Where the road runs out in South Maui, you find yourself at La Perouse Bay: the liquid indent at East Maui’s southwestern tip. Any nature and outdoors enthusiasts will especially love visiting this rather mesmerizing place.
Named for a long-ago French explorer who visited here in 1786 (and later disappeared), La Perouse Bay fronts the Alalakeiki Channel that separates Maui from the island of Kahoolawe. The bay lies between Cape Kinauu to the northwest and Cape Hanamanaioa to the southeast.
Although there are a few little sandy coves here and there, La Perouse Bay proper is not really a beachgoing destination. Much of the landscape around here is decidedly of the rugged kind. The last lava flows from Haleakala, the East Maui volcano, swept down its southwestern slopes to form a surreal seacoast here. Barren aa lava covers large swaths of this area, including capes Kinauu and Hanamanioa.
From road’s end (the terminus of Makena Alanui Road), you can hike into the lava backcountry via the ancient King’s Highway, traced here by the Hoapili Trail. While sun-blasted, this trek is well worth it, with access to Cape Hanaimanioa’s light beacon and anchilaline pools and some remote beaches eastward. Ancient stone walls, temple remnants, and other structures attest to longtime Native Hawaiian occupation.
The bay itself, meanwhile, is notable for being one of Maui’s most reliable places to see dolphins. There’s a resident pod of spinner dolphins here, most often seen during the morning. In winter, you might spot Maui’s migratory humpback whales offshore, and meanwhile sea turtles sometimes ply the La Perouse waters, too.
There’s decent snorkeling to be had here, with fish-thronged coral heads offshore. That said, the central part of the bay where the road peters out is often murky. Strong snorkelers can findpark better conditions going northward along the coastline, and in some other spots in the bay.
La Perouse Bay can also be a fun place to kayak, particularly for experienced paddlers. But both for snorkeling and paddling, you need to account for the wind. The bay is a notoriously wind-beaten place, as trade-wind air streams funneled westward along the southern toe of Haleakala flow offshore here. The wind revs up through the day, and can make water activities a challenge come midday or afternoon. Thus, mornings are best for snorkeling and kayaking. Plan accordingly, and make sure you can swim or paddle back to shore!
While hikers, snorkelers, and kayakers commune most deeply with La Perouse Bay and its barren surroundings, even just driving here to take in the unique scenery is worth it.
Where Should I Park?
There is a small parking lot near La Perouse Bay. After the lava field, a dirt and rock parking lot will appear.
If you see dolphins while snorkeling, remember not to deliberately approach them. Give them plenty of room. The dolphins in the bay often appear to be resting up, and waste valuable energy steering clear of overly inquisitive humans.