Maui’s Fantastic Snorkel Spots

We saw lots of butterflyfish while snorkeling in Maui. I snapped tropical fish photos at the Maui Ocean Center.  ©Laurel Kallenbach

Except for kicking my fins occasionally to work against the waves, I feel suspended in space, peering through the water into a fantasy, sci-fi world. The inhabitants of this alternate universe right off the shores of Maui include canary-colored butterflyfish; long-spined sea urchins; brain coral; green turtles; iridescent, bucktoothed parrotfish grazing on coral; and the Hawaii state fish, humuhumunukunukuapua’a or just “humu-humu” for short. (The English name is Picasso triggerfish).

Hovering face down on the ocean surface, my breath rasps through my snorkel with Darth Vader–like exhalations. My pulse quickens with excitement when I spot a large Moorish idol. I gesture madly at the fish, hoping my husband—another stranger in this underwater galaxy—has spotted it too. All in a day’s fun in Maui, a great destination for snorkeling.

Nearly every day on our trip, Ken and I tried out a new beach with a reef not far away, and we were always greeted by wonderful undersea vistas.

The snorkeling was lovely right off picturesque Keawakapu Beach in Kihei ©Laurel Kallenbach

General Snorkeling Advice

Beach Parking: Never leave valuables in your car at Maui beaches; thieves target beach lots, and especially rental cars. This was where our “rent-a-wreck” was perfect. Kihei Rent-a-Car offers new cars, but we picked the less-expensive option of driving an older model. Our Toyota had bleached paint, lots of scrapes, a stained interior, and the trunk was a bit rough around the edges, but it was sufficiently comfortable and the air-conditioning worked. And the biggest benefit was that we fretted less about getting broken into, and we didn’t worry at all about getting dings. Added bonus: Kihei Rent-a-Car is locally owned and the folks are really friendly. They also pick you up and drop you off at the airport for free.

The Picasso triggerfish, AKA humuhumunukunukuapua’a ©Laurel Kallenbach

Beach Closures: There were a few popular snorkel areas on the Maui coast that were closed to allow the ecosystem to recover from overuse. We were disappointed not to be able to snorkel in the Ahihi Kinau Natural Area Reserve—including the snorkeling coves near La Perouse Bay known as Kalaeloa (“Aquarium”) and Mokuha (“Fishbowl”)—but we respected these closures.

Too many snorkelers spoil the reefs and scare away fish. I fear that the volcanic crater of Molokini will be next on this list, as hundreds of snorkelers visit that location daily. Ask local dive/snorkel shops about places that currently ban snorkeling. See my tips for ocean-friendly snorkeling,  including Don’t Wear Sunscreen. (How often do you get that advice?)

 

Honolua Bay

As you drive north on Hwy. 30 past Kapalua, you’ll reach the spot where you can pull over and look down upon the turquoise and azure waters of Honolua Bay, a marine preserve. We parked a little farther along in one of the three roadside parking areas, then walked through the lush tropical forest to reach this gem of a bay.

The beach is all black-lava boulders worn smooth by the ocean, and getting into the water—especially while wearing unwieldy fins—is a bit challenging. But with some effort, we were soon skimming over a large reef on the bay’s north side.

We loved seeing the green sea turtles. Photo courtesy Reef Relief

The delights included unicornfish, humu-humu, a variety of butterflyfish, a maray eel, and lots of colorful coral. A real thrill was encountering two turtles. We watched from a short distance as they dove, snacked on greenery in the rocks, and then surfaced for air.

While we were snorkeling, a catamaran sailed into the bay with snuba (a combination of snorkeling) and divers. At the mouth of the bay, surfers caught white frothy waves and rode them short distances.

Honolua Bay is often listed as the best snorkel site on the island, and I can see why. The water was clear, and because it’s a cove, snorkelers are protected from surge as long as they don’t go too far out.

Black Rock at Ka’anapali Beach

Guidebooks often tout Black Rock as a good place to snorkel, but I’ll never know. We couldn’t stomach Ka’anapali Beach, which was overly crowded. The three-mile-long stretch of golden sand on Maui’s is wall-to-wall high-rise resorts, restaurants, and shops. Not our cup of tea. And when we reached Black Rock—a rocky peninsula at the north end of the beach where ancient Maui residents believed that their spirits “jumped off” for the afterlife—we watched people lining up to do cannonballs into the water. This must have scared off fish, not to mention it seemed disrespectful of a sacred place. We just said “no.”

Po’olenalena Beach

Near Palauea Beach, this Makena-area beach is a park, so there’s no development other than a three-story condo at the south end of this pretty beach. Conveniently, it does have a pretty large parking lot and a porta-potty.

