Makena State Park – Black Sand Beach

Black Sands Beach

Black Sand Beach

Makena State Park’s biggest and most popular attraction is Big Beach. Less well known, and certainly much less used, is Black Sand Beach, located on the north side of the cinder cone that defines one end of Big Beach.

A tiny parking lot at the end of a very bumpy, but mercifully short, dirt road can hold maybe ten cars. Despite this, as the nearly deserted beach in the picture above suggests, there’s usually plenty of parking space.

In addition to its quiet serenity and unusual color, Black Sand Beach has excellent snorkeling. Find a place where it’s easy to enter the water (there’s one almost directly below the parking lot) and swim out 20 or 30 yards to the coral. Swim as far as you want parallel to the shore and next to the cinder cone. You’ll see lots of fish and coral and maybe turtle or two.

GETTING THERE

Drive south through Wailea toward the big cinder cone that separates Big Beach and Black Sand Beach. With the cinder cone square on your right, look for a dirt road with a white crossbar gate (open during daylight hours). There is usually a Jawz Taco truck parked just beyond the gate on the opposite side of the road (great tacos!). If you get to the entrance to Big Beach, you’ve gone too far.

Entry to Black Sands Beach

Entry to Black Sands Beach

NOTE: Black Sand Beach is a primitive beach. There are no restrooms, water, or lifeguards. If in doubt, don’t go out.

Secret Beach – AKA Makena Cove

Makena Cove

Secret Beach as seen from the west

About a 20 minute drive south from Maui Vista is a small (and not very secret) beach that is a popular site for weddings. While small, it’s never crowded. There are usually lots of turtles off the rocks to the right and left of the beach. Not a great place to swim, but wonderful for relaxing in a beautiful spot. A word to the wise: there are  no facilities at Secret Beach (no water, no showers, not even a porta-potty).

To get there, drive south through Wailea and past the two entrances to Big Beach at Makena State Park. A low lava rock wall starts near the east end of Big Beach. The wall quickly grows in height so you can’t see over it to the presumably lavish residences on the other side. When you see a small break in the wall (see picture below), you have arrived.

Entrance to Secret Beach

Entrance to Secret Beach

Turtle Reef – Even Better Than Turtle Town

Lots of turtles at Turtle Reef

Lots of turtles at Turtle Reef

The commercial snorkeling boats don’t stop at Turtle Reef located 300-400 yards off Kalama Park in Kihei. Perhaps the water is too shallow or there is too much going on in the vicinity – like surfing and stand-up paddle boarding. Maybe it’s too “urban.” (We’re talking south/central Kihei here, not pristine Makena landing.) For whatever reason the big boats don’t go, don’t let it stop you from visiting Turtle Reef.

There are several great ways to get there. (Unless you are a VERY strong swimmer, swimming from shore isn’t one of them.) We’ve been there by stand-up paddle board and kayak. Others use a surf board. You can rent any of these from Maui Wave Riders (across the street from the south end of Kalama Park) or other nearby outfits.

The reef is large and there are turtles everywhere – especially in the morning when the turtles like to feed and the water is calm. As you can see from the map, Turtle Reef is close to our condo at Maui Vista. We launched our kayak at Charley Young Beach and paddled over.

Turtle Reef Map

If at first you don’t see turtles, keep looking. When you get in the right spot you’ll see them everywhere. I’ve counted as many at 12 turtle heads out of the water near my stand-up paddle board at a time. They get so close they may bump into you.

Turtle reef 6

Despite the temptation, please don’t touch the turtles – bad karma. If you like, bring snorkel gear to get an even better view!

Two youngsters and a baby turtle

Two youngsters and a baby turtle

While Turtle Reef is terrific, Turtle Town is great as well. click here to see our post on Turtle Town.

West Maui Snorkeling – Black Rock

Black Rock with Moloka’i in the distance

In front of the Sheraton Maui at Ka’anapoli is Black Rock, a popular and easy snorkel. Ka’anapoli Beach is a large and fabulous stretch of white sand that can be very busy in the high season when the big hotels are full. It’s worth a visit all by itself.

If the waves are calm, you can snorkel out and around the point. Strong swimmers can even snorkel north to the next beach. The best viewing, however, is on the south side and at the end of the point. There’s not much coral and, for that matter, not a lot of fish. But we’ve seen green sea turtles near the shore and multiple spotted rays at the point in beautifully clear deep water.

Black Rock with Lana’i in the distance

To get to Black Rock, take the first entrance into Ka’anapoli and continue circling to the right. Look for the small sign for Beach Access after you pass Whaler’s Village. There are two small free parking areas. The Sheraton has 20 spaces in a corner of their parking garage. Just to the south there are 10 or so outdoor parking spaces that can be reached via the next driveway to the south. Getting a parking space can be a challenge. Go early or late or around lunch when people are leaving.

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.

