Snorkeling in Coral Gardens Maui
If you are hoping from island to island in Hawaii and make it to Maui, the Coral Gardens, Maui are one of my favorite spots to go snorkeling. It's pristine ocean front and landscape make it unforgettable experience. In West Maui you can reach the coral gardens from Lahaina and Maalaea Harbours. This is a perfect spot for the entire family from first timers to the adventure type who are in the water every other day. It is protected by the mountains and there isn't a bad time to go. The Eco system is diverse and will leave you talking about this for years to come. With shallow to medium depths you will feel comfortable your whole time in the water especially with your new snorkeling fins.
Update (June 19, 2018): Hawaii recently passed a legislation to ban all oxybenzone based sunscreens beginning with 2021. If the bill passes, you will no longer be able to use everyday sunscreens in Hawaii. See our reef safe sunscreen brands article to learn more.
Getting to and from
Unfortunately you cannot access Coral Gardens by land, you need to take a boat. The good news is that the tour companies that head out there are fantastic. There are a few touring agencies that you can choose from in Kihei that will be able to get you there. I will talk about a couple that I have taken and have great service from. Or you can check online and sometimes depending on your hotel you will be able to get a deal if you book through them.
Four Winds II
The Four Winds II is a charter company that can take you out to see the Coral Gardens. You can head out on their 55 ft custom catamaran cruising up to 14 miles per hour. In the morning is when they normally head to Molokini Crater at 7 am lasting around 5 hours and costs are:
$98.00/Adult - $68.00/ages 3-12 - infant/ free
The afternoon leave around 1 pm and last about 3 and a half hours
Afternoon $44.00/Adult - 30/ages 3-12 - infant/free and the BBQ lunch is an extra $8.00.
Departs from Ma'Alaea Harbor, Slip #80
Great crew, lots of fun, highly recommended.
The Pride of Maui
Cruising in style with a 65 foot Maxi Power Catamaran, it offers a 3000 square foot deck so you can lounge out and relax with the beautiful ocean air passing over your body. It is capable of hold up to 149 passengers but never does because they want every customer to enjoy their trip without being over crowded. There is not a bad place on the boat to take in the view and because it is 65 feet, the boat is stable and comfortable.
They have been in business for 30 years and strive to make every voyage memorable. The tours are done in the afternoon from 1:30 to 5 so if you have had to many Mai tai's you can get a good night sleep first before you go snorkeling in Coral Gardens. The tours run from April to December so make sure you check your calendar before you set sail. Sometime they may set sail to Molokini Crater so make sure you double check first.
Cost: $52.95/adult, $41.05/child, and free for infants. **$10 discount when booking online!
Includes all snorkeling equipment (prescription mask available upon request), BBQ lunch, open bar, etc.
The Maui Magic will not disappoint with the custom power catamaran that boasts at 54 feet long with a sailing speed of 18 miles per hour and won't take more than 45 people per cruise to ensure a close and comfortable feel. The Maui Magic has a multi speaker sound system, BBQ to enjoy some delicious food, and even a waterslide to get into the water in style!
If you aren't up for snorkeling you can see the boat has so much to offer that you can still enjoy a day on the water with your friends. With two decks and a tiki bar there is always something to do on the Maui Magic.
The tour runs from 7am to 12:30 pm and the tour starts at Molokini Crater and then the next spot is chosen based on current conditions in which there are 7 spots to choose from. Call ahead in case Coral Gardens is a must on your list to not be disappointed.
The ship leaves from Maalaea Harbor, Slip #55 (11 Maalaea Boat Harbor Rd. Wailuku, HI 96793
Cost: $120/adult, $90/child, free for infants. ***Save $10 by booking online!
Includes all snorkeling equipment, instruction, BBQ lunch, snacks, open bar, etc.
What you will see
Coral gardens flourish with fish and coral (hence the name). Having a shallow to medium depth throughout it is safe for everyone but because you are off of a boat you want to make sure that you are comfortable in the water. There are so many fish in this area it is tough to mention them all but A few that you will see are:
Green Sea Turtles
The coral is magnificent with its yellow, green and blue colors reflecting off the light which is protected by the Pali coastline. The hard packed coral provides lots of crevices from where you will find all of this marine life. Even if the winds are blowing heavier usually the Coral Gardens will still be enjoyable due to its location. Always check first just in case.
I am not talking about Leonardo DiCaprio from "The Beach" but... As good as the snorkeling is from boat, the beach on the other hand is not the best even though it is still better than being on the office. There is sand in spots but you want to be careful because there is rocks and staggered spots. If you were looking for a beach and a snorkel, this probably is not the best spot.
I would recommend going to Charlie Young beach which is just South of Kihei which is accessed through a residential neighborhood at the end of Kamaole Park. It is about 1/3 mile long and beautiful for walks and swimming in the ocean. There is showers there and a lifeguard on duty from 8-4.
Still South, Palauea Beach (White Rock) which has a medium sized sandy beach but less tourists. There is no facilities so make sure you go before you hit the beach and no lifeguards but make sure you are a confident swimmer just in case.
If you were looking to go north Olawalu Beach (right) is a good place for beach and snorkeling. There are no restrooms or lifeguards on duty but still worth a visit if you are looking for an all in one.
My recommendation is that you get up early and go find one of these beaches to enjoy the morning with some local coffee and maybe even a paddle board and quick snorkel to get used to the equipment. From there head down to the bay where you can get on your local tour and go check out the Coral Gardens. It is a must and definitely worth the trip. Having the fresh sea breeze in your hair and on a catamaran or whichever form of vessel you chose to go out to sea and enjoy your afternoon.
Remember there are so many different beaches in Hawaii to choose from as I have mentioned in this website such as Shark's Cove, Oahu snorkeling and it just depends on what your level of snorkeling is and I hope you can make the best choice and have a great trip!