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

The submerged crater floor of Molokini islet was too popular a snorkeling spot to make our "Places You Haven't Been to Yet" list. But the rarely visited marine-life-filled waters off the towering back wall of the crescent-shaped islet had just missed the list.

The southeast face of Haleakala volcano as we near La Perouse Bay.

Now, a full eight minutes into the ride, I’m screaming again (not alone, I might add) as our boat lifts from the peak of another surly wave into clear blue skies.

A handful of airborne incidences later, we’re heading toward shore into the calm waters of La Perouse Bay. Accessible only from the ocean, or via a rough, unpaved road traversing an old lava flow, the bay is named after the French explorer who first mapped the area in 1786, and is a favorite spot of scuba divers. Its Hawaiian name is Keoneoio Bay.

A pod of spinner dolphins speeds quickly past our raft.

While taking in the unimpeded view of Haleakala, we spot a large pod of spinner dolphins swimming directly toward us. Within seconds, they’re playfully darting around our boat, chasing their breakfast in the windswept bay.

Our driver and lead guide, Dante Prince, warns that we’re bound for the channel again as he throttles up and matches the boat against the current swirling around the Kanaio peninsula. The ride here is even wilder and more airborne than the last, another 15-minute ocean-carving experience with all the thrills of a rollercoaster. (That is, if a rollercoaster actually flew off its rails.) The ocean calms only as we head back toward land again and come right up against the great lava-rock sea wall that is the Kanaio Coast.

Exposed layers of rock along Kanaio Coast.

Exposed layers of the wall rising as high as 75 feet above the ocean surface offer a record of the intensity of lava colliding with ocean—jagged and pockmarked near the top of the flow; possessing the unnaturally angular shape of rows of bent steel bars nearer the water. We spend an hour exploring Kanaio, with Prince expertly piloting the boat so close to the lava wall and a massive sea arch, we can almost touch them. Carefully eyeing waves rolling in and the churn of turquoise water around us, he even gingerly steers the boat into a sea cave. Passenger cheers and the sound of crashing waves echo through the cavern.

The raft pulls in close to the lava rock walls of the coast.

After breakfast and a brief snorkel back at La Perouse Bay, we’re full throttle again—this time across the Alalakeiki Channel, separating Maui and Kahoolawe—bound for Molokini.

“Right now, there are hudreds of people snorkeling at Molokini,” says Prince, of routine charter activity in the islet’s crater. “We’re going to avoid that.”

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Check out these related HawaiiMagazine.com posts:
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