Located off the coast of South Maui, Molokini Crater is a popular destination for sightseers, snorkelers, and divers alike. This partially submerged volcanic crater is not only beautiful to look at, but it also creates excellent conditions for snorkeling and diving. Its crescent shape protects swimmers from the ocean waves, allowing them to leisurely enjoy the colorful reef and the unrivaled visibility (sometimes 150 feet!). For experienced divers, a drift dive along the crater's back wall is the way to go. The back wall, with dropoffs up to 250 feet, is home to large marine species, such as reef sharks and eagle rays, as well as a large number of endemic species of fish and coral. There's a lot to love about this geological wonder.
In Hawaii, hiking a volcanic crater is not all that rare, but diving one? That's a little bit more unique. That's why, in my two recent trips to Maui, I decided to make the journey out to Molokini Crater to experience this special rock in the ocean. After snorkeling and diving both the front and back wall, I can safely say this-- it's all awesome!
The first thing you will have to do is decide what type of Molokini experience you desire. Do want a leisurely ride with some good food, drinks, and maybe some snorkeling thrown in there somewhere? Or do you want to be in and out of the water nonstop, having just enough time to dry off before plunging back into the water at your next site. There are plenty of options out there, and this website does a good job at consolidating some of the potential choices.
For my snorkel trip, which I took in November 2019, I chose Redline Rafting because they hit both the front and backside of the crater as well a few other sites along South Maui. For my dive trip, I went with Pro Diver Maui simply because they offered the back wall dive on Sunday (you will discover that many companies only dive the back wall on specific days).
We'll start of with the front side. The ride can take anywhere from 15 minutes to over an hour depending on where you leave from. Most trips leave from either the Kihei boat ramp, Ma'alea Harbor, or Lahaina. Snorkeling conditions are best in the morning since the ocean is calmer, but companies do offer afternoon trips.
Splash time! Yep, the reviews are true--the VIS out here is amazing. Since Molokini is primarily made of rock, you don't get a lot of sand and sediment stirred up like you typically see closer to the coast. Some areas on the interior can get to depths of 60 feet, so it is possible to scuba dive. For the redline excursion, however, it is snorkeling/freediving only. But there's plenty to see around here near the surface.
Such as the reef itself. It's a pretty healthy looking reef given the high swimmer traffic. I still think Lanai has it beat, but there was plenty of coral to go around.
Which of course makes it home to your typical reef inhabitants. Here we have a nice parrot fish.
And this nice sized Bluefin Jack.
And an eel hiding in its sea urchin fort. (If you're curious about the species you see, Molokinicrater.com is an awesome resource for all things Molokini). After we had gotten our fill, it was time to hop back on the raft for the back wall.
This is my only decent shot from "freediving" the back wall. Not as many companies do snorkel trips off the backwall--it's primarily for scuba diving since. The surf and current were definitely stronger and I literally felt myself getting forced deeper on a couple of my free dives from the force of the ocean. All in all, it was a great experience.
But for me, my highlight from both these trips was scuba diving the back wall. I've never done a drift dive before, so I was excited for the opportunity. We were dropped off on the southwest side of the crater, descended and gently kicked as we allowed the current to take us around the wall.
And what a wall it is. I think anyone who has the desire (and experience) to go on this journey will find something that amazes them. For some, (like this guy) it came from trying to find some of those small, unique, endemic species.
For me, the amazement came from soaking in the otherworldly aura of this dive. Staring down at that blue abyss as you slowly drift along this piece of geologic history is a surreal experience--invigorating, yet calming at the same time. I experience this sensation on mountaintops, but being underwater adds its own special flavor to it.
Running low on air, the team followed the line leader as we kicked away from the crater to catch our ride back to shore.
But not before one selfie with this pretty neat rock. This would conclude the diving portion of my Maui trip. Now it's time to hike some ridges, valleys, and waterfalls and experience some of Maui's other natural wonders.
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Also Check Out:
- This website and its plethora of information about Molokini