What if I told you it's possible to go to church underwater? Well if you take a boat off the coast of Lanai and throw on some scuba gear you can experience such a reality. The Cathedrals, two dive sites located off southern Lanai, are large underwater lava tubes that form large swimmable caverns. Over time, underwater forces have collapsed portions of the lava tubes, allowing light to shine into the caverns, creating a beautiful "stained glass-like" effect. And once you have gotten your fill of this underwater sanctuary, you can continue diving Lanai's coastal reefs, where the low boat traffic allows for large colorful coral, full of marine life. For casual and expert divers alike, scuba diving Lanai is sure to provide an invigorating (and maybe even spiritual) experience.
I have a burning curiosity to experience as much of the natural world as possible. That's probably the reason I managed to island hop 6 times in 2019, trying to see every nuance of the neighboring islands. In general these island hops are centered around hiking-- exploring each island's unique peaks, valleys, and waterfalls. And yet, the ocean has its own appeal and I find myself wanting to immerse myself in the world beneath the waves. When the February long weekend rolled around, I decided to take a trip over to Maui to satisfy that itch, with a dive-centric island hop trip. The first excursion on the agenda--a trip over to Lanai to dive the famous First Cathedral and Lanai's gorgeous reef.
As all good dive charters typically do, my morning started before sunrise where I met my dive company, Extended Horizons, at the Mala Boat Ramp. Choosing a dive company in Hawaii is typically an easy chore. In general, the dive companies are very professional and knowledgeable about the reefs, so it's hard to go wrong. My decision to go with Extended Horizons was solely based on the fact that they offered the Lanai and cathedrals dive on Saturday. I was nonetheless very impressed. They truly add something extra to your dive experience. Not only do they promote a sustainable business model and practice it in every way, but it felt like they were really trying to educate you about the sights and animals you were seeing so you can get the most out of the experience. 5 stars all around.
After shoving off from the dock we began the crossing to Lanai. It took us a little over an hour to reach our first dive site--the First Cathedral. Most people diving Lanai will take a boat from Maui because it is far cheaper (both for the charter and lodging) than doing it from Lanai. And, as an added bonus, if you go during peak whale season (January to March) you WILL see whales. Like literally everywhere. I had seen maybe two whales my entire 4 years in Hawaii until this point. One little spray and one tail dipping beneath the surface. After this dive trip that number skyrocketed to at least 50. Everywhere you look you see spray, some tail splashes, and if you're really lucky, maybe even a breach. Totally unreal.
But alas, this is not a whale watching tour, it is a dive charter. The trip I chose was a two tank dive. The sites vary based on conditions, but they typically do one of the Cathedrals (1st or 2nd) and a reef. Our agenda was the First Cathedral and a colorful reef called Sergeant Major. After we anchored near Sweetheart Rock, it was time to descend.
Some of the first things that popped out to me at both the Cathedral and Sergeant Major were the incredible water visibility and vibrant reef color. Don't get me wrong, the conditions around all the islands are pretty great--warm water with generally good VIS. But Lanai was next level. The reefs were so much larger and more colorful than those I've seen on Oahu (sometimes that coral looks gray). My guess is the minimal boat traffic is what keeps these reefs looking fresh and healthy.
And this reef was teeming with marine life. Howzit bro? Why so serious?
Some of the most eye-catching species during our dive were these raccoon butterflyfish. They would literally surround you, merely inches from your face.
Over the course of both of our dives, we saw a variety of marine life, including turtles, a shark, lobster, sea slugs and tons of fish. One of the most unique things we saw (and something I was actually able to capture on camera) was this pair of eels. It looked like they were cuddling (or maybe mating?). Usually I find eels a bit unnerving, but this was quite beautiful.
But one of the most epic parts of diving here was not what we saw, but what we heard. During both our dives we could hear whales nonstop. The whales were singing to us, with their gurgles, squeaks, and whistles, as we cruised around the reef. At one point, a whale let out a bellow so loud, I could literally feel it in my chest. I half expected to turn around and see one of those massive creatures right behind me.
Now it's on to the main attraction, the First Cathedral. (In case you hadn't guessed there's actually a Second Cathedral, which seems to be frequented less. But some of the pics out there make it look just as beautiful).
And it certainly lived up to the hype. A two story lava tube beautifully illuminated from the sunlight beaming in through the open ceiling, creating a majestic, bluish glow. I think the word to describe this is divine?
I especially liked this part. It kind of looked like stained glass. Or maybe even a portal to another dimension?
Even with all the divers, there's plenty of space to move around and find your spot. I could have stayed down there for hours, soaking in this sacred light.
But unfortunately, 3000psi only gives you so much time, so soon it was time to make it back to the surface and leave this underwater sanctum. While I might never make it back to this mystical spot, these pictures can help bring me back to that moment of peace--nothing but the sound of my breathing, the singing whales, and this magical light beaming down on me.
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Also Check Out:
- This write up about diving the First Cathedral
- Hawaii Scubadiving's information about the First Cathedral and Sergeant Major