Maui Articles

Maui’s Kanaio Coast

By Mark Henry

Five hundred years ago the south facing slope of Haleakala was exploding. Rivers of molten lava from fountaining vents rushed to the sea. One of the largest and most recent vents called Puu Pimoi is situated 3000 feet above sea level just below the settlement of Kanaio along the back road to Hana. The quantity of lava erupting from this vent was so great that it pushed its way out into the sea forming new land. The cooling effects of water against hot lava resulted in exquisite patterns and shapes – pinnacles jetting out of the sea, caves, arches, and grot- toes – art which nature created that man has yet to rival.

Polynesian voyagers were the first to settle these shores. For hundreds of years, they enjoyed the abundance of the sea. Recent volcanic activity, forced them to move, leaving behind ancient heiaius (places of worship) that were spared by Pele. For years, most maps did not identify the Kanaio Coast, which was generally inaccessible. To date, except for a small number of fishermen and divers who know how plentiful the marine life is there, most Mauians are unfamiliar with the Kanaio Coast. In 1987, Blue Water Rafting put Kanaio on the maps of several visitor publications in which it advertised. Today, Blue Water Rafting has taken over 200,000 satisfied people on a journey back in time to view one of the last uninhabited coastlines on Maui.

Rafting tours to the Kanaio Coast are offered daily, departing at 7:00 am. On most days, the winds come up fairly early in this area so rafters are advised to prepare for an adventurous ride! Rigid-hulled, twin-powered inflatables are utilized for their seaworthiness and maneuverability around the lava formations. Depending on conditions, a variety of sites are available for snorkeling. When winds are light and variable or blowing strong out of the north, Kanaio is the best place for calm and clear water. If trade winds are present, coming out of the East or Northeast, La Perouse Bay offers protection from the wind and is one of the favorite hangouts of spinner dolphins. In season, whales abound and sea turtle habitats are a regular snorkeling stop along the South Maui shore.