Honolua Bay

Honolua Bay is a spectacular place to snorkel or dive, if you know where to go.

Rating: ★★★★½

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

Honolua Bay

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.

Honolua Bay

Honolua Bay

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.

Key Info:
Mile Marker: #32 (Honoapi’ilani Hwy aka Hwy 30)
GPS Coordinates: 21.011896,-156.636854
Facilities: No facilities/no lifeguards
Get directions

View Honolua Bay in a larger map

  1. Jason says:

    Be very careful when parking off the street. There are some serious drops off of the pavement that will damage the undercarriage of the car and get you stuck. It’s difficult to see if the sun is glaring in your eyes (I had a convertible which made it worse). Fortunately I was able to back out without any damage but the pavement hit the bottom of the Mustang like a ton of bricks.

  2. Desi Gamboa says:

    If you go to Honolua, make sure you leave with everything you brought. It has been a number of years since I have been in Maui and it’s like anywhere else, it got way too crowded. If you want to snorkel there, the best time is may to September. you don’t want to be there with big waves. summer time is like a lake. I miss surfing there. Moved there after high school and lived there for years. If you’re in the ocean and see spiky things with tentacles , do not touch. they will sting you and shoot a splinter in you. There are lots there on the inside shallow part.

  3. There is an a small food truck – Honolua Farms Kitchen, across the street from Honolua Bay. They have delicious smoothies, and some of the best burgers on Maui.

  4. Leslie Deamer says:

    The coral is being killed and damaged by sunscreen everywhere. There is a Bill pending now in Hawaii (https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/Archives/measure_indiv_Archives.aspx?billtype=SB&billnumber=1150&year=2017) to require all persons to wear environmentally safe (mineral based) sunscreens. Avoid oxybenzone (the most common compound found in some 3,500 sunscreens worldwide), octinoxate (which is even more toxic than oxybenzone, but usually found in lower concentrations), and octocrylene. Here is a list of ‘reef safe” sunscreens:
    1. Aubrey Organics Natural Sun Sunscreen, Sensitive Skin/Children, SPF 30+
    2. Badger Sunscreen Cream, Unscented, SPF 30
    3. UV Natural Sport Lip Sunscreen, SPF 30+
    4. Badger Broad Spectrum Sport Facestick, SPF 35
    5. ECO logical All Natural Sunscreen, SPF 30+
    6. Elemental Herbs Sport Sunscreen, SPF 30+
    7. Green Screen D Organic Sunscreen, Original, SPF 35
    8. BurnOut Ocean Tested Physical Sunscreen, SPF 30
    9. Raw Elements USA Eco Formula SPF 30
    10. All Terrain KidSport SPF30*
    11. Joshua Tree SPF15
    12. Babo Botanicals SPF 30 Clear Zinc Lotion
    13. Mama Kuleani (created on Maui)
    14. MANDA (created on Maui)
    15. ALL GOOD
    16. Raw Elements
    17. Burn Out
    18. MD Solar Sciences
    19. Eir Surf Mud
    20. COTZ™ Face
    21. Paula’s Choice
    22. Think Sport
    23. Raw Love Sunscreen (Maui made)

    • Although I agree with you and would never get in the water without environmentally safe sunscreen most of the corals are being killed off by global warming.

  5. My wife and invested about $70 each for full length 3mm wetsuits that eliminate the need for sunscreen almost completely and offer protection to us in other regards. A 1mm full length skin is about $35 to $40 and is very protective and can be used even in the summer months.

  6. Hi Mark, I was wondering about Honolua Bay… we stopped by the other day and were really surprised to find a sort of angry guy and all his signs (and cars and stuff and garden) sort of standing guard. He had a donation box encouraging tips to keep Honolua Bay “free”. We’ve also learned about a not-for-profit group, working to keep the land protected from developers and private enterprise…

    Do you have any additional info along these lines? When did all of this happen? It was one of our favorite spots, six years ago; what happened!?

    • Aloha Mella –

      There has been a group protecting the bay from development for many years now, but this one guy on his own is probably new. Was he aggressive, or was it just unsettling the way it appeared that he was on public property that you had every right to go to without being hassled? Native Hawaiian groups are small, and sadly they’re fairly unorganized – so one passionate person can go out and do what he thinks is right, and often no one will bother him. I’ve seen small groups take over public places for a time – it can sometimes cause shutdowns. I recall the Iolani Palace on Oahu was taken over in 2008 for a short time….hard to imagine coming from the mainland, but as I recall it, a Native Hawaiian group just came in one day, peacefully, told people to leave and locked the gate and proclaimed that they were taking back the palace and would be ruling the Hawaiian Kingdom from there! On the mainland this kind of thing ends in armed conflict with law enforcement. I don’t recall how it was resolved here, but I don’t think anyone was hurt, or even prosecuted.

      It is kind of like the Native Americans on the mainland, except much of the society here has not been fully Westernized or forgotten that the land here really belongs to the Hawaiians – vast tracts of land are still disputed property of the Hawaiian people. As much as American History books would lead us to all believe that Hawaii becoming a territory and then state was a peaceful thing, the fact is that this land was taken by force and deception over a period of may years, and most Hawaiians lost a way of life that many would still like to retain. Now places like Honolua Bay – which was a very important fishing grounds for the Native Hawaiians, are being degraded year after year by the impacts of tourism, environment and development. Many people (not just Hawaiians) are very upset about that, and some of them take it upon themselves to stand there and try and get that known to visitors, because they think that will help get their voices herd.

      Unfortunately, they usually do a poor job with communication to visitors, and they just upset people in a way that does not help their cause.

      So, seems like I have written a novel in response, but I think that is what you saw?

    • Forest says:

      Too many tourists, that’s what happened. Six years ago was a pretty good time but now many of the neighbors and owners of the land coming up to the bay are being taxed out, just because of the fame of the spot. So if you come across him again, make sure for donate to show that you like this place how it is.

      • Gambled and lost says:

        Don’t give your money to anyone who says that they own the land.
        I gave $1300 cash US dollars, for the rights to harvest the land.
        I was taken for over $2300 by the time I realized I was being conned.
        Honolua Bay is one of the most beautiful, magical, places I’ve ever seen.
        Go, please, go and see what other people have seen for hundreds of years.
        It is awesome.
        It’s so magical that humans are placed to rest for eternity there.
        It is a place of goodness and life.
        But be warned that the only thing dangerous on the lands of Hawaii, walk upright on two feet.

  7. Thanks for the comment Sharron – the suggestion to limit sunscreen use is definitely a good idea. Many visitors lather up with waaaay more sunscreen than is needed – and the only difference between a very, very, very thin layer of sunscreen and the thicker amount of sunscreen commonly applied by most people is wasted sunscreen. The sunscreen just above that thin layer on your skin washes right off as soon as you get in the water, releasing chemicals that are destructive to marine life.

    All sunscreen washes off – even waterproof stuff. Best bet for melanin-challenged snorkelers is to wear a t-shirt or rash guard.

    Now, all that said, the use of sunscreen is not actually prohibited anywhere in Maui to my knowledge. But please be responsible when you use it! (Another tip to keeping sunscreen out of the water is to apply well before entering the water. )

  8. Sharon Newhardt says:

    The reason for the “Honey, your back is really red” sound bite is because sunscreen is prohibited anywhere in the marine reserve. Make sure you have a rash guard or a shirt to throw on while you are snorkeling here!!

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