WHENEVER HAWAII IS mentioned, it’s the Big Island that is normally associated with diving. However, Maui has its own magical dive-sites that warrant a visit, either on its own or as half of a two-centre trip with the Big Island.
Rising out of the Pacific like prehistoric reminders of Earth’s turbulent past, the islands of Hawaii are known for their beauty, Jurassic scenery, and blue waters that hold a symphony of life from the smallest nudibranch up to humpback whales. Their tropical climate make the Hawaiian islands a wonderful place to visit year-round.
Lying between the Big Island and Oahu – with its famous capital of Honolulu – Maui’s location allows it to make the most of the mid-Pacific influences of North America and Asia and combine these with its own Polynesian culture.
It’s the second-largest Hawaiian island and is home to two volcanos, with an isthmus in between, giving it the nickname “the Valley Isle”. The largest of the volcanos is Haleakala which, when visited at sunrise or sunset, provides an unforgettably beautiful view.
Before sea levels rose, Maui was joined by land to Lanai, Molokai and Kaho’olawe. There is now a relatively shallow channel between the islands, protecting the surrounding areas from the open ocean, and creating a perfect place in which fish-life can thrive.
The American influence on the infrastructure of Hawaii, its 50th state, combined with the warmth of the people, beautiful landscape and climate and balmy seas make Hawaii one of the best places on Earth to visit on holiday.
I travelled with my daughters via Los Angeles, with a comfortable five-hour onward flight to Maui with Hawaiian Air. Flying in between the two volcanoes, you feel like a pterodactyl from Jurassic Park.
I had dived in Maui before with the excellent Lahaina Divers, in Lahaina town, and was keen to dive with the centre again. John, Mike and Dan Cesere, three brothers who specialise in underwater photography and videography, along with Captain Dan, welcomed us back with open arms.
They were keen to tell us that since our last visit they had found not only a dive-site close to shore next to the Carthaginian wreck, where there was a manta cleaning station, but also a site near Molokai where schooling scalloped hammerhead sharks could be seen. We could hardly wait to get into the water.

LAHAINA DIVERS DIVES daily and usually visits Lanai and Molokini two to three times a week, and Molokai once a week unless otherwise requested by divers. It is the only dive outfit to venture out to see the hammerheads, as the trip out can be quite rough at times, and 2-4m swells are not uncommon at the site.
The trip takes a whole day and requires an early start.
Beautiful dives at Jobo Reef and Mala Pier kicked off our diving the following day. The easy shallow dives, with clear blue water and turtles galore, were a perfect antidote to jet-lag.
Both dive-sites are within 10 minutes of the marina and just offshore. A large octopus spurted a cloud of ink as we approached. This was followed by a yellow leaf scorpionfish, an eagle ray gliding by, two huge Commerson’s frogfish, schools of fourspot and racoon butterflyfish and several hawksbill and green turtles, and we knew we were in for a fantastic 10 days’ diving.
Lanai, a 45-minute boat-ride from Maui, had some wonderful topographical sites, with Menpatchui, Cathedral 1 and Cathedral 2 offering caverns and swim-throughs in lava tubes, with lattice-like holes streaming with sunlight everywhere.
Entering through one hole in the reef at around 12m at Cathedral 1, we descended to the bottom of the cavern at 30m before ascending back out through another hole. We spotted a small, very rare Javanese moray eel. Pity I had the fisheye lens on my camera!
The Carthaginian, a replica of a whaling ship, was sunk as a museum several years ago after being moored in Lahaina for 23 years. It sits upright in 30m, rising to 20m at the top of the mast. Vis is usually around 30m, so it makes a wonderful subject for underwater photography, especially with natural light.
The current can be fairly strong, as it was when we dived there, but with mooring buoys at both ends of the ship it’s easy to descend and ascend close to the dive-boat. There isn’t too much coral growth, though there is plenty of fish life, and resident green turtles, which like to sleep on the deck.
Whitetip reef sharks also patrolled and slept in the hull as we swam around.
I got a strange sensation of being looked at while I dived the Carthaginian, and turned to find a tourist semi-submersible full of people viewing the wreck – and us!

