It’s been just two weeks since we returned home from our recent trip to the Valley Isle, and already, we’re planning another one – just so that we might get to see more of the island next time.
Since it was our first time to Maui, and this particular trip was all about scuba diving – we went straight to a trusted dive friend for his advice on which dive operation to choose.
He gave us just a few options: Extended Horizons in Lahaina, and two in south Maui, depending on where we were staying. I was picking where we were staying based on where we were diving, and just a little bit based on the best hotel deals I could find along the way.
I settled on the convenience of Lahaina (we stayed in Kaanapali Beach) and Extended Horizons immediately after reviewing their website and TripAdvisor reviews. I liked that the operation focused on smaller groups per dive leader (6 max), and seemingly had a large variety of dive sites they frequented, just off Maui and across the channel, closer to Lanai.
As an added bonus, they are an outfit committed to environmental sustainability (the dive boat even runs on biodisesel and they’ve reduced wasted on board) and engage in responsible diving practices.
Maui Dive Day 1: Mala Boat Ramp Shore Dive
This day started out a little rough due to some miscommunication about the time of our planned private shore dive. We had scheduled the dive to brush up on our dive skills as well as work out the kinks in new equipment we’d purchased prior to the trip.
The dive operation’s owner, Erik, was amazingly cool about the whole thing and smoothed it out quickly, to make sure we got out for a least a 1-tank shore dive to kick off our week.
Enter dive leader Mark to the rescue. He was available at the last minute and hurried to the shop to lead us to Mala Boat Ramp, an area with a long-ago collapsed pier, which makes for an interesting reef to trawl.
This last minute mixup couldn’t have worked out better. Mark was immediately helpful and patient, listening to my diving neuroses and helping me through my issues as we went from one end of the pier to the other.
To top it off, we asked Mark afterwards for a good “locals” spot to grab a beer & a bite to eat, he recommended Cool Cat Café in Lahaina for its burgers. We were a little skeptical when we walked up to the place, as it was smack in the middle of the tourist zone.
We were quite relieved when we saw him at the bar with a friend. So we sent a couple of beers over for an extra Mahalo.
Lanai Dive Day 2: A Dive Site With No Name
Feeling a little better about my new gear and overall skills, I was relieved to see Mark on the boat as our dive leader for this first full day, as he’d continue encouraging me every step of the way.
We loaded up with the other guests, met Victoria, the other dive leader and photographer, and Captain Aaron. As we made our way toward Lanai, we stopped at one or two potential dive sites, but a quick check of the currents determined they weren’t suitable that day.
From the boat, we spotted both spinner and bottlenose dolphins, and Captain Aaron quickly slowed the boat so we could watch them (the Extended Horizons guides were always happy to pause the dive briefing when wildlife was spotted…rather than continue to talk while everyone is distracted).
For our first tank dive, we settled on “No Name Paradise”, a dive site that would bring us down to 70’ or so.
As we’d learned from chatting with Erik days earlier, Extended Horizons boasts hiring guides with a depth of marine life knowledge and naturalist tendencies, and that’s something the dive leaders lived up to every day.
Pointing out the smallest of organisms to explaining marine animal behaviors, Victoria led the pre-dive briefings about endemic species and things to look for in a highly educational and interesting way, and they shared recaps and sample photos of our daily sightings on the Extended Horizons Facebook page, which we were glad to see.
(Note: one piece of dive gear high up on our shopping list is a decent underwater digital camera; we opted not to purchase photos any of the days we dove, which worked out just fine for us, but many other divers were happy to order shots from EH.)
The second dive of the day landed us at the famous First Cathedral site, a must-do when you’re diving in Lanai and Maui.
It’s a large lava formation, with plenty of open space where light filters down into a ‘pulpit’ – giving the appearance of stained glass windows in an old church, and a “shotgun” exit, which Mark expertly led us through. He also reassured me about going through a smaller lava tube, and for hitting depths of 70’ a second time that day, I was feeling pretty good.
Lanai Dive Day 3: The Cathedrals
Did I mention that the boat dives required getting up at 5:45 am and meeting at the ramp at 6:45?
For the second day in a row, it was amazing enough that I was able to manage that feat. Mark ended up having the day off; Victoria would lead all of us on the boat that day, as it was a smaller group.