We got a pretty early start with snorkeling here before the water got rough; even so, there was a lot of current, and if we hadn’t been vigilant, it would be easy to get slammed into a coral-covered rock.

We found several areas of healthy reef among the black lava rock. There were spots where the coral was magnificent, but the fish we saw weren’t as plentiful as at Honolua Bay. That said, we did enjoy the raccoon butterflyfish, the Chrismas wrasse, and filefish. The slate-pencil sea urchins were quite impressive, and we spent some time watching a pair of turtles. After we finished snorkeling, Ken and I sat for a while in the sand and admired this pretty beach.

Ken after snorkeling at Po’olenalena Beach. The full-body rash-guard protects from sunburn and lets us skip the sunscreen, which is toxic to corals and just washes off anyway. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Keawakapu Beach

We spent five nights at the Hale Hui Kai condos on Keawakapu Beach on the south side of Kihei, and we were amazed to find good snorkeling right outside our door! The goodies here included spotted eel, turtles, threadfin butterflyfish, “silly-string” shrimp, otherworldly sea urchins, and a pufferfish.

There did tend to be a lot of surge off this reef, and sadly I had to tell two sets of snorkelers not to stand on the coral because it kills it.

—Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Originally published March 11, 2014

We spotted numerous elegant filefish while snorkeling in Maui. I photographed this one at the Maui Ocean Center. ©Laurel Kallenbach

We’re Crazy for Coconut’s Fish Café on Maui

I have a confession to make: I’m nuts about Coconut’s, a casual fish eatery in Kihei, Maui. In fact, Ken and I so loved the fish tacos that we ate them for dinner twice during our vacation.

Coconut’s Fish Café, in Kihei, Maui, serves fresh fish in a casual setting. ©Laurel Kallenbach

With fresh-caught local fish and from-scratch cooking, Coconut’s Fish Café gets it right. The locals know it, and so do some tourists, so this restaurant in a strip mall on South Kihei Road is nearly always hopping. Not a problem: folks share the surfboard tables inside and the picnic tables outside.

Although Coconut’s legendary fish tacos aren’t the only thing on the menu—I was tempted by the fish and chips—they’re irresistible. Here’s why: you get two tacos (one per plate) served open rather than folded. On top of two corn tortillas are grilled chunks of mild-flavored mahi and ono, wedges of mango, grated cheddar, a special sauce concocted from 17 different herbs and spices, and a pile of shredded lettuce and tomato. The tacos are served with a wedge of lemon and your choice of hot sauces. The price: $12 (in November 2013).

Folks flock to Coconut’s for fresh fish tacos. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Also on the menu are grilled fish burgers, fish plates (grilled the way you like it, including blackened, Asian, or Cajun), garlic ribeye steak sandwiches, veggie tacos, coconut shrimp and more.

Fast, Casual, Incredible

Coconut’s Fish Café (which is named for the owners’ white-and-black cat) has a motto: fresh, local, simple, reasonably priced. While some Maui visitors might pass it over for a fancier restaurant, we loved the shorts-and-flip-flops dress code and the surfer ambiance. And it’s relatively quick.

The restaurant is named for the owners’ white-and-black cat, who loves fish. ©Laurel Kallenbach

You line up and order at the counter, then sip your local beer and watch vintage family surfer videos while you wait for your cooked-to-order food. This truly suited us: after a long day of snorkeling, we’d be ravenous by 6 p.m., and the thought of getting dressed up and driving to a restaurant where there might be a 20-minute wait to be seated was unbearable.

And don’t be deceived by Coconut’s casual setting: Zagat’s gives the café a rating of 27 (on a scale of 30), which classifies it as “Extraordinary to Perfection.” I don’t think it’s possible to get a better fish taco on the island.

I loved the fish tacos and the old-fashioned surfboard tables.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

P.S. Healthy & Earth-Friendly Too

There’s even more to love: Besides being locally owned and dedicated to serving homemade, mostly local food (with some gluten-free options), Coconut’s uses biodegradable to-go containers and cleans with earth-friendly products. Plus, all of its cooking oil is recycled into biofuel.

Originally published April 14, 2014

 

 

 

 

Monterey Bay Aquarium: Saving Oceans One Fish at a Time

The jellyfish tanks are a highlight at the ocean-friendly Monterey Bay Aquarium in California.

For California vacationers, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is the place to see exotic fish and sea creatures. However, the Aquarium is also dedicated to educating people about environmental issues that threaten ocean creatures. And its Seafood Watch program helps the seafood-loving consumers make wise seafood choices.

