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Makena Coast & La Perouse Bay – South Maui
the rugged kanai‘o coast
Maui’s terrain changes dramatically once you get down to La Perouse Bay and the Kanai‘o Coast, past Makena. Lava dominates the landscape here, providing a ruggedly beautiful and remote area (most of the area inaccessible by car). And because this part of Maui doesn’t receive much people traffic, the reefs are in particularly pristine condition and you get to see some fish here that you rarely see anywhere else on the island. Did we mention dolphins?
The Maui Magic regularly sees Spinner Dolphins once we get near La Perouse Bay, a sheltered and protected area, where they find shelter and rest. However, once a boat comes by, pods of these playful creatures come out to greet us. These dolphins will often seem to join our tour as they love riding the wake of the Maui Magic! You can get right up on the bow of the boat and see them riding our two hulls. Be sure to have you cameras ready when we get to this unique location!
Regulations are in place to protect Maui's dolphins, so we aren’t allowed to put you in the water with them. However, should you already be in the water snorkeling and they come over to inspect you, it is all-good. Occasionally, we will see Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins in this region. It should be noted however that we can’t guarantee dolphin sightings on each adventure, as Mother Nature dictates what’s in store daily. And we know better than to argue with Mom!
Past La Perouse Bay, the Kanai‘o Coast is inaccessible unless you hike miles over the sharp, jagged a’a lava fields (which can get blistering hot when the sun is out), or approach the area by sea. This is the area where the last volcanic eruption on Maui took place, thought to be around 1790. The original Hawaiian name of this bay was Keoneoio Bay, after the oio (bonefish) which were caught in sweep nets drawn by several canoes.
The first Europeans ever to step foot on Maui were under the command of Jean-François de Galaup, Comte de Lapérouse, in 1786. While they were here, the captain recorded the fact that there were four Hawaiian fishing villages along the Kanaio Coast. However, when Captain George Vancouver surveyed the same area in 1793, he found only ruins of those villages and the landscape was completely different, leading to the theory that the volcanic eruption happened sometime between those two European visits as the Hawaiians living here at the time did not use our present calendar to mark time.
Vintage etching (published in 1798) of La Perouse's arrival to Maui.
Much as we would like to always venture out to La Perouse and beyond, the weather will dictate our course. These waters are part of the Alenuihaha Channel, known to sailors as one of the most treacherous channels in the world! There is a wind funnel (the Venturi effect) created by the massive force of the North Pacific High Pressure system being funneled through a 30-40 mile gap between Hawaii’s two tallest mountains (Haleakala on Maui and Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii, both over 10,000 feet tall). The ocean depth between these two giant volcanic peaks plunges to over a mile, creating strong currents that can combine with gale force wind speeds to cause wave heights of up to twenty feet. Obviously, we’re not going to take you down here when conditions are that rough!
But, when mother nature favors us, we can go and explore some of this wild and majestic part of Maui and snorkel at one of these “out-of-this-world” locations…
Red Hill or Pu‘u Ola‘i
Pu'u Ola'i (pronounced poo-oo-Oh-lie-ee) is a cinder cone off of the South Coast of Maui formed out of red lava rock. The scuba site is situated at 30 to 40 feet and is a great spot to explore the unique sea life that inhabits this area. You may find green sea turtles, zebra eels, and angler fish here. Offers great snorkeling and diving conditions when the ocean is calm. There is a spectacular coral reef, home to many colorful tropical fish... One of the most prominent features of this state park is Pu'u Ola'i, a dormant volcanic cinder cone measuring 360 feet (110 m) high. At its base are lava rocks and tidepools.
In ancient times, Hawaiians occupied several small villages along the shore. They fished for Bigeye Scad (akule) and had fish ponds around the area of Oneloa. Remnants of their hei‘aus (Hawaiian temples) and other structures may be seen throughout the area. Should you come across a Hei‘au do not disturb it.