Snorkeling at Molokini

School of fish at Molokini

There are many boats that will take you to Molokini for snorkeling. Some also go to “turtle town” where it’s likely you’ll see a turtle or two. (See our posting on “South Maui Snorkling – Makena Landing” for a no-cost option to swim with turtles.) Some trips to Molokini are longer and some shorter. Some provide food and drinks. Some do snuba at extra cost. (Snuba is sort of like scuba but without the  freedeom of movement and without the air tank on your back.) While we provide free snorkel gear at our condo, all the boats provide their own. Shop around to find the trip which is best for you.

The seas are generally calmer before the wind picks up so go in the morning unless you have no other choice. On a clear day you can see to a depth of 80 feet or more so the ideal time to go is a calm morning with no, or few, clouds. Of course, you usually have to make reservations in advance, so the conditions may not always be perfect.

Snorkel boats leave from Maalaea Bay – about a 20 minute drive north of Maui Vista. (They also leave from Lahaina, but don’t bother.) Take the road toward Lahaina and watch for the signs to Maalaea Bay. Allow time for parking and walking to your boat.

The Island of Molokini isn’t large but it looks tiny from the shore because it’s far away. Dependng on the speed of your boat the trip over will take about 45 minutes plus or minus. From December through March you’ll probably see whales while you’re cruising. If you’re lucky you can see dolphins any time of year. Some dolphins may even ride the bow wave and spinner dolphins can put on quite a show.

As the boat arrives as Molokini one of the crew will dive overboard with a rope. He or she will disappear below the surface to attach the rope to an underwater bouy. An anchor at the stern keeps the boat in place while you enjoy the sights. Each snorkel boat has it’s own designated bouy. I think they all say they have the best location.

You will see lots of fish and beautiful coral at Molokini – maybe an eel or two. In whale season you can sometimes hear the whales singing when you’re under water. It’s probably the premier spot to snorkel in Maui.

Snorkeling at Turtle Town

After as much time as almost anyone could want in the water, your boat will leave Molokini. If your boat goes to “turtle town” it will head east to a point just north of Makena Landing on Maui.

At “turtle town” there are two parallel lava tubes jutting out from the shore which support coral and form underwater caves. The turtles like to rest in these caves where they feel safe from the few predators that can do damage to a full grown turtle. While they can hold their breath for long periods of time, eventually these turtles have to breath. In this picture that Kathy took a large male is coming up for air. If you’re on the surface you can hear them hiss as they exhale. They’ll generally take a half dozen breaths or more before decending for another rest. It isn’t necessary to go to Molokini to have a great time snorkeling on Maui but, if you go, you won’t regret it.

South Maui Snorkeling – 3 Favorite Spots

You don’t have to take a snorkel boat to see great coral, fish, and green sea turtles – although a trip to Molokini can be spectacular.

The map to the right shows our three favorite spots in South Maui where you can snorkel from the shore: Ulua Beach, Makena Landing, and the Ahihi Kenau Reserve. The short access road to Ulua Beach is 2.7 miles south of Maui Vista. There is a conspicuous sign for Makena Landing 6.0 miles from our condo. The most accessable snorkel spot in the Ahihi Kenau Reserve is 9.1 miles away.

Each location has something different to offer.  For pictures and more detailed descriptions, see our posts for each of these three sites. Here are the general characteristics, advantages and disadvantages of each location.

Thumbs up for Snorkling!

Ulua Beach

Ulua Beach is a convenient and popular county park with paved parking, restrooms and outdoor showers. Parking can be a problem and the beach crowded – especially in the morning before the winds pick up. There are reasons why Ulua Beach is popular: it’s easy to get to, the beach is lovely, there is both sun and shade, all the amenities you need are there, and there’s good snorkeling. It’s an easy snorkel but the farther out you go the better it gets. Expect to see lots of nice coral and colorful (generally small) fish. A great place for beginners and more experienced snorkelers alike.

Makena Landing

Makana Landing has lots of turtles. It’s rare to spend an hour there and not see turtles. At the north end of the cove there is a small paved parking lot, restrooms, and outdoor showers. (There is also parking on the street.) The beaches are sandy but small. You’ll see nice coral if you swim far enough to the south. Look for turtles near the rocks on the north side of the cove or in the little bays to the south. You can also sometimes see turtles resting on the bottom – often part way under a rock or large coral.

Ahihi Kinau Reserve

The Ahihi Kineu Reserve includes an underwater preserve where fishing is prohibited. As a result, you can see some big fish there. The Reserve is about a 20 minute drive south of Maui Vista and the road becomes narrow and windy for the last couple of miles. Drive with care – there are lots of blind spots and it’s sometimes difficult for cars to pass in the opposite direction. There is no parking where you put in for snorkeling and no showers or restrooms within miles – although there is a construction-type toilet a few hundred yards past the cove where you’ll also find a parking lot. The beach is rocky and can be hard on your feet. The big draw is big fish. For the best views, keep to the left as you swim past the mouth of the cove.