In a nutshell: Honolua Bay is a spectacular place to snorkel or dive, if you know where to go.
Minuses: Beach uses are mediocre.
Sound-bite: “Honey, your back is really red…”
Honolua Bay is part of a Marine Life Conservation District, so there is no fishing (or taking of any natural resources, including marine life and even rocks.) We could take a lesson from the early Hawaiians, who were superb stewards of the land and carefully managed all of their important fishing grounds – including this area – in order to protect the abundant natural resources for future generations. The bay has been been recognized as an area of significant cultural, historical, and environmental value by present day Hawaii as well.
Honolua means “two harbors” in Hawaiian, and this bay was historically used by Honolua Ranch to receive supplies and ship products.
The primary draw here today is snorkeling and surfing; you’re always guaranteed to see lots of fish, turtles and coral as long as you’re willing to swim out a bit from the beach.
Okay, now some caveats (but stick with me here, and don’t bail out without reading through.) The beach is very rocky, and between a sometimes stagnant stream inlet to the ocean, and a rural/agricultural property right at the beach where farm animals are kept (think odors) it is not the kind of beach that you go to to lay out and sun yourself. The water is also very murky at the shoreline, so you need to swim a bit out for good visibility – combined with parking that is further away than many other snorkel locations – Honolua Bay isn’t a “drive-by” snorkel.
BUT the bay here is huge, and the visibility improves greatly further form the beach. Add the fact that it is a reserve where taking of fish is prohibited; the place is teeming with life – so there are abundant snorkeling and SCUBA opportunities for all levels if you’re interested in investing a couple of hours into fully enjoying what Honolua Bay has to offer.
The best areas to snorkel at Honolua are further from the beach. That said, the west (left-hand) side is the best for snorkeling, follow the rocky shoreline all the way out and around Kalaepiha Point (see map below.) Diving is best on the east side which is deeper and contains many interesting coral formations.
In winter months storms bring excellent surf to Honolua – among one of the best surf breaks on Maui (and thus the world.) Needless to say, when swells come in surfers flock here in droves. There is an overlook on the east cliff where you can pull up to watch the action. Snorkeling & diving are to be avoided in such surf conditions.
When you get to Honolua Bay:
Parking can be tough because it is limited to a few turnouts around the area. On the Google Map below, I placed the marker at what should be your first preference to park, the set of cars just on the other side of the bend there is also just as good. There is a well-marked path through a nice jungly area down to the bay from both of these areas.
It should also be noted that the parking areas around these parts are favorites for smash-and-grab break-ins. As is suggested for all locations that are popular with visitors, always take your valuables with you and leave your car unlocked so the dirtbags don’t have to break the glass to find out you outsmarted ’em.
– At the beach you’ll see a DNLR sign at the start of a cement boat ramp that enters the bay. The sign is a must-read as it gives some great info you can use here, and at other snorkeling spots.
– The boat ramp is the easiest way to enter the water for snorkeling and SCUBA as well.
View Honolua Bay in a larger map