Among the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s highlights are the Kelp Forest exhibit, playful sea otters, giant tunas and barracudas (go at lunchtime to witness a feeding frenzy!), and the mysterious giant octopus whose tentacles move more gracefully than ballerinas. Also worth checking out are cute black-footed penguins, jellyfish that drift in the currents, and the Touching Pool, where you can place your hands in the water and brush your fingertips over the silky wings of stingrays gliding around the tank.

My favorite octopus, Monterey Bay Aquarium

These incredible marine life forms are so diverse and enthralling that it’s inconceivable to think of them disappearing. So it’s encouraging that the Aquarium teaches about ocean conservation.

Every year, 80,000 school children visit and learn about why they shouldn’t eat swordfish (the fishing lines entangle endangered sea turtles) or Atlantic cod (it’s dangerously overfished). The kids take home a handy Seafood Watch Pocket Guide, which lists the best and least sustainable choices of seafood at supermarkets and restaurants.

Watching Out for Oceans

The Monterey Bay Aquarium raises and explains issues pertaining to choosing and eating fish:

Overfishing: Fish such as orange roughy, Chilean sea bass and bluefin tuna are threatened due to over-zealous fishing. Seafood Watch estimates that more than 70 percent of the world’s fisheries are either fished to capacity or overfished.

Farmed vs. wild-caught: Some aquaculture methods, including salmon farming, produce concentrated fecal waste that pollutes surrounding waters.

Method of fishing: If fish is caught wild, methods such as trawl nets, dredging and traps kill other species. The most famous example was dolphins being caught in tuna nets.

Human health: Toxic mercury content of seafood is a disturbing health problem, although fortunately some fish contain less mercury than others. (Swordfish, tilefish, shark, and king mackerel are especially high in mercury and should be avoided.)

Fortunately, according to Seafood Watch, we can make a difference by supporting fisheries and fish farms that are better for the environment, while passing on others that aren’t doing as well.

The Kelp Forest, Monterey Bay Aquarium

SeafoodWatch.org has a downloadable seafood guide listing fish according to their level of endangerment. You can also download a smart phone app that brings you up-to-date recommendations for restaurants and markets that serve ocean-friendly seafood and sushi.

Cooking for Solutions

Love to eat seafood? Cooking for Solutions—a celebration of fine food and wine produced in ways that preserve the health of the soil, water and ocean—is held each May at California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium. Celebrity chefs demonstrate ways to cook sustainably.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Read my post about Passionfish, a sustainable seafood restaurant near the Monterey Bay Aquarium. 

Photos courtesy Monterey Bay Aquarium

Winter Snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain Park

Blue skies, fresh snow: what better Christmas present could you ask for?

On Christmas day, my husband, my dad, and I went snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park. It was a gorgeous sunny day, mild in temperature, with no wind—unusual in winter in the high mountains.

We parked at the Sprague Lake parking lot, which was fairly busy for a winter day—but then again, it was a holiday with perfect weather and lots of snow.

We three tramped past the lake and through the forest for a distance. So many of the pines were brown from pine beetles, but still it was beautiful: sun shining on snow crystals, the kodachrome-blue sky, the chatter of squirrels.

The snow squealed and crunched under our snowshoes. “Guess we won’t be sneaking up on any wildlife,” I joked.

Our outing was magical, and we stopped to admire a lovely view of Hallet’s Peak. Then we returned to the lake, where you could walk over ice to cross to the other side. A lot of families were out—many of them from out of town. (Wearing tennis shoes in snow drifts is always a giveaway.) Some kids were sledding on a hill.

One young man without a coat—he looked like he was from India—was fascinated by my snowshoes and poles. “Are those skis?” he asked. I shook my head: “No, these are snowshoes.” I’m not sure if he understood, but he smiled as he watched us crunch away on them.

Rocky Mountain Park in winter

Our National Treasures

Meeting people from other parts of the country and world reminded me of what a treasure our national parks are. They’ve all been set aside as natural or historic preserves with little or no development allowed. They’re some of our country’s greatest natural wonders. They let people experience the magnificence of the outdoors in ways they otherwise might never have.

Although most visitors come during summer, Rocky Mountain Park is open year round—even for snow camping.

My father, who lives in Estes Park, Colo., hikes and snowshoes in Rocky Mountain Park year round.

There’s something special about visiting a national park in the off-season—like it’s a secret nobody else knows about. Normally there are few visitors, so you might get the place all to yourself.

Of course, quite a few people—many of them wearing Santa hats—were out on Christmas day. But it was a secret I’m glad to share.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Rocky Mountain National Park has 355 miles of hiking trails ranging from flat lakeside strolls to steep mountain peak climbs.

Protect the national parks you visit by following the Leave No Trace principles.

Originally published on December 27, 2010

Read more about my travels in America’s national parks and monuments: