Snorkeling at La Peruse Bay and the Kanaio Coast.

Oct 30, 2021 | General Information

One of the ‘hidden gem’ snorkeling locations on Maui is the snorkeling area along the Kanaio Coast and La Peruse Bay. This area is a fantastic for snorkeling but is somewhat underused because its location is not very accessible to most snorkel boats. When you view a map of Maui you will notice a severe right-angle turn of the island in the area known as Makena. Then the extreme south coast of the island, which directly faces the Big Island way in the distance, carves essentially a straight line directly to the Kipahulu district which is adjacent to Hana. Above the shoreline there is a remote roadway that provides access to Hana from a route known as the ‘back way to Hana’.

This shoreline itself is devoid of all signs of civilization with no houses, hotels or any construction whatsoever along its coast. This is somewhat ironic in the sense that in the pre-contact era before any westerner ever set foot on the island, this was a heavily populated area of the Hawaiians. The fishing grounds off the coast were considered some of the best in Hawaii and this provided the necessary sustenance to sustain a huge Hawaiian population.

Much of this coastline today is harsh lava rock that has been deposited fairly recently, in a geological perspective. It is believed that the last lava flows on Maui occurred here. It is estimated that this happened about 1790 or so and the major evidence is that the explorer La Pereuse visited the island prior to that date in 1786 and his crew drew maps of the coastline. When subsequent explorers later returned after that date and drew maps again, the island terrain was different because of the recent lava flow. It was at this time that the bay became known as La Pereuse Bay.

One of the great reasons this coastline is considered such an excellent snorkeling area is a direct function of this lava coastline. Because the lava rock extends into the ocean with no areas of sand or soil sediment the viewing conditions here are pristine with over 100′ of visibility on most days.

The Kanaio Coastline is a magnificent area to view reef life and in some areas it is seems somewhat like an aquarium. Many endemic species of fish are found here. This is also an area that is frequented by large pods of dolphins and these are often encountered on the snorkel trips we take there. Another amazing feature of the area are the caves and land bridges that extend over the coastline. Many of the smaller and more maneuverable vessels that take snorkeling expeditions here, like zodiac type vessels or hard-bottomed inflatables, are able on most days to actually pull into some of these caves to explore their interior.

One of the big reasons this location is such a special place is because its distance from the main harbor of Maalaea is just too far for most boat to negotiate in the framework of the usual 5 hours or so that are spent on the morning charters. This time period is ideal in departing from this harbor because it allows them to get back to port before the trade winds kick up and make the journey difficult. There are only one or two vessels that have the ‘chops’ to make it that distance from Maalaea, and they are fantastic tours. The majority of the boats that find themselves along this coastline with visitors will be coming from the small boat harbor in Kihei. It is much closer in proximity to Kanaio and the smaller zodiac type vessels are much faster than other boats to begin with and can make the trek to the coastline somewhat effortless.

Another factor that makes this snorkel area so desirable is that there are so few other boats that will be found there. A decade or so ago this coastline was inundated with an array of kayak touring companies that brought clients to La Pereuse in a long train of kayaks stacked ‘nose to tail’. Because so many companies overused this area with such regularity, the state closed down all permits to visit and consequently the areas you will visit today will have very few other people or boats making it a very private experience for you.