Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve

Snorkel at Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve to Swim in a Life-Sized Aquarium
Local Expert's Rating:
4.5 / 5
The Bottom Line:

The Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve offers visitors one of the best snorkeling opportunities in Maui. As a protected reserve, this site has a naturally thriving coral reef with animals and plants that you might not see elsewhere. Hiking gives you another view of the natural area, letting you enjoy the site even if the seas are rough.

- The HawaiianIslands.com Local Expert Team

Discover a snorkeler’s paradise at the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve on the southwest side of Maui. Since almost two-thirds of this protected area is underwater, you’ll be able to see the richness of an intact marine ecosystem while snorkeling.

In 1973, Ahihi-Kinau became the first designated Natural Area Reserve. The protection of this site likely contributed to 2007 data that showed the reef within this area to be the only one the Division of Aquatic Resources examined that had not shown an overall decline. Hence, snorkeling in this area will give you a unique chance to see a preserved coral reef and the flora and fauna that live in it.

When visiting, note that only one mile of the coastline allows visitors. However, this mile nearest the north entrance encompasses all of Ahihi Bay and has the greatest diversity of plant and animal life within its waters. The other two miles of coastline in the preserve are closed to humans to give local animals a place to remain wild without encountering human activity.

To enter the water, the best spots are at Ahihi Cove and at the northern end of Kanahena Beach. Watch for signs posted in these areas. While in the water, preserve the reef by only standing on the sand and wearing a swim shirt or zinc or titanium sunblocks. Doing these will protect your feet from cuts on coral and preserve the coral from physical and chemical harm.

Spinner dolphins, green sea turtles, and hawk-billed sea turtles frequently rest in the Ahihi-Kinau waters. You may also spot octopus, eels, sea cucumbers, yellow tangs, triggerfish, rainbow parrotfish, and other varieties of fish and marine life. Visitors who’ve snorkeled around the world say this is better than spots in Australia, the Florida Keys, Costa Rica, and Molokini Crater.

If the surf is too rough for snorkeling, you can still enjoy the three trails within the reserve. One of these, the Ahihi Bay Trail, is a short, easy trail that takes less than half an hour to walk and follows the coast along the bay.

The two other trails are longer and slightly more difficult, taking hikers over lava flows and past ancient sites. The Hoapili Trail runs along part of the King’s Highway is a straight trail that has some raised areas to keep the path flat, even over the rocky lava fields. Another portion of the Hoapili Trail veers down to the coast and the Hanamanioa Lighthouse. Taken together, the trip is 5.5 miles and is an out and back from the trailhead and parking area. Plan around 2.5 hours to finish this walk. Add more time if you want to stop along the way for snorkeling or picture taking.

The beauty of the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve for snorkeling and hiking lies in its protected state. While exploring the natural area, follow posted guidelines when visiting to protect the natural area and the flora and fauna that live in it for generations to come.

Insider Tips:
-Only wear mineral sunblocks, such as zinc or titanium, or use a swim shirt. Even “reef-safe” sunscreens can harm coral due to the active chemicals used.
-The parking lot does not accept cash, only credit cards for the minor parking fee.
-Never feed any animals, including birds and fish, within the reserve. Stay at least 50 feet away from turtles or seals you see to protect their wild nature. Also, remove all food that you don’t eat from the area to prevent animals from getting it after you leave.
-Swim with caution. There are no lifeguards or rangers at the reserve.
-Bring your own water as the reserve does not have water fountains.