For many Lanaʽi visitors, the word “shotgun” conjures images of skeet shooting in the Koele highlands or hunting the island’s legendary axis deer. For scuba divers, however, mention the words “Lanaʽi” and “shotgun” together in the same sentence, and their mind is transported to a shoulder-width opening at the dive site known as “First Cathedrals.”
When diving First Cathedrals—a gaping, underwater cave that is regarded as one of the best dives in Hawaii—after divers have explored the fish-laden interior and have peered out of the numerous skylights, most elect to exit the cave through the opening known as the Shotgun. With hands gently placed on the edges of the rock window, the inbound current is strong enough to get cheeks flapping and feet flying out behind you. Moments later, the outbound current shoots divers out of the cavern like bullets in a loaded in chamber.
Hence, “the Shotgun.”
Though riding the Shotgun is a thrill unto itself, for those unfamiliar with scuba diving on Lanaʽi, the island is more than just caves and dramatically-named openings. Instead, this remote stretch of coastline is an uncrowded, warm water dive destination which is home to arguably the best diving in Hawaii. Most dives are between 40-75 feet, water temperatures range from 72-80 degrees, and more often than not, you have the dive site all to yourself. While First Cathedrals is by far the most popular site (and is the darling of dive boats which make the trip from neighboring Maui), the island’s rocky, southwestern coastline is riddled with a dozen named dive sites which enjoy 80 ft. visibility during much of the year.
At Second Cathedrals, schools of taʽape congregate by the hundreds, and after having toured the dark chambers inside of the cathedral (which contain a rare sprig of black coral on the ceiling), you can swim with the taʽape outside of the cave in a nebula of yellow and blue. At Kaunalu—a cove which was once the summer retreat of King Kamehameha—camouflaged octopus dart between rocks while pyramid butterfly fish occupy the pinnacle. At the cheekily-named “No Name Paradise,” there’s a chance you could encounter a pod of Hawaiian spinner dolphins, and during the winter months, all dives are accompanied by the captivating soundtrack of migrating humpback whales.
For scuba divers staying on Lanaʽi, rather than make the hour-long trek from Maui, all dive sites are within a 15-minute motor from Lanaʽi’s Manele Harbor. While two-tank dives at offshore dive sites are only available for certified divers, Lanaʽi visitors who are new to the sport can take introductory courses at the protected Hulopoʽe Bay. A shallow bay which is half sand and half coral, before taking to the water, resident instructors will meet you on the beach and talk you through the necessary dive skills beneath the shade of a palm. Once in the water, practice your skills over the sandy bottom before setting out over the open reef on a shallow dive of 30 feet.
Within the confines of the Hulopoʽe marine reserve, red and turquoise parrotfish loudly munch on the coral as schools of convict tang flit about the reef. Keep your eyes peeled for white spotted moray eels, and watch as weke (goatfish) use their telltale whiskers to forage in the sand.
Or, for divers who visit the island with their own gear, tank and weight rentals are available for certified divers who would like to dive on their own.
So whether you’re a lifelong diver searching for mantis shrimp at Monolith, or a nervous first-time diver taking your first few breaths underwater, the scuba diving on Lanaʽi will please all levels of divers and is one of the most popular dive holidays in Hawaii.