Loved and Legendary Honolua Bay, Maui

By Kyle Ellison

Some of Hawaiʻi’s beaches are known for their exceptional snorkeling and diving, while others are famous for the barreling waves that thunder ashore in winter. Some are known for their tropical beauty or rich historical significance, while others have hiking, swimming holes, or viewpoints within walking distance of shore.

In the case of Honolua Bay on Maui, it literally offers them all.

Snorkeling and Scuba Diving at Honolua Bay

Photo:  Judd Hall.

Photo: Judd Hall.

Located on Maui’s northwestern coast just five minutes past Kapalua, Honolua Bay is one of the island’s most loved and legendary spots. Summer is a time when snorkelers flock to the tranquil, turquoise cove, where colorful coral heads burst from the reef and schools of reef fish nibble algae off the shells of Hawaiian Green sea turtles. Honolua Bay is also one of the best places to go scuba diving on Maui, as eagle rays, lobster, and Hawaiian spinner dolphins are commonly seen on the deeper sections facing out toward the open sea.

Why Are the Waves at Honolua So Perfect?

Photo:  Intiaz Rahim.

Photo: Intiaz Rahim.

Everything changes in winter, however, when large, hurricane force, North Pacific storms send swells toward Maui’s shores, and Honolua Bay begins to pulse with perfect, 15-foot waves. Because of the way the cliff faces west and shelters Honolua Bay, easterly tradewinds that whitecap the channel don’t blow down into the cove. The result is glassy, powerful waves with perfectly almond-shaped barrels, which create a long, right point break that’s one of the best in the world.

Wave Watching at Honolua Bay

Photo:  Mike.

Photo: Mike.

While the thundering waves are for experts only, even watching the waves roll through is an activity unto itself. The best vantage point for watching the show is atop the rocky cliff, where surfers scramble down dusty trails with surfboards under their arm. Since the waves here only break in winter, it’s also common to see Humpback whales as they breach and splash offshore, with the rugged ridgelines of neighboring Molokai providing a dramatic backdrop.

Honolua Valley

Photo:  Andym5855.

Photo: Andym5855.

The Honolua adventures continue on shore, as the lush trail through Honolua Valley is unlike anywhere else on the island. It’s a place where long, serpentine vines dangle down from a thick green canopy, and kukui nut trees line the ground with nuts and large, light green leaves. Chickens cluck and peck along the trail as birdsong rains from above, and hand-painted signs remind visitors to care for this special place.

More Than Reef and Waves

Honolua Bay to locals, after all, is more than a reef and some waves, but a special, magical, culturally rich spot that demands respect and protection. It was here where the voyaging canoe, Hokulea, launched in 1976, on its historic sail to French Polynesia that helped boost interest in ancient culture and start the Hawaiian Renaissance. It was also here where locals protested the threat of nearby development, and lobbied the State to allocate funds to purchase—and preserve—Honolua. It’s a place where the misty rains at dawn give way to morning sunshine, and rainbows arc up over a cove that defines the beauty of Maui.

It’s a place for adventure, a place to explore—but also a place to reset—and a must-visit spot when touring Maui’s wild northwestern coast.

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