Kayak Olowalu

Kayak Olowalu in West Maui: Explore the Turtle-Rich “Mother Reef” of Olowalu
Local Expert's Rating:
4 / 5
The Bottom Line:

Olowalu Reef in West Maui is one of the best places for snorkeling on the Valley Isle, and Kayak Olowalu introduces you to both its above- and below-water marvels. The company leads 2.5-hour paddling and snorkeling tours, during which you’ll often see sea turtles, manta rays, reef sharks, and colorful tropical fish. From November to April, this is also a likely way to nab looks at Maui’s wintering humpback whales.

- The HawaiianIslands.com Local Expert Team

Kayak Olowalu is one of many tour operators acquainting tourists with the celebrated Olowalu Reef off the leeward southern coast of West Maui. Backdropped by the rugged West Maui Mountains, this coastline fronts an extensive coral realm known for high water clarity and abundant marine life. Exploring it by kayak and snorkel gear can be a highlight of a Valley Isle getaway.

Kayak Olowalu is based out of Camp Olowalu, which provides overnighting camping and “glamping” sites and cabins. The topside scenery is quite gorgeous, what with the mountain-to-ocean sightlines. It’s the underwater wonderland just offshore, however, which really steals the show.

Olowalu Reef encompasses several hundred acres of coral heads and banks, some of them centuries old. This is a so-called “mother reef,” producing prolific coral polyps that drift on currents and end up seeding other reefs in West Maui and beyond to Molokai and Lanai. Blacktip reef sharks have their pups here, and green sea turtles and manta rays congregate for the cleaning services offered by reef fish.

Olowalu’s aspect also protects it from the big northerly swells of winter, translating to often calm and clear waters. It’s a very beginner-friendly place to snorkel and paddle much of the time, and the underwater clarity often extends beyond 100 feet.

Kayak Olowalu’s guided tours of the reef last about 2.5 hours, though weather and water conditions may change that. Be aware that choppy surf (such as sometimes happens with summertime south swells) or bouts of murkiness may impact any offshore experience. Guides here will usually do their best to give you the full experience, but naturally, Mother Nature’s in charge.

You’ll have a kayak, snorkeling gear, and live jackets provided by the company. Light snacks are also dispensed during the tour.

On a normal tour, you’ll spend a bit more than half the time paddling in your kayak, and the remainder snorkeling on the reef. You’ll have decent odds of seeing such reef denizens as triggerfish, moray eels, goatfish, and parrotfish, on top of the aforementioned sea turtles and (potentially) mantas and sharks.

The November-to-April window is truly prime time to give Kayak Olowalu a try. That’s when the humpback whales that calve and winter off Maui are often seen off Olowalu Reef. During this season, you might spot them spouting, breaching, and slapping the water from your kayak. Lucky visitors sometimes even see these graceful giants underwater during the snorkeling element of the tour, though that’s far from guaranteed.

Another rarer sight is the Hawaiian monk seal, a lovable and critically endangered marine mammal that sometimes enlivens a snorkeling trip here.

Kayak Olowalu’s outings are doable even by total newbies, as the conditions are normally very forgiving and your guide will run through paddling and snorkeling basics. For many, the trickiest part of the experience is getting back into the kayak offshore following the snorkeling. Again, your guide can assist if you’re having trouble.

Olowalu Reef is one of Maui’s best snorkeling spots, and it’s a blast combining underwater sightseeing with kayaking given the beautiful West Maui backdrop. Kayak Olowalu is a fine choice for getting a taste for this special “mother reef.”

Insider Tip:
While Olowalu’s leeward location protects it from the full brunt of the trade winds, it can still get breezy in the afternoon. You might consider aiming for a morning trip with Kayak Olowalu to maximize your chances of calm conditions.