The #1 Best Molokini Crater Guide: Updated 2021
Molokini crater, (often misspelt Molikini) is one of the most popular spots in the entire state of Hawaii. Bird sanctuary, rare geographical structure, world-class snorkelling spot and awesome overall destination for a day on the water, find out everything you could want to know in the Best Molokini Crater Guide!
What is Molokini? History of Molokini
There's some Hawaiian lore of how Molokini was formed but science tells us that that Molokini crater came to be about 230,000 years ago. It is a cinder cone caldera and it is one of three sheltered caldera in the world that you can snorkel in.
Because of this protected structure, many tropical Hawaiian flock (or flood, would be more appropriate) to Molokini and it makes for a great spot for visitors to get a front seat to Maui's marine life.
Molokini was also used as a target by the United States military because it is roughly the same size and shape as a battleship. There is still unexploded ordinance on the islet, which would be a problem for people if they were allowed to explore the crater.
Even with it being the popular destination spot it is, if you're heading there, you won't have to worry about the military's old bombs. You're not allowed to set foot on the crater because it's considered a protected marine sanctuary. Unless you have permission from both the federal government (United States Coast Guard) and the state of Hawaii's Division of Forestry and Wildlife, don't expect to go exploring on the islet, like many say they want to do, without paying the $10,000
fine entrance fee.
One of the Hawaiian stories as to how Molokini was formed is a pretty common theme in mythology, jealousy.
Molokini was a woman who was at odds with the fire goddess, Pele. They were going after the same man and so Pele cut her in half and threw half of her out into the ocean. Molokini's head stayed on Maui and became what is now known as Pu'u Olai, which is the cinder cone that is the nearest land mass and can be seen from the crater, right next to Big Beach and Makena.
How's that for a squabble?
Don't mess with a fire goddess.
Types of Fish
Molokini is home to over 200 species of marine life.
Wait, is Molokini a marine Sanctuary or a Bird sanctuary?
Areas of Crater
Over the years, people have coined names for the various places within the crater. Some say certain spots are better than others, but the fact of the matter is… fish swim. You're not going to go snorkelling and expect to find that certain fish in that same spot all the time.
They're foraging and living life.
That being said, here are the different coined spots at Molokini Crater.
Reef's End, Mid Reef, Enenui, Tako Flats, Shark Condos, Flying Sea Cliffs, Back Side, Edge of the World
How Deep is the Crater?
It ranges anywhere from 10 feet to 200 feet, depending on where you are.
How to get to Molokini Crater?
Thinking about buying a boat? They say the two best days of a man's life is the day he buys a boat and the day he sells it.
B.O.A.T. stands for Busting Out Another Thousand. Boats are expensive and it's not just the buying part. Upkeep, maintenance and fixing whatever breaks (which something always is) gets real costly, real fast.
So it's good to have friends with a boat, not so much to own them.
You can either get to Molokini by going out on a holo holo with a friend (non-paying charter) or you can go on a charter boat, which there are plenty of. There are a restricted amount of boats that have a commercial use permit but they're easy enough to find. Unless it's a really busy season, chances are you can find a tour boat that can take you out there.
It really comes down to, what kind of day do you want to have on the water. Read more for our thoughts.
Best Molokini Snorkel Tours
People have said, would you rather be on a Naval Battleship or a row boat?
Given Molokini's history, you probably don't want to be on the next closest thing to a battleship in that area ;).
In our experience, the smaller your boat is, the better the trip. Some boats leaving the nearest harbor, Maalaea harbor, are certified by the US Coast Guard to carry 149 paying passengers and some of those boats will pack that many people on.
Just because the Coast Guard deems it safe to carry that amount of people, doesn't mean that you should.
There are other boats that are certified for a certain number and then they cap their passenger count to less or half that amount to make it a more comfortable trip for their passengers. You may or may not pay a little more for that, but the little that you might pay more is totally worth it in for comfort.
As a quick overview and general rule of thumb, here's a list of boats going from least passenger count to most:
Generally carry less than or around 10 – 20 passengers.
Anywhere between 4 – 40 passengers
Medium Sized Catamarans
Anwhere between 20 – 60
Between 40 – 100
Hoo, mama! 50 – 150
Commercial Boats only?
When Molokini was becoming a popular destination over 30 to 40 years ago, the state of Hawaii wanted to keep it preserved for the future. Because of this, instated the commercial day use permits so that if someone or a company was profiting from the trip out to the crater islet, they would need to have a commercial permit.
This would restrict the number of boats heading that way and, in turn, help preserve the marine life at Molokini.
Contrary to popular belief though, this restriction is only for commercial vessels. If you have your own boat or know someone who you don't have to pay to take you there, you can use the moorings at Molokini.
You still aren't allowed on the islet (without proper permission from the US Coast Guard and the State of Hawaii) but you can head out there and snorkel without having to be on a boat full of strangers.
However, a boat full of strangers can become friends pretty quickly. It's not much different than being on an island in the middle of the ocean.
Changes to Moorings in 2019
As of 2019, the state is in the process of removing half of the moorings in hopes to preserve the marine life at Molokini Crater.
There are around 20 active commercial Molokini day use permits and with many of those boats certified by the US Coast Guard to carry up to almost 150 paying passengers, there could be as many as 20 * 150 = 3000 people at Molokini Crater at any given point (sorry for the math lesson, especially if you're already on vacation at this point)!
That's likely a rarer occasion to have all of those people there, but the point is still clear: Molokini, being the popular spot that it is, gets a lot of traffic.
More people means more chances the marine life at the crater could be disturbed. Whether it's people touching the marine life like coral (don't) or fish (also don't, but good luck with that anyway. They're fast), improper human intervention with wildlife can be a destructive and bad thing.
What's the Weather at Molokini like?
Usually pretty great. That part of the island doesn't typically encounter too many storms and it's usually blue skies. As the day goes on, the trade winds pick up and it does get windier which is one reason why most of the snorkel charters happen in the morning hours.
One thing that's 99% consistent is the clarity of the water at Molokini.
Does Molokini have sharks?
White Tip Reef sharks on a good day.
Whale Sharks on the best day!
The ones you would be worried about don't typically come out to Molokini. Maui's Tiger Sharks are the ones you hear about when there's an attack but attacks don't happen often.
And given that one, maybe two, shark attacks happen every year and that there are roughly 2.6 million visitors yearly, not counting Maui's resident population, there's a 1 in 2.5 million chance that you will be bothered by a tiger shark.
Does Molokini have Turtles?
Short answer, no.