Scuba diving the Lanai Cathedrals in Maui, Hawaii

Jun 17, 2023

The tropical island of Maui, Hawaii boasts stunning beaches, waterfalls, and flowering botanicals whose beauty is only rivaled by their underwater landscapes. 

The Cathedrals, a bucket list scuba diving site, is situated between the islands of Maui and Lanai. It’s an unreal dive that features striking lava rock formations, really fun swim-throughs, and vibrant, healthy marine life. Humpback whales singing? Check. Hawaiian spinner dolphins? Check. Sharks and rays? Check!

In this guide to scuba diving the Lanai Cathedrals, we’ll explore the physical specs of scuba diving at the Cathedrals, including depth, currents, and visibility. We’ll also talk about the diverse, mesmerizing marine life at the Cathedrals, from colorful tropical fish to glowing, alien invertebrates to megafauna like whales and dolphins!

What are the Lanai Cathedrals and why are they special?

Lanai’s Cathedrals formed thousands of years ago when lava flowed into the ocean, forming expansive caverns on the ocean floor. 

Over time, bits of lava rock have fallen from the top and sides of the Cathedrals allowing the bright Hawaiian sun to shine through, illuminating the caverns and highlighting rainbow colors in the turquoise water. The bright, well-lit chambers are large, ~30 feet tall, and have several entry and exit points.

One of the highlights of the Lanai Cathedrals was in the Second Cathedral.

The cavern’s side chamber has a rare black coral formation that hangs like a chandelier from the ceiling above you. The colorful coral lined gaps in the cavern’s ceiling creates a stained glass effect inside the chamber, which you can revel in until you exit through a lava shoot (probably accompanied by bandit angelfish!).

Diving the Lanai Cathedrals in Maui: The dive site

The Lanai Cathedrals is a fantastic open ocean and cavern dive site great for beginner and advanced divers. 

Lanai Cathedrals dive depth

The Cathedrals dive site, located off the western coast of Maui, is best suited for intermediate to advanced divers due to its depth and occasional strong currents. The depth of the site ranges from 30 to 75 feet.

Lanai Cathedrals visibility 

Visibility at the Cathedrals is generally excellent, ranging from 80 to 100 feet (24 to 30 meters) on clear days, allowing divers to fully appreciate the vibrant marine life and the impressive rock formations that make this site unique. Vis can vary depending on weather conditions, so be sure to check with local dive operators for up-to-date information.

Lanai Cathedrals currents

Currents at the Cathedrals can be moderate to strong, particularly during tidal changes. Your dive shop should plan dives accordingly and consider the strength and direction of the current. It’s a good idea for divers to be comfortable with drift diving techniques to maintain control while underwater.

Marine life at the Cathedrals

The Cathedrals ecosystem is teeming with a diverse array of marine life. As you descend into the clear waters, you’ll be greeted by a kaleidoscope of tropical fish like yellow tangs, Moorish idols, and parrotfish darting in and out of the coral formations.

One of the highlights of diving at the Cathedrals is seeing tons of green sea turtles! Green sea turtles are common in Maui, and the Cathedrals provide an ideal habitat for them. I even saw a hawksbill sea turtle during my ascent! Most often, you’ll catch sight of them gliding effortlessly through the open water or resting on coral ledges.

The Cathedrals are also home to an abundance of fascinating invertebrates. Keep an eye out for the ever-curious octopuses as they camouflage themselves among the rocks and crevices. If you’re lucky, you might witness their incredible displays of color and shape-shifting abilities.

As you explore the nooks and crannies of the Cathedrals’ underwater caves, you’ll see delicate sea fans and corals adorning the walls, along with SO many cool nudibranchs!

The Cathedrals are also home to larger marine species, like eagle rays and reef sharks. You may be lucky enough to see a pod of Hawaiian spinner dolphins, usually made of hundreds or thousands of individuals, swimming overhead like I did (yes, I cried into my mask!). During the winter months, from December to April, the Cathedrals become even more enchanting as humpback whales migrate to the warm Hawaiian waters. Hearing humpback whale song under water was one of the best parts of my dive!

Which dive shop should I go out with in Maui?

While I was in Maui, I did several days of diving with the Dive Maui dive shop. I did a couple of shore dives at Mala Wharf (the MOST sea turtles I’ve ever seen, swooping in and out of a cleaning station) and my dives at the Cathedrals.

I can’t recommend Dive Maui enough! The trip was super organized, the dive briefing was thorough, they followed dive safety rules to the letter, all the equipment I needed to rent was in tip top shape, and all of the dive masters were really knowledgable and fun! Check out their IG here.

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