef-safe sunscreen. A brief stretch session helped to prepare my body for the journey ahead, and I headed down towards the gentle surf with my snorkeling gear. There is a big concrete platform about six inches into the water, which was a convenient place to strap on my fins.

The temperature of the water was perfect and the visibility was so clear! I saw a wide variety of fish and didn’t even need to venture outside of the bay. This included parrotfish, black triggerfish, and my favorite of the day- a giant school of manini (convict tang). Urchins are a reminder to wear reef booties and never touch coral formations or any marine life while snorkeling at Ahihi-Kinau Reserve.

Safe Snorkeling at Ahihi-Kinau Reserve

Every time I am out on a snorkeling adventure, I’m reminded what a privilege it is to witness the stunning underwater nature of the ocean. I do everything I can to preserve the health of marine life and coral reefs (view Ocean Safety PDF). This will help to keep the ocean alive and healthy! Establishing good habits like not touching the coral, using reef-safe sunscreen, observing wildlife from a respectful distance, and not removing anything from the ocean can help preserve the beauty and health of the ocean for generations to come.