Hawaii: A Diver's Paradise - Page 2

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Garden Isle
Known as the Garden Isle, Kauai should change its name to Hollywood's Preferred Backlot. It seems every inch of this lush island has appeared in a TV show or movie. Perhaps its two most famous natural features are the indescribable and awe-inspiring Na Pali Coast and the spectacular Waimea Canyon. In between are about a zillion waterfalls and the wettest spot on earth, Mount Waialeale. With some of the most memorable scenery on the planet, it's a mecca for hikers, mountain bikers, producers, adventurous types and, of course, divers.

The holy grail of diving in Hawaii, about a 45-minute boat ride away, comes with the menacing moniker the “Forbidden Island,” Ni'ihau. At sites like Ni'ihau Arches and Lehua Rock, divers frequently encounter endangered monk seals, eagle rays and blacktip reef sharks, as well as a busy metropolis of marinelife, from huge schools of pennant, pyramid and milletseed butterflyfish to hawkfish, octopus and even rare morwongs.

Off Kauai, most of the diving is centered around Poipu Beach. Here you're (almost certainly) guaranteed to encounter green sea turtles, often by the dozen. Sheraton Caverns lays claim to being the unofficial local hangout for these fascinating marine creatures. But they're not the only attraction. You'll also find loads of bluestripe snapper, whitetips and, for the observant, stunning nudibranchs, tiger cowries, leaffish, turkeyfish, triton trumpet shells (they'll eat a crown-of-thorns starfish out of your hand) and 7-11 crabs.

The Magic Isle
From the “House of the Sun,” Mount Haleakala, through the remarkable beauty of the Hana Road, and offshore to the one-of-a-kind diving off Molokini Crater, Maui features a complete set of the elements that define paradise. Still relatively unfettered by mass  tourism, Maui revels in its pastoral charms, especially in the Upcountry of East Maui, where you'll find horse ranches, goat and lavender farms, stunning scenery and even a winery – but it's not without its share of top eateries and luxury resorts.

Maui is also considered to have the greatest variety of diving in the Hawaiian Islands. Abundant sea turtles and sharks, and huge numbers of fish, define the underwater landscape here. Humpback whales crowd the sea during their birthing season, often causing roadblocks with their nearshore leaps. Diving the island of Molokai is like descending into a Wild West shootout – thrilling, unpredictable, seat-of-your-pants kind of diving. During most dives, lemon butterfly fish accompany divers like bright yellow leaves in an autumn wind. And the night diving here is modestly described as spectacular. Spanish dancer nudibranchs often take off like magic carpets during night dives, while eels, cowries, slipper and bull's-eye lobsters and a host of other nocturnal denizens will keep your dive light humming. There are new sites being discovered all the time.

Almost a second home for Maui divers is the nearby island of Lanai, which seems to exist solely for the pleasure of divers. Here you'll find the world-famous lava domes of First and Second Cathedral, where shafts of light pierce the caverns like a thousand radiant swords. Beyond that is an incredible diversity of dive sites, in which a great variety of marine creatures play out their lives around this diver's playground. The site called Pyramids gets its name from the sheer number of pyramid butterflyfish that flit around the top of the pinnacle. At another site, Fish Rock, menpachi, pipefish, viper moray, large cowries and whitetips headline a Hawaiian who's who list that will have you poring over ID books for hours after a day of diving – and that's just on the reef. Look to the blue and you'll have a good chance of seeing spotted eagle rays, manta rays and passing sharks, and from November to May, perhaps even humpback whales.

For more information check out www.visitmaui.com or call 800-525-MAUI.

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Best Hotels in Hawaii

$995
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Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea
$453
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Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa
$479
Average/night*
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Trump International Hotel Waikiki Beach Walk
$389
Average/night*
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Koa Kea Hotel and Resort

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