Olowalu 'Turtle Reef'
Olowalu is one of the Hawaiian Islands’ greatest treasures. Also known as “Turtle Reef” for the large numbers of Hawaiian Green sea turtles that congregate here, Olowalu is home to one of the state’s most diverse reef systems. An underwater palate of color awaits you- explore 24 species of coral- some heads of which are hundreds of years old. Olowalu is home to a manta ray and turtle ‘cleaning station’, a black tip reef shark nursery, and a myriad of colorful tropical fish- it’s an underwater wonder.
You’ll love seeing the turtles swim up and congregate to allow fish such as tangs, wrasse, and to clean their shells and flippers by eating the algae away. Think of it as Mother Nature’s turtle carwash! Sometimes a dozen or more are at the turtle cleaning station at a time.
Not only are the turtles and fish incredible, the conditions are optimal for even beginner snorkelers, as Olowalu is Maui’s only major snorkel reef protected from trade winds. This means Olowalu’s waters are generally calm and clear, with visibility up to 120 feet. Plus, the waters near the shoreline are protected and shallow, making it a great place for the little ones to explore.
One caveat: the water close to shore here is quite shallow for about the first 300-600 feet as you make your way offshore. Once the water is deep enough, you must swim another 300+ feet to get to a place worth snorkeling. We strongly advise against doing so, as you may inadvertently damage the delicate coral reef or injure yourself in the process. That’s why we recommend using a trusted Maui snorkeling tour; see our recommendations below.
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Swim with Sea Turtles
Kayak Olowalu and Turtle Snorkel
Looking for a way to ride even closer to the water than in a glass bottom boat? How about an exciting Olowalu kayak experience with the professionals at Maui Kayak Adventures. It’s the perfect way to get closer to nature on the way there- and then dive in (literally) as you snorkel among the turtle the marvelous sea creatures.
Best of all, Maui Kayak Adventure guides are all Certified Marine Naturalists; this means that they have an intimate knowledge and understanding of Olowalu and, indeed, all of Hawaii’s undersea world. They are eager to help you gain a deeper appreciation of Hawaii’s delicate ecosystems and to share their love of the islands with you. You’ll even get a free digital photo package so you can focus on being in the moment!
We are also proud to recommend Maui Kayak Adventures for their strong commitment to caring for and preserving Hawaii’s delicate ecosystems. They firmly believe that you can have a superior adventure and respect, protect, and preserve its inhabitants for generations to come.
Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) Olowalu
Stand Up Paddleboarding, or simply SUP, is taking the world by storm because it’s perfect for all ages, easy to learn, and loads of fun! Plus, if you want to explore and get a full body workout you can; or you can choose a leisurely paddle to admire the turtles and other marine life. Intrigued? Then check out the best paddleboarding on Maui- Hawaiian Paddle Sports.
Olowalu Paddleboarding with Hawaiian Paddle Sports is perhaps a unique way to experience this natural treasure. Your expert instructor will have you up and paddling in no time- paddle over the reef, marvel at the rainbow of fish below, and watch as turtles come up for air. Your vantage point allows you to see Haleakala and Molokini Crater- you can even see Big Island on a very clear day!
We love Hawaiian Paddle Sports not only for their exceptional commitment to making your adventure as outstanding as possible, but also for the knowledge of their highly-skilled, passionate, and certified guides. And, Hawaiian Paddle Sports is a Certified B Corporation, a select group of businesses worldwide that are using business for an environmental and social change.
In addition to their SUP excursions, they offer Maui Canoe Tours, Kayak Tours, Surf Lessons, Canoe Surfing, and seasonal Whale Watching (Dec-Apr); all without motors, noise, or crowds. They are a company of the utmost integrity that we are pleased to recommend.
Turtle Cleaning Stations
Green sea turtles are often seen in this kind of food-rich environment in the mornings and afternoon to eat the algae and seagrasses. Because they are air breathers and feed close to the surface, they tend to also grow algae on their shells. It may not be common knowledge but turtle shells are very sensitive and they feel even the slightest contact. So, there is a need for a thorough, albeit gentle cleaning. Fortunately, the reef has a large population of wrasse, toby, tangs, and surgeonfish that make up the “cleaning crews”.
And, there are several “turtle cleaning stations” located here so that means turtles will be plentiful in the general vicinity and so will the cleaner fish. The turtles simply pull up to a cleaning station and the fish go to work cleaning off the algae from their shells and dead skin from their bodies as well, not to mention a few other unwanted hitchhikers which can attach themselves over time.
As always, please adhere to the “look but don’t touch” rules of the reef. It really does help preserve our underwater wonderlands.
Overall, it’s a day of wonder and amazement in this aquatic paradise you’ll never forget and it’s not to be missed if you’re visiting Maui.
Words of Caution
One should be aware, that while it may be gorgeous, it’s a challenging endeavor to attempt to access this pristine snorkeler’s paradise from the beach, (to say the least). Located in a protected bay just 4 miles south of Lahaina, Olowalu reef’s beach entry point is quite a trek out to some the best snorkeling in all of Hawai’i. If you decide to try to walk out to reach the snorkeling area; please be aware of not damaging the reef by walking on it. Also, be very careful not to cut yourself on the coral, exposed lava rocks or any sea urchins in the area. The beach itself also has plenty of Kiawe tree which have extremely long, sharp and strong thorns (I have personally experienced a Kiawe thorn piercing entirely through the sole of my shoe and into my foot – not a good feeling!
We think it is best to see Olowalu by boat where reef access is easy and comfortable and you have bathrooms, fresh water showers, food, drink and shade readily available. Pride Of Maui; a 65 foot, MaxiPower double-hulled catamaran specifically designed for Hawaiian water boasting 3000 square feet of deck space for tanning or observation, a covered viewing salon and all you can eat and drink is a great way to go. Pride of Maui is an eco-friendly, culturally conscious answer to leaving the smallest possible footprint while exploring Maui’s underwater wonderland as their excellent captain and crew will guide you to a wonderful day of snorkeling, educate you about marine conservation and share their local knowledge on what is sure to be a great day.