We started off at Secret Cove, where Victoria began to teach us a little about how to look for and appreciate the smaller species making up the reef ecosystem. (Meanwhile, I was still a little focused on finding reef sharks to observe – I like the bigger fish, what can I say?)
Again skunked by some unfavorable currents and visibility issues, visiting the “Second Cathedral” was a no-go that day for us, so we headed back to First Cathedral to baptize the other divers.
While it would have been great to dive Second Cathedral, safety always comes first in diving, so we were completely fine with heading back to First, as it gives us a reason to go back to try again later!
Unfortunately, we ended up spending a little too much time hanging around the bottom before finally circling around to enter the underwater lava structure.
By then, I’d gone through a fair amount of air, and was nearing the edge of my comfort zone, so Victoria sent me back to the mooring line along with my dive buddy, to make our safety stops and ascend to the boat on our own while the divers who hadn’t seen it yet went in for confessional.
For photos, see this link: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150243137327583.317947.129610867582&type=1
Maui Dive Day 4: Carthaginian Wreck Dive
Originally, I was not planning on going diving this day, as it was a ‘wreck dive’ to 97 feet, I didn’t think it was in my comfort zone just yet. The Carthaginian is a replica ship which was scuttled by Atlantis Adventures to become an artificial reef and so the submarine tour operator could create an underwater attraction for the tourists on board.
A couple of things played in my favor for me to go dive that day: the boat left at 12:30 PM, to time the dive so the submarine would go by, and the guests aboard also got to see scuba divers exploring a ‘shipwreck’; and I was feeling ok about 70-ish feet and generally having an enjoyable week of diving.
I also had Erik cheering me on, and he eventually persuaded me to fill a spot on the boat. He told me that even if I didn’t actually go in the water for the wreck dive, I could opt for the second shallower dive, which would again be at Mala Ramp on the way back into shore.
By now, I had developed a lot of trust in Mark, and when he showed up as the dive leader, he immediately began talking me into doing the deeper dive and making me feel safe and comfortable with it. We devised a new strategy of getting me in the water first, rather than last, so I could settle my nerves down before descending.
In reality, there was nothing to be worried about – a permanent mooring line was to be our safest and easiest way down to the ocean floor. From the surface you could see the entire ship clearly, with nearly 90’ visibility in all directions that day. Before I knew it, we were down 75’ and I was following 3 spotted eagle rays as they circled the area.
Feeling good, I proceeded to swim away from the safety of the line, following Mark and the group of more experienced divers toward the other end of the ship. I floated about 10 feet above everyone else until Mark eagerly waved me down to him to point out a hiding, rare juvenile Hawaiian Turkeyfish.
After I let him know I saw it, he pointed out his computer depth of 98’ to me and we high-fived to celebrate a successful week of improvement and good teamwork.
I did bail out of the dive earlier than the rest, due to my rapid air consumption, but even that is improving as I get more comfortable. Of course, the rest of the divers saw two frogfish on the wreck, but I didn’t even care, I’d already met my goal for the day.
For photos, see this link: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150244839152583.318412.129610867582&type=1
Once back on the boat, we verbally confirmed the success of the dive and headed for Mala Ramp. Of course, another diver on board practically jinxed us prior to arrival, by saying he’d seen reef sharks there the last time he dove the site.
Finally comfortable, I settled into the final dive of the trip, focused on being relaxed and making my air tank last as long as possible, still eagerly scoping for any signs of sharks sleeping under the wreckage of the old pier.
As with any new hobby or sport, you do get better at it the more you do it, and after our most recent trip to Maui, I can say with confidence I’m enjoying diving more, and I’m already looking forward to diving the Hawaiian islands again.
One thing’s already on the agenda for our next trip to Maui – scuba diving at Molokini crater, and maybe eventually diving with Hammerhead sharks over by Molokai, which is a dive best suited to advanced divers for many reasons. Looks like I have some dive training to do…
Until then, Aloha!
About the Author: Elisabeth Ostrander is an experienced travel journalist, although a past life saw her writing mainly about snow based activities such as skiing and snowboarding, she has slowly started to succumb to the allure of surf, sand & scuba … in between ski seasons, that is.