After a few stormy winter weeks here on Maui, the sun finally made its return! This long awaited sunny weather had me craving a snorkeling adventure. But not just any snorkeling… I wanted to experience some of the very best snorkeling on Maui! Luckily I knew where to rent affordable snorkel gear in Lahaina! With my GoPro, I always pack some reef safe sunscreen (now the only option on Maui thanks to a ban on harmful chemical sunscreen products). With that, I headed to one of the most popular, yet not the most busy snorkel spots on Maui: Kahekili Beach (Airport Beach).
Kahekili, also known as Airport Beach, was named after the Kaanapali Airport, which was located on this beach until 1986. Below the waters just offshore, you will find a beautiful reef that stretches far and wide in every direction! If I could pick one word to describe snorkeling at Kahekili Beach, it would be “thriving”! The reef is part of the Kahekili Herbivore Fisheries Management Area, a partially protected underwater space since 2009. This means that certain algae-eating fish cannot be taken here, and as a result the reef is thriving with marine life. Let’s dive in!
How to get to Kahekili Beach
The directions to Kahekili Beach are very straightforward. Kahekili Beach is located on the west coast of Maui, just north of the town of Lahaina. From Ka’anapali, head north on Honoapiilani Highway for just 5 minutes until you turn left on Kai Ala Drive. Follow this road to the bottom of the hill where it ends in the parking lot for the beach! Once you park, the beach will be to your left.
The history of Kahekili Beach
Kahekili Beach is named after Kahekili II, Hawaiian royalty or Ali’i of Maui. This beach gained its nickname “Airport Beach” when the Kaanapali Airport was built in 1965. The old runway actually started just 30 feet from the shoreline and extended north 2,615 feet! As the monument at the beach park states, “Fresh trade winds often challenged flight operations. It was exciting to arrive and depart at this short airstrip.” Imagine flying in on a windy day while you’re here. Despite the occasional turbulent weather, this airport was quite the hot spot. It was known for its stunning views and renowned top-notch service until it closed down in 1986.
Nowadays, Kaanapali is Maui’s largest resort area, with hotels lining the shoreline. There is a monument at Kahekili Beach Park that tells the story of Kaanapali Airport and the famous Royal Hawaiian Air Service. The beach is popular for snorkeling and scuba diving, but the big crowds tend to head towards its more popular neighbor, Black Rock (another snorkel spot you can’t miss). Large crowds down the street often mean smaller crowds at Kahekili, which is a big plus for this equally stunning beach!
Snorkeling at Kahekili Beach
The process of getting into the water and to the reef is quick and simple.The reef spans the entire beach and starts only a few feet from shore. I chose a spot with a lot of light turquoise color (the dark color underwater is coral reef, and shouldn’t be stepped on). There I could lay back and put on my mask and fins with ease. The best thing about Kahekili Beach is that the coral reef spans far out in every direction. You can’t go wrong, any direction you pick you are bound to see something incredible!
Within seconds after dipping below the surface, I encountered a plethora of remarkable marine life. This included black triggerfish, Humuhumunukunukuapua (Hawaii’s state fish), yellow tang, and some very vibrant parrotfish. The more I swam around, the more the word “thriving” (remember what I said earlier?) kept coming to mind. I was simply blown away by the vibrant blue waters and coral reefs that looked as if they went on for miles! My highlight was coming across a stunning Honu<(turtle) feeding and floating just a few feet from the shore. I was so glad I brought my GoPro with me so I could get some footage. While I relaxed on the beach post snorkel, I enjoyed the beautiful view of whales breaching between Maui’s bordering islands (Lanai and Molokai).
Tips for Snorkeling Here
The biggest piece of advice I can give for snorkeling at Kahekili Beach is to get there early. I arrived around 9:30 am and the winds had already picked up. Windy conditions can make it difficult to swim comfortably. This could potentially cause you to touch or stand up on the fragile coral, which does a lot of damage! View ocean safety PDF. I made sure that I swam a bit further out from the shore to give a generous distance between myself and the reef. An added bonus to this beach is that even on busier days, I don’t think this huge span of coral reef could ever be too crowded. Altogether, snorkeling at Kahekili Beach was a phenomenal experience. You can’t beat the convenient drive-up snorkeling paired with the guaranteed stunning ocean views and abundant marine life!