As a travel and landscape photographer, I love Hawaiian green sea turtles. These graceful creatures are one of the highlights of any trip to Maui. So I’m always on the lookout for the best the dive spots on the island.
Over the last few years, I’ve visited a number of turtle “hot spots” on Maui. Many well-known dive spots attract plenty of tourists but few – if any – turtles. Meanwhile, I’ve found several lesser-known beaches that consistently attract turtles. With that in mind, I thought I’d put together a list of three places where you’re virtually guaranteed to swim with turtles on Maui.
1. Mala Wharf
Mala Wharf is one of if not the best turtle spot on the island. It’s home to dozens of turtles, as well as fish, sharks, and occasionally rays. These beautiful creatures like to hang out around the remnants of the old pier, which was destroyed by Hurricane Iniki in 1992.
The only downside to the dive site at Mala Wharf is that it’s not easy to get to. From the beach, known as Puunoa Point, you have to swim out to the end of the above-water pier. From there, you have to follow the trail of below-water pilings for another couple hundred feet. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you’re surrounded by turtles.
But this one drawback is also an asset. With the exception of the occasional snorkel boat, there isn’t much traffic at Mala Wharf. This means that you could find yourself alone with a dozen or more turtles in Maui’s clear blue water. As a result, Mala is an ideal spot for snorkelers, divers, and underwater photographers.
If you visit Mala Wharf, bring a friend – or a floaty. It’s a little bit of a trek out to the dive site. The turtles like to hang out in 20’ of water, which can be a little intimidating if you’re by yourself.
2. The “Other” End of Kaanapali Beach
Many guides list Kaanapali’s Black Rock Beach as one of the best turtle spots on the island. There’s no doubt that Black Rock is one of the most beautiful beaches on Maui. And it’s a great spot for snorkeling, particularly if you want to see fish, coral, and lots of other tourists. But it’s hit or miss in terms of turtles.
If you really want to find turtles on Kanaapali, you’ll have to go to the “other” end of the beach. You’ll find a group of turtles around a rocky point at Canoe Beach – just in front of the life guard tower at Hanakaoʻo Park. The turtles are almost always there. In fact, I’ve visited Canoe Beach at least 10 times, and I’ve always found turtles at this spot.
Beyond the turtles themselves, two things make this spot special. First, unlike Mala Wharf where the turtles are in (relatively) deep water, the turtles at Hanakaoʻo Park glide along the shallow seafloor. This makes the beach surprisingly accessible. Second, the turtles congregate at this beach to feed, which is a pretty amazing experience in and of itself.
If you visit this spot, be careful. The water is often quite calm on this end of Kaanapali, but it’s still easy to get tossed into the rocks. I’d recommend that you stay to the north or south of the point. From either angle, you’ll avoid the rocks, and you’ll find turtles.
3. Napili Bay and Honokeana Cove
Napili Bay is a near-perfect beach just south of Kapalua. It has palm trees, a white sand beach, several accessible reefs, and great views of Molokaʻi. It’s also home to Gazebo, one of my favorite restaurants on the island.
What makes this spot so special is its versatility. You can look for turtles as they cruise along the shallow sandy bottom of Napili Bay. If you strike out there, you can swim out to the reefs on the north and south sides of the bay. If that fails, you can walk over to Honokeana Cove, just south of Napili. There you’ll almost certainly find turtles – as well as a turtle “cleaning statuion” – in the cove.
Like many of the beaches along West Maui, wind and waves can be a factor at Napili. Wind often limits visibility to a few feet, at least in the shallower sections of the bay. So monitor conditions closely and visit in the morning, if it all possible.
If you’re driving to Napili Bay, there are a few parking spots on Hui Drive, just off Lower Honoapiilani Road. From there, it’s a short walk to the beach.
A Word About the Law
Green sea turtles are protected under federal law. According to Hawaii’s Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR), there is no law mandating minimum distance between turtles and snorkelers. However, DAR recommends that you stay at least 10 feet away from the turtles for their protection. And under no circumstance should you pet the turtles – cute as they are.