At Pu‘u Ola‘i, Earthquake Hill, Pele (the Hawaiian goddess of the volcano) was jealous of the Mo‘o Maiden of Kaho‘olawe. In‘aina, whose parents where Hele and Kali. Pele accused In‘aina of trying to steal Lohi‘au from her. In a fit of anger, Pele transformed the three into hills named after them. Kamohoali‘i scolded her and pronounced the Kanawai In‘aina there, meaning you must not say or do unkind things to others. From that time the people of Honua‘ula observed that law. They named the area as Ku-Makena meaning you stand courageously.
La Perouse Pinnacle
50 Foot Tall Pinnacle
It isn’t often that we get to this remote site as conditions have to be just right (it’s often very windy here and the current can get quite strong), but this is an incredible snorkel when we can pull it off. Situated in the middle of scenic La Perouse Bay, site of Haleakala's most recent lava flow, it is a rather dramatic pinnacle rising from about a 60 foot depth to 10 feet below the water surface, teaming with an interesting variety of fish.
The fish aren’t shy here and you can see whole schools of Trigger Fish and Damsel Fish up towards the surface. Since this area isn’t visited very much by humans, the coral formations on the pinnacle itself are in excellent condition. Of particular note is the finger coral that we see at this site.
Other Worldly Scenery
The scenery, looking at the coast from the boat, is totally amazing, other worldly in fact! One can see the force of Pele as she spewed molten lava off a side vent of Haleakala, down towards this area. This part of this island marks the site of Maui’s last eruption. It is totally uninhabited and very little vegetation can grow here on this rugged coastline. Instead you see dark fields of very sharp a‘a lava as well as lava sea cliffs towards the right hand side of La Perouse Bay.
Split Reef is named so because it is a finger of lava flow off of the Makena Coast which split while cooling. This makes the area very interesting with its ridges, sand channels and various valleys. Not as commonly explored, much of this reef is untouched and in its natural state.
A wonderful Maui spot to explore, Pinnacle Point is diverse in its lava formations with arches, canyons, and valleys. At a depth of 60 feet, this is an intriguing dive for all levels of experience.
“The Wall” at the Last Lava Flow
Another spot that we enjoy snorkeling in the La Perouse Bay is what we call “The Wall” over by the last lava flow. This site is on the right hand side of the bay, looking towards the coast, and next to some lava sea cliffs. Due to its remoteness, this reef is in excellent condition, which makes it fun to explore as we get to see some marine life here that we don’t see very often anywhere else.
The Wild Life at “The Wall”
We fairly regularly encounter Spinner Dolphins on our way to this site and often see Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles here at the reef. There’s also a good chance of spotting some of the larger marine mollusks (shell creatures) at this snorkel site, such as the Triton’s Trumpet, the Hawaiian Helmet and several different types of Cowries. It’s quite amazing seeing these mollusks slowly moving on the ocean floor or nestled in a coral crevice. Lately we’ve been seeing awesome Eagle Rays effortlessly gliding through these waters! Simply amazing!
Well, given the name, you can probably assume we’re not gonna tell-all about this very unique snorkel spot. "Secret Spot" is just that – a secret spot! So we can't say exactly where it is and you’ll be sworn to secrecy should we be fortunate enough to adventure there on the day of your Maui Magic excursion.
What we can tell you is this... We don’t get to visit Secret Spot very often, because the weather conditions have to be “just right” (kind of like the “Goldilocks and Three Bears” story). But we’ve found out, over the years, that sometimes when all the other snorkel spots aren’t “do-able” because of winds and sea currents, that this special site is just the ticket, and the Maui Magic is the only boat that can get here.
Still wanna know where it is? Ok, well, we will give you a hint on its location. Secret Spot is located in a remote, ruggedly beautiful, pristine area somewhere along the Kanai‘o Coast.
What makes it so special? At Secret Spot we often see an array of gorgeous tropical fish and unusual mollusks that we don’t see anywhere else and the coral reefs are simply amazing!
That’s all we’re saying!