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Tip: This town is best known for hosting the annual Merrie Monarch Festival.
The Sanctuary of Molokini
If you’re itching to try out your underwater gear in a place teeming with marine life, Molokini is a hot ticket stop. An ancient volcanic cinder cone appearing low on the horizon about 3 miles off Maui’s south shore, Molokini is a world-class snorkeling and diving location, which can be reached only by boat.
Maui’s tour boat companies make it easy to get there. Tours depart daily from Lahaina and Ma’alaea harbors for the short trip to this resource-laden wonderland.
Molokini’s crescent, quarter-moon shape acts as a fortress that provides protection from waves and powerful currents. And its protected status as a marine life and bird conservation district gives shelter to about 250 species of fish, some of which are found nowhere else on earth, and a variety of marine life. Most days the water is crystal clear with more than 100 feet visibility. Expect to see humpback whales in season, green sea turtles, monk seals, eagle rays and sharks, as well as rainbow-colored fish and fascinating lava formations.
The island itself is off-limits to humans. It’s a bird sanctuary, and there’s no fishing in the marine sanctuary that surrounds the island. But divers and snorkelers are welcome to explore Molokini’s underwater refuge to their heart’s content. Do not feed the marine life, or approach sea turtles or seals.
Some people believe the best site is on the backside of the crater where the crowds tend to thin out and the back wall drops sharply to depths of 300 feet. In the center is a lush reef area with excellent viewing. Another favorite destination is Turtle Town, which is (you guessed it) the home of a large colony of Green Sea Turtles. It is illegal to touch, chase or otherwise harass the turtles, but they’re so accustomed to human company that they’ll swim around you.
Most boat companies make a party out of a trip to Molokini. They carry snorkeling and diving gear, provide instruction, offer breakfast or lunch and sometimes, an open bar. You can cruise abroad a catamaran, a powered raft or a sailboat.