Snorkeling at Molokini Crater – Maui, Hawaii

Snorkeling at Molokini Crater – Maui, Hawaii

March 2021

Snorkeling at Molokini Crater with Blue Water Rafting – Maui, Hawaii

Molokini Crater is a destination that makes everyone’s Maui itinerary. Sitting just off the coast of Maui, this land mass is a partially submerged crater that formed from a volcanic eruption 230,000 years ago. The reason it is such a popular activity – partially for snorkeling and diving – is that this destination is home to over 250 varieties of fish, birds, and mammals, plus 38 varieties of coral. This is a protected area but tour boats are plentiful to explore this area. Visibility is typically excellent around the crater making it easy to spot all sorts of wildlife and coral.

Choosing a tour can be the hardest part of the experience because there are so many to chose from. Most tours bundle multiple snorkel trips into one with Molokini and it ends up being a four hour or longer trip. With the itinerary as I had it set up, I did not have the time to dedicate when all I wanted us to do was Molokini. Originally I inquired about kayaking there with another company to kill two birds with one stone since we enjoy kayaking, but this kayak does not guarantee time to snorkel so we crossed that off the list. Fortunately, some tours typically offer a two hour express trip that just goes to Molokini and back. I was happy to find one company that was offering this trip but the catch was it was at 10:30AM. 

While this worked perfectly with the day I had planned – especially since it left out of the same Kihei Boat Landing that the whale watching was located, there is a catch. Most tours leave at 7AM to take advantage of the calm waters, low winds, and good visibility. Going later in the means that the risk of choppy waters and lower visibility is more likely. On the flip side, most tours leave at 7AM so its your boat and a bunch of other boats – leaving later in the day means you are the only boat there. Also, leaving our of Kihei is a longer boat ride than leaving out of Makena boat landing so for those that are not as comfortable on a boat may want a shorter ride.

Some things to know:

  • Go with your bathing suits already on as there is no place to change, especially on the smaller boats
  • Bring at least one towel if not two – one for getting out of the water on the boat and one for the car
  • Pack a change of clothes depending on what your activity line up is for after your excursion
  • Most tours provide the snorkel gear but not a wet suit
  • If you are not a confident swimmer but still want to experience – talk to your crew and they should have a flotation device to help you

Blue Water Rafting had a similar inflatable boat to our whale watching tour just a few hours earlier. We had the unfortunate experience of another guest showing up very late to our departure time (making everyone wait) then being annoyed that she booked the wrong trip (Blue Water offers a few different ones as all tour companies do) – they even had the chance to get off the boat but instead stayed and complained. Please don’e be those people – it really ruins it for the rest of the guests and the world does not revolve around you, no matter what you think. I was certainly missing our private experiences while aboard this boat.

ANYWAY, the boat was much fuller than I would have liked from a COVID stance. They stated that masks were required but did not do a great job enforcing – which is also difficult on an excursion where you are going in the water so I get it. The staff were great otherwise and I felt safe with them.

The boat ride out was easy, I was feeling good but also nervous. It had been awhile since I snorkel in the open ocean (Galapagos in 2016) and just as long since snorkeling period. We were also not given wet suits which I had been comforted as a flotation device in the past – I was also worried about being freezing. After we settled on a spot inside the crater, everyone geared up and jumped in. I took my time and gingerly figured out how to handle myself. The guides were great in giving me some pointers and also a flotation ring to help in the beginning which I took full advantage of. 

Three, two, one, jump and in the water we go. It was chilly but not as cold as I anticipated – it actually became warmer than the air. I calmed my breathing and began exploring the water below. There were so many fishes among the coral. The visibility was fine though for the few seconds the sun came out it illuminated the waters beautifully. I definitely lost count of the different kinds of fishes we spotted, along with plenty of coral and sea urchins (yum). I expected to see turtles but had no luck on this side of the crater. What was unexpected was dipping even a little below the water and hearing the sound of the whales… absolutely incredible and a bit frightening at the same time. They were out there in the same waters!

Towards the end of our time at this part of Molokini, I could feel the sea sickness starting to set in… even though I was in the water. I could feel my body float up and down with the waves as they flowed in and our along the crater wall. It was a relief to hear the guides call us back onto the boat. As a sat down, wrapping myself in my Microfiber towel, I knew it was game over. I fluctuated between feeling sick and freezing. Any movement threw my into further discomfort. So as the boat made its way to the back of the crater – a spot that many boat excursions do not get to experience due to the large size of the boat, I stayed on the boat. I could not decide if it was worse to be in the water or on the boat but I could not even get up if I wanted too. The crew was great though and very thoughtful in helping distract my discomfort. 

Kevin commentary on snorkeling the back side of the crater:  first impression of all Hawaiian water for me was the striking deep blue, and it was notable top side and while snorkeling. Being on the backside of Molokini gave a wider view of the ocean expanse, since the shelf dropped far more steeply than inside. There were fewer fish to see, and the coral further from sight, but the back afforded more perspective on the depth of the ocean. We had a certified free diver in the group whose exploits gave us some great shots of 100+ foot dives on our GoPro. Overall it was exciting as a amateur snorkeler to be a little further out in the ocean and see some deeper water fish, but there was significantly less sightseeing. 

Check our our GoPro footage from the Molokini snorkel – listen closely and you can hear the whales!

On our way back, I was so grateful to be heading back, we ended up intercepting another male competition pod. The guide asked if I would be ok if we pursued them – of course I said yes as the rest of the boat eagerly awaited seeing these whales – could you image if I say no? Hilarious. But what was not hilarious was one of the other guests puking his brains out on the other side of the boat – at least that was not me but man I felt for him. Thank goodness (knock knock) I am not a pucker but maybe I would feel better if I was. 

The whales we encountered were just like the ones we saw earlier in the day but we happen to be closer to them as they cam towards the boat. Several of the males popping up and down, moving across the ocean at a quick pace. It was really awesome to have gotten another look not just at the humpbacks but at a competition pod. 

The end of this video is the competition pod we witness:

Then we were finally heading back to land. I did not even get a good picture of the Molokini crater despite just sitting on the boat – that is how sick I felt. I really need to figure out a way to change this – anyone have suggestions??? When I stood still – even in the shower – my body continued to sway. 

I would definitely recommend fitting Molokini into your trip if you feel comfortable in the water and on boats. The tour that you select will be dependent on the experience you are looking for but it is some of the best snorkeling in Hawaii (or so they say!). Based on my experience, I am so grateful we picked the express tour… most of the ones offered are four hours or longer – two hours was plenty for me!

Continue reading about our Maui adventure – here!

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