Once upon a time, perhaps on a day like today, molten lava free-flowed into the waters of the Pacific. For the briefest of moments, the two liquids coexisted in a hissing, roiling mass, until the lava solidified and rose above the waves, forming an isolated island whose violent birth gave way, in time, to the world's collective dream of tropical perfection.
The legacy of that time of fire and upheaval remains: pinnacles with plummeting walls whose deep-fissured sides provide perfect dens for a whitetip shark's afternoon siesta. Places like Never-Never Land, whose pinnacle begins at 100 feet. Places that divers long for.
Next time you're in Maui, peel away on Dive Maui's super-fast Zodiac across the Auau Channel to isolated Lanai, where a collection of fish-packed pinnacle walls and abundant marine life, including the rare and endemic species that are hallmarks of Hawaii's isolation, amazes divers.
When you spot the massive shark fin thrusting skyward through the blue water, you've almost reached your first dive site. Shark Fin Rock is a sheer pinnacle slicing through the water's surface like its pelagic namesake. Topside, it faces the tallest cliffs on Lanai the same ones from which ESPN broadcasts the thrilling high-dive competition. Finally, it's your turn to freefall down the huge fin to 100 feet. Then work your way along the wall, gradually ascending until you reach a lava tube at 25 feet. Along the way, investigate the endless cleaning stations where rainbow wrasses and big schools of pink and purple bicolor anthias converge in bursts of color.
Expect tons of angelfish endemic to Hawaii, including the small, disc-shaped blue and orange striped potter's angelfish, which is always close to protective coral and crevices. If you're having a hard time recalling fish names while blowing bubbles, you're certain to get this one right: The bandit angelfish has a black stripe that masks its eyes and runs the length of its body. The bandit also shows up 500 yards away, at the next site, Lighthouse Point, at the southernmost tip of the island.
This wall, sheer from the surface to 60 feet, is laced with lava-tube dens for sleeping whitetip sharks. Apparently, the whitetip escaped the sleep-and-die curse of its pelagic cousins; it snuggles up in dark corners by day to recharge for its nightly hunts. Along the wall you'll see big schools of pennant butterflyfish, octos and tons of eels expect to see three or four species on every dive. As you work your way around the shark-fin tipped pinnacle, the bottom vanishes to a purported several thousand feet. But it's time to start thinking about off-gassing.
Maui offers the best of Hawaii rolled into one destination there's something for everyone. You can serenely watch the sun rise from the 10,023-foot peak of Haleakala Volcano and then pump your veins with adrenaline by cycling back down. Beginners and thrill-seekers alike surf Maui's waves, and anyone can explore the singular hush of the bamboo forest. You'll always be pulled in two directions, but be sure to give in to the urge to go deep and head back to Lanai for Monolith and Second Cathedral both are just a tad closer to Maui.
Monolith is a miniature underwater volcano. Here, you swim across a plateau the size of a football field at 35 feet, then drop over the edge it's a sheer wall down to 95 feet. Slow down at the giant red gorgonian to look for its resident longnose hawkfish, and watch for the yellow-margined eel that sticks straight out three or four feet from the wall. His name is Stretch and he's always tended by a handful of banded coral shrimp who keep him primped and preened. Assuming you're a PADI Advanced Diver, leave the security of the wall and cross a broad sandy patch where a thousand garden eels will bow down to you.
When you've reached the next pinnacle its peak at 100 feet you're at Never-Never Land. The purpose of this segue isn't to dip your fin into forbidden land, but rather to see the school of rare fairy anthias. There are six or eight males with long red pectoral fins and 30 to 40 females, yellow with fuchsia. Sighting even one is part of the critter hunt on the next dive, renowned Second Cathedral.
Exploring this giant cavern within an immense pinnacle is like making a night dive during the day. And while your senses will be constantly engaged by the play of light and dark, discovering nudibranchs and pipefish and finding surprises like a fan coral hanging from the ceiling like a chandelier, your inner wall-junkie won't be disappointed. That's because the cavern is bracketed on either side by walls. Pop out on one end at 80 feet if you spot a whitetip at rest or a spotted eagle ray feeding in the sand below. On the other ide, swim through a lava tube and exit onto the wall at 50 feet. Above you is a big red gorgonian fan where juvenile trumpetfish often lurk. Continue up to the nursery at 30 feet where thousands of jewel-toned juveniles, including many species of butterflyfish, completely mask the finger coral.
The viz here is always good at least 100 feet. That comes in handy when you find yourself in the right place at the right time to catch sight of a pod of spinner dolphins rushing en masse out into the blue.