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Travel tips and things to do in Maui, Hawaii: Maui’s best wildlife experiences

Humpback whale doing tail slaps with the peaks of Molokai in the background. Photo: iStockSPONSORED ARTICLE
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Maui’s main draw might be its pristine, white sand beaches, but it’s also home to some of Hawaii’s most impressively diverse wildlife. From diving with sharks to horseback riding in upcountry Maui, we’ve rounded up the top wildlife experiences on the island. Swim with turtles

Hawaiian green sea turtles, or Honu, are the pride of the Hawaiian islands and can be frequently spotted in the clear, shallow waters surrounding the island. Though you can certainly sign up for a boat trip to Turtle Town (tour operators like Leilani Maui will take you to swim amongst the turtles in their natural habitat), your best bet for a non-guided swim alongside these beautiful creatures is to take the leap off Black Rock, on the northern end of Kaanapali Beach. In the gentle surf directly below the cliff, you’ll find many turtles basking in the balmy waters (they’ll often crawl up right to the shore, too, though it’s unlawful to actually touch them). Snorkel safari

The richly biodiverse waters that surround Maui teem with over 300 species of colourful native reef fish, in addition to Hawaiian monk seals, dolphins and manta rays. The best way to get a taste of Maui’s colourful underwater universe is via “snorkel safari”—a group snorkeling tour that will take you through some of the island’s most beautiful and populous reefs along the coast. During the safari, you’ll be allowed to stop and hold sea urchins, starfish and sea cucumbers, and swim leisurely among spotted rays and octopus. The Ukumehame Snorkel Safari in West Maui takes you snorkeling through Olowalu, the island’s largest and healthiest offshore reef. Dive with sharks

If snorkeling and swimming with turtles don’t quite offer the adrenaline rush that you’re after, diving into a shark pit might do the trick. Okay, so it’s not an actual shark pit–”Shark Pit” is the name given to the dive spot at the south end of Lahaina—but it is the hangout of many white-tip reef sharks during the daytime. Averaging at just under two meters in length, white-tips aren’t nearly as intimidating as a Great White or hammerhead, but they’re certainly not friendly-looking, either—so keep your distance, even though they’re rarely aggressive towards humans. If you’re not an experienced diver, it’s best to go accompanied by a professional from a diver operator like Lahaina Divers (who’ll even take you to hammerhead dive sites further out, if you’re game). Horseback riding in upcountry Maui

Though Maui’s better known for its sea life, there are plenty of animal adventures to be had on land as well. At Piiholo Ranch in upcountry Maui, you can ride horses alongside real life Hawaiian cowboys (paniolo) in Maui’s wide-open upland fields. Don’t miss the Makawao Rodeo, held every fourth of July, where you can watch calf roping and traditional bareback bronco riding competitions. Whale watching

Every year from December through May, North Pacific humpback whales migrate to the tropical seas surrounding Hawaii, drawn particularly to Maui’s warm, shallow waters. The best whale watching usually happens off the coast of Lahaina, which was the Pacific’s most significant whaling port during the 18th century, but you can spot many whales from the beaches of Kaanapali, Kihei and Wailea. If you want to see whales surface up close, it’s best to invest in a guided cruise (the glass-bottomed Pride of Maui is one of the best out there and guarantees whale sightings or your money back), or whale watch from a SUP or kayak. Bottom fishing

If you’d rather catch fish than swim amongst them, Maui’s the place for you, too: the warm waters surrounding the island teem with fat, delicious snapper, amberjack, and Hawaiian salmon, among many other kinds of fish. The best way to fish on Maui is via a leisurely bottom fishing charter, which allows you to keep (and eat!) your catch, or on a longer sport fishing charter for the more serious fisherman. Operators like Fish Maui offer both at competitive rates, with the option of joining a share boat or having your own private charter.

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