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Going Coastal: Rafting Maui's Kanaio Coast and Molokini Islet

I’m seven minutes into the wildest, fastest and wettest open-ocean ride I’ve ever taken when the inflatable raft I’m in smacks head on into an oncoming wave and goes airborne.

I’ve been told this would happen. In fact, I’ve actually been told by one of my guides that if we were fortunate this will happen several times on the tempestuous waters of the Alenuihaha Channel, which separates Maui and the Big Island. Reason No. 1 that, instead of screaming in terror seconds later as the raft’s bottom lands with a solid thwack on the crest of another wave, sending seaspray into my face, I’m screaming in exultation.

“Time of your life, kid,” I tell myself. “Time of your life.”

Sunrise over Haleakala volcano.

Blue Water Rafting offers several snorkeling and open-ocean adventures off the southwest Maui coast for folks “adventurous in spirit” (their words, not mine). But I’d long wanted a seat on the one I was on: a six-hour tour of Maui’s rugged, remote Kanaio Coast, with snorkeling off the even-more-remote back wall of offshore Molokini islet.

Blue Water, I’d been told, was the only Maui ocean activity company with the nimble, limited-passenger-count watercraft sturdy enough to comfortably take on the waters off both sites. I was also anxious to cross off the Kanaio Coast from a “10 Hawai‘i Places You Haven’t Been to Yet” list I’d compiled for HAWAI‘I Magazine last year.

Rounding Puu Olai at Makena.

Stretching a dozen-plus miles along Maui’s isolated, uninhabited southernmost tip, the Kanaio Coast’s most impressive features are virtually impossible to see from land. Views of Haleakala volcano’s arid south flank, with fingers of hardened lava flows stretching from upslope cinder cones to the sea. Sea caves, sea arches and wave-tossed bays crafted by the violent meeting of molten lava and cool seawater only three centuries ago, during Maui’s last eruptive phase. 

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