I have a secret. Actually, it's not much of a secret for those who know me well, but it is a fact that some who don't might find curious. I'm afraid of open water. More specifically, open water in which the depths can't be discerned by the naked eye. I think this is because I have a seriously overactive imagination. I can work myself into quite a frenzy by shutting my eyes and letting my mind wander. A bit of a problem when I was a small child, I now relish this aspect about me. I am perfectly capable of keeping the monsters at bay and it's easy to entertain myself in hum drum situations. I love my imagination.
But it can get unwieldy in new situations. Isn't that where a lot of fear comes from? The unknown, I mean. Living landlocked for almost all of my life, I didn't have a lot of opportunities to confront this fear of open water. Fortunately, I love being near the water. From white water rafting to snorkeling in the Caribbean, I took opportunities to jump in when I could. And now, my most ultimate challenge in confronting this fear is upon me. Living on an island and working at a snorkel store. Knowledge and enthusiasm are my bread and butter. Which means research is key. So that's what I've been doing. Learning as much as I possibly can as quickly as I can. I started with the beaches.
Kamaole Beach Parks I, II, III Found right on South Kihei Road, this set of three beaches are some of the most popular in south Maui. Commonly referred to as Kam I, Kam II, and Kam III, each offers full facilities and a great beach experience for all who visit. The north end of Kam I is also known as Charley Young Beach and offers some of the best snorkeling of the three. Kam II has a wide expanse of sandy beach most of the time. Larger storms can expose more the more rocky base of this beach, so pay attention to the weather before picking this beach. If boogie boarding is your thing, check out Kam III. It also offers picnic areas and a playground popular with families. A popular spot for locals on the weekends and holidays, be prepared for a crowd on busier days.
Ulua Beach Found in front of the Wailea Elua Village condos, this is a great spot for snorkeling and beginner scuba. The southernmost of three connecting beaches (Keawakapu and Mokapu preceding), parking can sometimes be tight. However, if you can snag a spot, you're in for a great time on a gorgeous beach. This is one of the best spots to snorkel in Maui, especially in the winter. Great reefs and turtles galore, be on the lookout for Volkswagon. He's a turtle. A turtle about as big as your coffee table.
Ke One o Polo Beach Often referred to simply as Polo Beach, this beautiful stretch starts at the Fairmont Kea Lani hotel with a southern bookend in front of the Polo Beach Club. There is excellent snorkeling when the waters are calm around the rocks at the north of the beach. If there is a south swell, grab a boogie board for some fun on the waves. Big swells bring strong rip tides, however. Keep your wits about you and enter with caution if the waves are booming. Dry off after play time in the water with a stroll, but be sure to watch your step. The rocks pop through the sand sporadically.
Makena Landing Is in the area known as Turtle Town because, well, turtles. This is a great beach for beginner snorkeling and/or families with tiny tots thanks to the shallow reef, the gradual slope of the sand into the water, and minimal wave action compared to other locations. The actual sandy part of the beach is limited, so be prepared to make friends with other beachgoers if it's a busy day. Bathrooms and showers are available here, as well as kayak rentals. This spot is close to a road, which won't matter if you're snorkeling, but could be a factor for sunbathers.
Makena Beach State Park If you hear talk about going to Big Beach, this is where they are heading. It is aptly nick-named as it is one of the largest beaches on Maui offering one of the most beautiful opportunities for a beach stroll. Great for a family picnic to watch water activities performed by the experts, the water is most definitely not recommended for children. The shore break is highly dangerous, resulting in the highest number of neck and spinal injuries of any beach on the island, and serious rip tides can pop up unexpectedly. If you are not a water expert, steer clear of Big Beach for snorkeling or boogie boarding. Also worth noting, a stroll to the north of this beach will land you on Little Beach which is generally known for nude sunbathing and Sunday evening festivities that include drum circles and fire dancing. If you do venture into the water, keep one ear open for the lifeguards on duty. If they're yelling - heed their warnings!
Ahihi Bay Marine Reserve More experienced snorkelers will enjoy an afternoon at Ahihi Bay. The entire beach is rocky, so no sunbathing on sand here. Never enter the water via the rocky beach due to the risk of damaging the protected coral reef. One misplaced foot will do years of damage. Obviously, no standing while snorkeling in shallow waters either. To get your snorkel on, enter and exit via the concrete slab at the north end of the cove. If you're experienced enough to be coordinated in fins, don't miss this stop. If it's your first time, put it on your bucket list and come back when you've got a few more snorkels under your belt.
If you're coming to the south Maui beaches in the summer, check with a local before picking a beach. Swells come from the south in the summer and north in the winter. Not to mention conditions can change quickly. Been here a dozen time and know exactly where to go? Great. Shocked it wasn't what you expected? Right. Visiting frequently isn't the same as living in a place. You probably know way more than a first time visitor, but do yourself a favor and still check with someone local before jumping in the water. Also, don't just dump your stuff and jump in the water. Take five minutes to sit and watch the water. Knowing what you're getting into before you get into it is essential.
Don't limit yourself to the beach in front of your hotel or resort. There are so many wonderful experiences to be had - pop around the island. Or off. Check out Molokini or Lana'i. And, please, book early. Don't walk into my store and act shocked when the fabulous boat trip you want to take is completely booked for the next day. This is Maui. Three million people vacation here each year. Of course the boat is booked a day out. Plan better. Or prepare yourself to plan. And don't, whatever you do, make the list of stupid questions asked by tourists.
That, my friends, is a blog for another day. Stay tuned.