FOR A SECOND DIVE the boat headed a short distance towards the shore to Manta Point. During the mating season in the summer months of June-August, upwards of 10 mantas could be seen here, we were told.
Accompanied by Mike the dive-guide, we giant-leapt into the bluest ocean I have ever seen. At 11m we hid in a sand gully as three mantas swept past.
As we waited on the bottom they turned and came in for a closer look.
Soon they were being joined by more and more, swooping around us in a balletic dance, and we lost count after 25. All I could hear were sounds of amazement coming from the regulators of the girls – and even Mike was joining in!
Eventually, down to our last 10 bar, we very reluctantly surfaced. Mike had never seen so many mantas there.
The rays hadn’t finished with us yet, however, and followed us to the surface.
We quickly replaced our tanks with snorkels and jumped back into the water.
The whole dive group, the dive-crew and even the captain spent the next hour dancing and playing with this huge group of mantas. What an amazing experience!

THE NEXT DAY we decided to try a night-dive at Mala Pier. Jumping in at sunset, we could still make out the turtles sleeping on the pier decking in the shallow waters. Very soon darkness encompassed us, and we had to be careful to follow our torch-beams and avoid bumping into the pier-struts.
I was amazed by the very different life-forms that started to emerge. Several large sculptured and blunt slipper lobsters and a huge box crab came scurrying out of their daytime hiding places. Moray and snake eels of different kinds swam freely as they hunted.
Two zebra morays vied for space while sharing a crevice, waiting for tidbits. A Hawaiian conger eel poked its head up through the sand, then wriggled its body to swim free, whilst a tiny dwarf moray foraged close by in the seagrass.
Two days later I set off at 6am on the trip out to Molokai in a bid to see the hammerheads. We had been warned that the 90-minute crossing was not for the faint-hearted or those who suffered from seasickness! It was also a dive for advanced divers only, because of those swells around Mohu Ho’Oniki Rock, where the dive site was located.
My daughters were not going, and I had taken a travel-sickness tablet to be on the safe side.
The swells were indeed quite large, at around 3m, and it was decided that we would go in three groups, each consisting of four divers and a guide.
We needed to perform a negative entry, stopping at around 5m to check buoyancy before continuing down to 10-15m for the groups to reunite.
We then continued down to 30m, hovering around 10m above a sandy valley between Mohu Ho’Oniki Rock and Molokai. The visibility was more than 20m, and we could see where the islands sloped back up towards the surface.
Within minutes John, our dive-guide, started banging his tank. Two scalloped hammerhead sharks were cruising by within 10m of him.
Everyone chased over towards him. This is not the best way to keep hammerheads around, and they quickly disappeared. John signalled that we should stay calm and quiet and not make rapid movements.

WE SLOWLY SWAM around using gentle fin-kicks, keeping our arms tight against our bodies. After 10 minutes or so one diver signalled a sighting, followed by another looking in another direction, then another at the back of the group.
Slowly there appeared a school of around 15 graceful hammerheads, circling around and below us – not too close, but easily viewed in the fantastic visibility.
Staying at this depth constantly meant that the dive was over all too soon. We ascended, making the obligatory safety-stop, and the expert captain skilfully manoeuvred the dive-boat in the swells to pick us up quickly.
Taking the boat around to the opposite side of the island into sheltered waters for our surface interval, the captain handed out homemade cookies to all the divers who had foregone breakfast in case they got seasick!
People were exclaiming at the sight of so many hammerheads in such a small area, rather than in the blue as is usual.
After an hour we were scrambling to get back in the water to repeat the experience. Sure enough, the hammerheads came back to see us, as promised.
An amazing day was had by all, except for the one French guy who had refused to take the seasickness tablets offered by the crew before we started out that day.
He spent the whole day flat on his back, apart from the times he had to rush over to the side of the boat. Not only did he suffer from mal de mer the whole day but he was too sick to dive, so missed out on both fantastic dives, then had to suffer the excited chatter of the other divers all the way home.
As the French put it: C’est la vie!

GETTING THERE: Flights to Los Angeles, San Francisco or Seattle with most major airlines, then onward with Hawaiian, Delta or American Airlines. A night at the US gateway city on the outward leg is usually necessary.
DIVING: Lahaina Divers, www.lahainadivers.com. Cesere Brothers, www.ceserebrothers.com.
ACCOMMODATION: From small self-catering apartments to 4-5* hotels.
WHEN TO GO: Maui has two seasons. Winter can be wetter and sea temperatures average 24°C and air 26°. Summer can be windier, with 28° water temperatures and air 32°. Visibility ranges from 15-30m inshore to 30-45m offshore. January-April is humpback whale season.
MONEY: US dollar.
PRICES: Return flights to Maui from around £1300. Lahaina 10-dive packages from US $600pp. Hammerhead dives cost $199.
VISITOR INFORMATION: www.gohawaii.com