Kayak, SUP, Canoe, Canoe Surfing, Surf Lessons
Time To Snorkel Location
Snorkel Tour / Lesson Times
Kayak & Canoe 7am, Surf & SUP 8am
Olowalu, also referred to as Coral Gardens, is home to many of Maui’s most unique marine populations and has recently been recognized as one of the Top 10 Snorkel Sites by Coastal Magazine. Historically, however, Olowalu is recognized for its resident population of ancient farmers who lived solely off the land and ocean. On your next trip to Hawaii, make sure to visit this noteworthy area for a look inside the past and present of Maui.
History of Olowalu
Olowalu has a rich history, one that certainly isn’t ignored by those working to perpetuate Hawaiian culture. Ancient Hawaiians who settled this area cultivated the land in order to grow crops such as breadfruit and taro (grown in higher elevation areas with water from a nearby stream), and sweet potato and coconuts closer to shore. Residents who lived near the ocean worked on a trade system with those who lived farther up the valley, often trading fresh fish for wild pigs and wood for canoes.
Kawaialoa heiau, an ancient Hawaiian temple found in Olowalu, is thought to have been used for religious ceremonies for Maui’s high chiefs. In fact, there was once a fishpond in the area, or Kaloko o Kapa’iki, where fish were grown specifically for the high chiefs. Some of Hawaii’s best known petroglyphs, called Pu’u Kilea, are located on a basalt cliff here, serving as a reminder of the way of life of ancient Hawaiians and depicting images of family members, royalty, animals and sails.
In 1790, Iao Valley became the site of the Battle of Kepaniwai as King Kamehameha battled to unite the Hawaiian Islands. After landing on Maui’s north shore and defeating a substantial portion of Maui’s Army, the remaining members of Maui’s royalty, none of whom were killed in the process, fled to the shores of Olowalu through the Iao-Olowalu pass, considered one of the most dangerous and difficult routes on Maui. That same year, Hawaiians living in Olowalu stole a boat from Eleanora, an American ship, killing a sailor and angering Captain Simon Metcalfe in the process. In response, Metcalfe sailed to Olowalu, promising Olowalu’s residents a peaceful trade, and opened fire, killing more than 100 Hawaiians that lived in the area, now dubbed the “Olowalu Massacre”.
In the 1820’s, as an influx of Europeans and Protestant missionaries began settling the area, St. Joseph Church was built and sugarcane was introduced as a main crop. In 1864, King Kamehameha V invested in the West Maui Sugar Company, which eventually became Olowalu Sugar Company, and hired German, Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, South Sea Island, Puerto Rican, Korean and Filipino workers to keep up with demand. During this time, Olowalu was home to many businesses and organizations, including Nihonjin Shokai, a Japanese Store, C. Sam Lung & Company, a general store and coffee saloon, a Japanese language school, second one-room school, and Olowalu Theatre.
Workers typically lived in one of several small camps, including Beach Camp, Filipino Camp and Makimoto Camp, and fished, farmed and raised livestock for food.
Not long after, Inter-Island Steamship Company began using Olowalu landing as a place to pick up and deliver mail, passengers and goods. When Pioneer Mill Company bought Olowalu Sugar Company in 1931, the school closed and the community began to disperse as company housing was phased out.
Olowalu Marine Populations
Olowalu is home to a wide variety of marine populations, including two Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle (Honu) cleaning stations, Manta Ray (Hahalua) cleaning station, and Black Tip Reef Shark (Mano Pa’ele) nursery. In fact, while Hawaii’s Big Island is well known for its large Manta Ray population, Olowalu actually has the 4th largest Manta Ray resident population in the world.
While snorkeling at Olowalu, guests enjoy the opportunity to see a variety of beautiful tropical fish, many of which are only found in Hawaii, and watch as fish eat algae from the shells of local honu. A resident Hawaiian Monk Seal (‘Ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua) has also been known to frequent the area, so keep an eye out!
Coral Gardens at Olowalu
Olowalu is Maui’s largest and healthiest reef, containing over 100 acres of some of Hawaii’s oldest reef structures. With giant coral head formations that have been found to date back over 500 years, Olowalu remains one of the best snorkeling destinations in all of Hawaii.
Local Tips for Visiting Olowalu
Olowalu, in large part due to its shallow waters and protection from strong trade winds, is a great place for beginner and intermediate snorkelers, even when most other places on Maui are too windblown for snorkeling. During some times of the year, Olowalu is also a popular surf spot.
Located 4 miles south of Lahaina, Olowalu is located half way between Maalaea Harbor and Lahaina Town at Mile Marker #14.
Watch out for kiawe thorns on your walk out to the water – they’re sharp and will go through most slippahs!
We recommend a post-tour meal at nearby Leoda’s Pie Shop and a visit to the Olowalu Fruit Stand.