I would have to say that my best experience in Maui was the snorkeling. Other than being there, it is hard to believe that the water can be so clear or the fish more beautiful. I'll have to admit, I was a little apprehensive about getting into the water. My biggest problem is not the swimming, but getting water in the ears. You see, I have trouble equalizing the pressure, not to mention the water never seems to drain out, no matter how much Swim-Ear I put in. I'm glad to say I was actually able to go down 5 to 10 feet and get a close-up look at the coral, although I longed to go deeper with SCUBA divers who had accompanied us.
We showed up at Maalaea harbor early in the morning. If I recall, we were almost the last people to show up for the boat. They collected our shoes as we scrambled onto the catamaran-style cruiser and we were greeted by a number of tired-looking faces who didn't seem to want to let us sit down (we were a large group). They had coffee, sticky rolls, and fruit for us to eat as we got underway. I'm glad to say I wasn't seasick, which I feared I might with my ear trouble. When we got out of the harbour, we were introduced to our lifeguards and given the rules of the boat. Afterwards, the experienced divers went on top and I got my Introduction to Snorkeling 101. We learned about choosing our fins, how to blow water out of the snorkel, and how to keep our masks fog and water free. It was a revellation that I had been using the equipment improperly all the time; that was why I had such trouble in the swimming pool!
After the class broke, they played plenty of Jimmy Buffet and we had a high time on the trip out to Molokini. If you have never been there, Molokini is a crescent-shaped crater that is mid-way between Maui and Kaho`olawe. I wasn't paying attention to the time (as I had left my watch at home for fear of losing it), but I would guess it was about an hour-and-a-half cruise out to it. We were in a slower boat, so we were passed by some of the faster charters. The sun came up over Haleakala, and it started to warm up.
By the time we got to Molokini, there were already a number of boats there with many people in the water. I looked over the side of the boat and looked down. The water was so clear you could see all the way to the bottom, which I can only guess was perhaps 30 feet down, probably more. We had been warned not to get too close to the coral (as so not to damage the habitat, since Molokini is a marine reserve). We were not allowed to feed the fish, but they were pretty tame anyway. We had been told to stay within certain boundaries of the boat and that we would be able to spend about 45 minutes in the water.
I waited a few minutes to allow the more experienced divers to get into the water, then decided to try my hand at it. I dipped my mask into the pail of soap-water to prevent it from fogging up, donned my mask and adjusted it, and walked carefully down the steps that led down into the water. On the bottom step, I sat down and put on my fins before pushing off into the clear, cool water.
The view from above did little to prepare me for what I would see when I actually could put my mask in the water! Looking down from my place by the boat, it was indeed deep. SCUBA divers were already on the bottom, doing who knows what (probably seeing stuff I couldn't get to unaided). Out in front of the boat, there were swimmers in the water and I could see the reef rocks and fish. The waves were crashing up against the inside of the crater, and I noted that there was a mild current pulling me towards the starboard side of the boat. I would have to be careful to stay near our boat and lifeguards.
Lee was already in the water by this time, and I had no idea where he was, although later I would find that he hadn't been too far off from me. I decided to strike out for the reef rocks, and got the hang of using the fins. I still had to do a fair amount of swimming to keep from drifting too much. By the time I got up to the wall, I could see colorful fish and coral on the floor. The waves washing up against the wall caused bubbles in the water, and a bit more current. Before I had left the mainland for this trip, I had bought a couple of disposable underwater cameras for the occasion. I'm glad I did, but I was a little disappointed with how far you had to be from your subject to get a clear picture. Included here are some pictures from our dive, but you really have to look to decide what kind of fish it was. I gave one to Lee, and kept one for myself. We saw tang of different types, unicorn fish, Moorish Idols, Milletseed Butterflys, Pennant Fish, and even a Moray Eel or two. I realized that after I got home I was more an eco-tourist than a plain tourist. I managed to bag a number of different fish, and learn Hawaiian names for most of them, too.
I managed to dive down a little to get some closer pictures, but on the whole, I think Lee got some better shots, including a Moray poking its head out of its hiding place. There were a lot of sea urchins of different types, but the ones I remember most were the pencil-slate and spiney ones. With all of this diving, I ended up floating down the reef a good way, and I realized I was going to have to do some strong swimming to get back to the boat. Along the way, I recovered someone's lost fin, but couldn't find the owner. I ended up giving it to one of the lifeguards (who were out in the water on surfboards). I also found Lee for the second time. I was getting somewhat tired, so I ended up getting out of the water. It was lunchtime, anyway, so we had sandwiches and cokes while we waited for everyone to get back on the boat. While we were lounging around, one of our lifeguards (the one with the blonde dreadlocks and burnt tan) pointed out a Frigatebird soaring over the edge of the crater; I found that they normally don't populate this part of the Hawaiian chain. I thought that was pretty nifty.
Leaving Molokini, we went to a place called "Turtle Town", where we supposedly could see protected Maui Green Sea Turtles. I would guess it took about 20 to 30 minutes to get to the place, and then we were into the water. This area is essentially open water (read: sea) and we were warned to keep an eye out for predatory fish like sharks. We had also been cautioned against touching the turtles (were we to see one), as they are protected and contact with humans causes tumors. You can be fined a lot of money just for brushing up against one. The other boats that had been there for a while had not seen any turtles, so I expected to be disappointed (but we weren't). When I had been in the water for a while, I realized I wasn't alone (and no, it wasn't fish); tiny stings alerted me to hydra in the water (at least that is what our lifeguard said it was). It was rather interesting anyway.
I wasn't as impressed with this area as I was with Molokini. The water was deep and there was no way to go down that far unless you had SCUBA gear, so that was a little disappointing. The water was very blue, but I guess that was because there wasn't any shallow area to get close to. We were, however, able to feed the fish here, and we were got packets of pellets in special water-soluble bags. The fish were extremely tame, and they readily came to eat the pellets I spilled into the water before me. It made it easier to take pictures, and it also made it hard. The fish didn't want to keep a distance, so many of the pictures I got back were blurred because of range. These fish were smart, too... as obviously they had been fed many times before. A few of them were bold enough to come right up to my feed bag and nip it. In fact, I realized this after I found myself in a cloud of fish and noticed that my bag had a hole in the oposite end and was leaking food into the water around me. I had felt the fish grab the bag, but hadn't seen the damage that was done.... Most of the fish out here were Butterflies, Black Durgeon, Achilles Tang, and Unicorns, although I did see some trumpet fish staying close to the surface.
For a long while, all I saw were fish and the divers far below us. There was a strong current, and we had been warned not to stray too far from the boat. There were only a few other charters in the area, so we were asked to stay in the middle of the formation so the lifeguards could watch us better. After what seemed like an hour, I saw my first turtle as it glided under the boat close to the sea floor. I had been trying to take a picture of a tube-shaped jellyfish I had almost bumped into, but I couldn't get it in the right light, nor get below it. As I was attempting this manoever and that, I saw the turtle swim gracefully under the boat and surface for a few moments. It was too far away for me to take any pictures so I was disappointed. It was shy, and didn't stay long. After a little while longer, I was treated to another turtle which gladly came close enough for me to snap some pictures. I would guess it came within 10 feet of me, but I was careful to maintain a distance. Having bagged my game, I decided I had had enough water for the day.
When everyone was done, we cruised back to the harbor and looked for whales. December is one of the early months for whale watching, but unfortunately we didn't see one. They seemed to be a little late this year, but aparently on our side of the island (Kihei), they like to come up into the bay to swim.
There wasn't much more to our cruise, as there was little wind for sailing so I haven't more to say about the experience other than "go if you get the chance"!