Sea Kayaking in South Maui

Kayaking off Charley Young Beach

There’s nothing like being on the water. In Maui you can use a paddle board, surfboard, boogie board or – to travel in style – you can rent a kayak. The nearest kayak rentals are at Maui Wave Riders, a few blocks north of Maui Vista on South Kihei Road. In May 2012, two hour rentals for a two-person kayak were $35; all day rentals $50. Since the best (and safest) kayaking is in the morning before the winds pick up, you may be able to get by with the two hour rental if you’re efficient with your time and don’t travel far. On the other hand, most days have at least four hours of reasonably calm seas, so a $50 rental may be worth the extra bucks. At Maui Wave Riders the price includes pads and tie-downs so you can take your kayak just about anywhere. Start early in the day to have the  most fun.

Almost all the kayaks you see on Maui are one-piece hollow molded plastic boats. You might get your bottom wet from splashed water but, without taking an axe to the hull, they are virtually unsinkable. That said, be aware that kayaks will roll when sideways to the waves, so be cautious. If you don’t know what you’re doing, think about signing up for a group kayaking tour before going out on your own. They provide guides, give instruction, and, if there is a problem, someone is there to help. It’s no joke to be out on the ocean when the seas get rough and the winds are against you.

Our favorite place to kayak is Makena Landing. If you’re at the Landing in the morning you’ll see lots of kayak tours starting from there. Many of these tours are combined kayak/snorkel groups. You paddle out to a good snorkel spot then roll out of your boat into the water. The tour guide secures the kayaks so they don’t float away while you’re snorkeling. I’ve never tried it but I think it’s probably a lot easier to roll out of a kayak in deep water than to get back in.

A turtle swimming past our kayak

The reason why so many kayak tours start at Makena Landing is why we like it too – green sea turtles! From the beach it’s a short paddle to the area the big snorkel boats call “turtle town.” When the snorkel boats are there it’s easy to find. If they’re not, paddle out from the cove and keep to the right. There are two long fingers of lava jutting out under the water from the end of the point. Float over these and look for caves in the lava tubes. That’s were the turtles are – including big adults that can weigh hundreds of pounds! Listen for their hiss when they surface and exhale. We had to pull our paddles out of the water to avoid bumping the beauty in the picture above.  They get that close.

There are turtles to the south of Makena Landing as well. Avoid the obvious rocks, and those that are barely submerged, but keep reasonably close to shore while you float over coral formations and look for turtles and fish. As you head south you’ll pass an old stone church and then come to a large sandy beach and resort. Kayaking further south toward the cinder cone is fun too.

As you may have noticed, green sea turtles aren’t actually green – at least on the outside. From what I’ve read, it’s the meat inside that’s green. Perhaps the color comes from their diet of sea grass and algae. Despite what sounds like an unappetizing color, green sea turtle was a delicacy for whalers and others before it became a protected specie.

Even when the waves are small, landing a kayak can be difficult. The trick is to keep the boat perpendicular to the surf. Move slowly toward the shore while looking over your shoulder to time the waves. Paddle quickly just before the break and glide in. It’s best if the person in back jumps out and holds the handle/rope at the stern to keep the kayak from turning while the person in front gets out. If you do get sideways, you’re going to get wet. That’s why you wear a bathing suit and leave those valuables behind. If you want to take pictures, keep your camera in a secure water-proof container when not in use.

If you want to get close to turtles but don’t want to rent a kayak, see our post titled South Maui Snorkeling – Makena Landing.

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