Last Updated: June 9, 2023
Those who frequent Hawaii may have heard about, let alone visited its smallest inhabited island Lanai for its world-class golf course, pineapple plantation, or fun outdoor activities.
But for scuba divers, the underwater spectacle in this tiny blip in the ocean featuring spinner dolphins (Naia) and sea turtles (Honu) among hundreds of aquatic life forms is worth exploring.
Read on to learn more about the diving scene on the last unspoiled Hawaiian island.
The island of Lanai is located in Maui county, which sits across the Auau Channel. It was born out of Lanaihale, an extinct volcano, and is now the largest privately owned island in the state. The word lanai is also used to refer to a relaxing space that combines a porch and a patio, bringing the outdoors in.
Dole Corporation bought the island in 1922 to grow pineapples until it merged with another entity that created and managed the resort and golf course developments. In 2012, billionaire Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison bought 98% of all Lanai holdings and currently lives on the island, while the state owns the remaining 2%.
Being eight miles off the Maui coast, Lanai has no traffic light system and very few paved roads, read: secluded. Nonetheless, it seeks to be a wellness destination, having two Four Seasons hotel and spa properties, a golf course, an adventure park, and a few other amenities that make visitors more comfortable during their time on the intimate island.
Lanai Scuba Diving
One thing that makes scuba diving in Lanai special is its remote location. That said, expect to see more exotic creatures and extraordinary topography while exploring the arches, lava canyons, and caverns below the sea.
The dive sites have excellent visibility, so you’ll appreciate the picturesque tropical corals and endemic species standing by. Snorkeling is also just as good on the tide pools of Hulopoe Bay.
Humpback whales that migrate from Alaska to the Hawaiian waters during winter have the greatest concentrations in Maui and Lanai. You might even see one while riding a boat to your dive spot. Furthermore, the grand lava structures adorning the sea floor make for a spellbinding labyrinth, leaving divers in absolute awe.
Best Lanai Dive Sites
Once you decide to take a day trip to Lanai from Maui or stay for a short vacation, you will not regret it. There are more than 35 dive sites on this secluded island. Check out this Lanai dive sites map to see some of the locations, but I have narrowed it down to the best six spots worthy of your consideration.
1. The Cathedrals (1 and 2)
Lanai’s extraordinary volcanic past shaped its unique marine life and topography. And it is meant to be discovered and consequently protected. Case in point: The Cathedrals.
They only require a quick boat ride to the spot before you go on a visual treat of lava tubes, arches, caves, and of course, the cathedrals. The latter is actually a large cavern where the sunlight shines through from atop; hence it looks like a church cathedral. For some, it resembles a scene consisting of an alien spaceship beaming on the ground at night.
Inside the two-story First Cathedral, you’ll see what would seem like confessional chambers where yellow trumpet fish, parrot fish, puffer fish, sharks, eels, and crabs come rushing in. When you’re done, you’ll take catha shotgun exit whereby tidal pulls propel you outward.
Second Cathedral is larger and shaped like Swiss cheese. You begin with a coral garden and other lava structures where you’ll instantly recognize a huge school of blue-line snappers as well as Hawaiian cleaner wrasses, eels, and others. As you enter Cathedral 2, you’ll see a black coral tree and some sponge crabs at its base. You might be lucky to bump into a pyramid butterflyfish, a particularly elusive species that likes to stay on outer reef slopes.
Not only will you enjoy the cathedrals dive, but it is best to bring an underwater camera to capture their outstanding beauty.
2. Knob Hill
Off the coast of Lanai near the Four Seasons Hotel, Knob Hill is a relatively shallow dive at under 60 feet, but expansive nonetheless. The name comes from a near-surface pinnacle with four columns supporting it that slightly resembles a knob.
Note that the water currents here are quite strong, making them suitable only for intermediate and advanced divers. It is a boat dive that takes under an hour from the Lahaina harbor and boasts diverse pelagic creatures and thick corals.
The Knob Hill has lava structures with built-in swim-throughs where you’ll likely run into large schools of yellow tangs as well as butterfly fish, and eels, to name a few. White-tip reef sharks are also a common sighting on this site.
3. Barge Harbor
The Barge Harbor in Kaumalapau is a wall dive which becomes a reef flat towards the end, making for an ideal drift dive. It is an excellent choice for beginners because of its shallow depths, while advanced divers can explore further down at 110 feet.
Located on the south side, this diving spot teems with marine creatures either frolicking in dazzling vistas or hiding in terrace cracks. The reef has a variety of corals alongside frogfish, octopuses, Moorish eels, boxfish, triggerfish, and nudibranchs.
