Maui's Kanaio Coast - "Where Man Has Yet to Build a Road"

By Mark Henry

Five hundred years ago the southfacing slope of Haleakala was exploding.

Rivers of molten lava
from fountaining vents rushed to the sea. One of the largest and most recent vents Puu Pimoi is situated 3,000 feet above sea level just below the settlement Kanaio along the back road to Hana.

The quantity of lava from this vent was so great that it pushed its way out into the sea forming new land. The cooling effects of water against hot lava resulted in exquisite patterns and shapes - pinnacles jutting out of the sea, caves, arches, and grottos - art nature created that man has yet to rival.

Polynesian voyagers were the first to settle these shores. For hundreds of years they enjoyed the abundance of the sea. Recent volcanic activity forced them to move, leaving behind ancient heiaus (places of worship) that were spared by Pele.

For years, most maps did not identify the Kanaio Coast, which was inaccessible to most. To date, except for a small number of fishermen and divers who know how plentiful the marine life is there, most Mauians are unfamiliar with the Kanaio Coast.

In 1987, Blue Water Rafting put Kanaio on the maps of the several visitor publications in which it advertised. Today Blue Water Rafting has taken over 80,000 people on a journey back in time to view one of the last uninhabited coastlines on Maui.


Rafting tours to the Kanaio Coast are offered daily departing at 7:00 a.m. On most days the winds come up fairly early in this area so rafters are advised to prepare for an adventurous ride.

Rigid-hulled, twin-powered inflatables are utilized for their seaworthiness and maneuverability around the lava formations.

Under most sea conditions, the largest cave is navigable and the eerie feeling of entering the darkness is indescribable. Inside your eyes adjust to a spectrum of colors from the azure blue water to the pink, beige, and black cave walls.

kanaioDepending on conditions, a variety of sites are available for snorkeling. When winds are light and variable or blowing strong out of the north, Kanaio is the best place for calm clear water.

If trades are out of the east or northeast, La Perouse Bay offers protection from the wind and is one of the favorite hangouts of spinner dolphins. In season, whales abound and sea turtle habitats are a regular snorkeling stop along the South Maui shore.