Hawaiian Rafting Adventures, Lahaina
As at any secret fortress, the entrance to Second Cathedral is guarded by a menacing sentinel. A stout yellow margin moray eel, mouth agape and riddled with teeth, stands between me and the dive site’s captivating labyrinth of arches, caverns and lava tubes. But I know it’s worth running this gantlet, because what lies beyond is truly mind-blowing. Of all the underwater attractions on offer in the Hawaiian islands — and there are heaps — few are more compelling than the wild volcanic structures to be found beneath the island of Lanai.
Following the fin tips of Capt. Steve Juarez, owner of Hawaiian Rafting Adventures, I drop below a massive arch, passing a billowing black coral only to emerge into a wide rock arena lit by sunlight streaming through the open roof. It’s so stunning that I can’t help but stop and hover a few moments in admiration. As we continue through more arches and into another sunlit cavern, where dozens of shy but brightly colored squirrelfish hide, I wonder if Hawaii diving gets any better. It does. First Cathedral boasts one of the largest lava-tube caverns in Hawaii’s waters. It’s a vast chamber, where the partially collapsed roof invites illumination from what must be 40 feet above. The chunk of volcanic rock that fell creates an eerie, altar-like formation on the floor; behind it a half-dozen smaller but no less brilliant holes in the cavern wall complete a truly heavenly effect. It’s a sight no Maui-bound diver should miss. And it’s one of dozens to which Juarez regularly takes his guests.
With more than 30 years exploring these waters, no one knows how to maximize the buffet of diving on Maui and Lanai better than Juarez. “We always look for the best conditions for the day,” he says of his strategy. “Great visibility, no other dive boat on the site, little or no current, and calm surface conditions, with lots of marine life to show our guests.”
With one of the most capable dive boats on the island — a rugged 37-foot Naiad Inflatable that’s custom-rigged for diving, with padded seat backs, twin stern ladders and ample shade from the strong Hawaiian sun — he can reach sites other operators can’t. And since every day’s schedule is customized to the divers, there’s freedom to linger topside when spinner dolphins or humpback whales appear. Add to that full valet service that includes gear washing, small guided groups, free rental equipment and a full deli lunch on board, and it’s easy to understand why Hawaiian Rafting has so many repeat customers.
“Eighty percent of the divers we take out are repeat divers who love our operation and have become part of our ohana,” or family, Juarez says. “They can’t wait to come back and dive with us again.”
Hawaiian Rafting Adventures/Dive Maui
» PADI Dive Center with PADI instruction to divemaster
» Boats Hoku, max 18 divers; North River Sea Hawk, max six divers
» Guided dives by instructor, 6-to-1 ratio
» Max dive time one hour, or 600 psi
» Gas mix water-cooled nitrox technologies membrane system; trimix and rebreather support
» Gear rentals dive gear, computers and cameras available
» Gear storage overnight storage is available for guests
» Nearest airport Kahului (OGG)
» Amenities custom-built rib dive boat with freshwater hot shower; pros shoot photos on every dive and run a slide show for guests back at the shop while gear is rinsed.
To see the individual write-ups of the other dive operators, click on "Related Articles" below.