Likewise, keep your eyes open in the blue, so you don’t miss the eagle rays and Galapagos sharks appearing out of nowhere.
Monolith is a pinnacle that’s 40 feet high with an 80-foot base. The dive spot offshore is up to 110 feet deep, consisting of hard corals and lava tube swim-throughs. This site is not the most visited because the tight spaces in the underwater structures are challenging, thus, it’s suitable only for seasoned and skillful divers.
But if you qualify, you’ll be glad to take on this site. You’ll encounter various pelagics as you swim in and out of the tubes. They include surgeonfish, damselfish, yellow tangs, Hawaiian sergeants, raccoon butterflyfish, longnose butterflyfish, Moorish idols; the list goes on.
5. Wash Rock
Another dive site that features a large pinnacle whose depths range from 3 feet to 65 feet is Wash Rock. As such, you can snorkel in this area and get good bottom visibility.
Diving the area will get you up close with its marine residents, such as white-tip reef sharks, schools of blue line snappers, trumpet fish, and sergeant majors swimming about. You’ll notice the banded spiny lobsters underneath corals, which are endemic to Hawaii.
Upon venturing into the lava tubes, soldier fish, juvenile lobsters, and hypnotic schools of fish abound.
6. Fish Rock
Fish Rock features two pinnacles divided by a sand channel. One is shallower and often used as a safety stop, while the other has a maximum depth of 62 feet. It got its name due to its high fish density.
The dizzying array includes yellow coris, parrot fish, white-mouth morays, Moorish idols, yellow tangs, butterfly fish varieties, goldring surgeonfish, arc-eye hawkfish, big-eye emperors, orange-spine unicorn fish, and lots more. You might even spot green sea turtles munching on corals while other fish freeload on the crumbs.
Recommended Read: Scuba Diving in Molokai
Diving Conditions and Best Time to Dive
Almost all dive spots in Lanai are accessible by boat, with depths that vary from shallow (15 feet) to deep (100 feet).
Water currents can be strong, and there is a frequent surge caused by surface wave action, so diving here often requires highly experienced and advanced divers.
The best time to visit Lanai is from April to May. But if you want to avoid the peak season (and higher rates), you can time your trip from September to November. Visibility of up to 100 feet will give you a clear view of the seascape and underwater species.
Top Lanai Dive Operators
#1. Lahaina Divers
Lahaina Divers ensures you get the best dive sites giving you more bang for your buck. Their Lanai Adventure Drift dive is a must-do as well as their various Lanai trips and Maui tours.
#2. Extended Horizons
It has green initiatives such as using boats powered by biodiesel, operating with solar electricity, and practicing recycling. Through educational workshops, its eco-diving discipline teaches divers to be more responsible guardians of the seas.
#3. Lanai Ocean Sports
When you want the authentic ohana experience, the friendly and skilled stewards and sailors at Lanai Ocean Sports are welcoming in their community. They are committed to ensuring you have the most memorable dive through their personalized aloha service and strict adherence to safety.
Aside from dive tours, this shop also offers snorkeling and fishing trip packages as well as custom private charters to meet specific client requests.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Deep is the Water Between Maui and Lanai?
The Maui Channel (Au’au Channel) lies between Maui and Lanai and is a protected ocean area in Hawaii. It is part of what is poetically referred to as Eight Seas (Na Kai Ewalu) and has a depth of 108 feet or 33 meters that is 14.1 km wide.
How Do You Travel to Lanai?
There are two ways to get to Lanai. If you have a little more budget, you can take a domestic flight from Honolulu (HNL) or Maui Kahului Airport (OGG). But for more savings, you can take a one-way 50-minute ferry instead from Maui for only $30 per person.
Can You Swim at Shipwreck Beach in Lanai?
Given its notorious reputation of having sunk vessels in the past, thus the name, Shipwreck Beach is not a safe place for swimmers due to strong currents and its sharp coral bottom.
Is Lanai Good for Snorkeling?
Yes. From Manele Bay or Hulopoe Bay, you will have your fill of green sea turtles, humpback whales, and different fish varieties in shallower reefs.
My unbounded love for the oceans and everything it has to offer motivated me to pursue my passion and become a professional scuba diving instructor.
I keep reading, exploring, and learning more about scuba diving and the underwater world all the time, so I’m excited to share my knowledge with fellow scuba enthusiasts and hopefully contribute a little to your development as a diver. I want people to fall in love with the oceans with as much passion as I have. Read more about me here.