Although scientists haven’t been able to pinpoint the exact date, Maui’s last lava flow probably spilled down to the sea here between AD 1480 and 1600, shaping ʻAhihi Bay and Cape Kinaʻu. Today, the jagged lava coastline and the pristine waters fringing it have been designated a reserve because of its unique marine habitat. Thanks in part to the prohibition on fishing here, the snorkeling is incredible but getting overcrowded. Consider coming for just the scenic drive. Obey all regulations and respect the fragile surroundings.
A few snorkelers head to the little roadside cove 175yd south of the first reserve sign – granted, it offers good snorkeling, but there is a better option. Instead, drive 350yd past the cove and look for a large clearing on the right. Park here and follow the coastal footpath south for five minutes to a black-sand beach with fantastic coral and clear water. Although this area, known informally as The Dumps, used to attract few visitors, the secret is out. Get here well before 9am to nab a decent parking spot – and maybe some solitude. The area now attracts up to 500 people per day.
To snorkel, enter the water from the left side of the beach, where access is easy and recommended by reserve officials. Look for the 'fish' signpost, which marks the entrance point. Snorkel in a northerly direction and you’ll immediately be over coral gardens teeming with an amazing variety of fish. Huge rainbow parrotfish abound here, and it’s not unusual to see turtles and the occasional reef shark.
A ranger has been on site at The Dumps parking area recently reminding snorkelers to check their sunscreens before entering the water here. Many suntan lotions contain ingredients that are fatal to reefs. Zinc and titanium oxide are safe.
Large sections of the 1238-acre reserve are closed to visitors until July 31, 2018, which will allow the Department of Land and Resource Management (www.dlnr.hawaii.gov) to protect the fragile environment from tourist wear-and-tear and to develop a long-term protection plan. Visitation in the open areas is still permitted between 5:30am and 7:30pm.