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By the time I arrived in Hawaii I was so desperate to be back in the water it was a feeling akin to homesickness. I hadn’t been diving in four months, which suddenly felt like four years. I couldn’t wait to strap on a tank and descend below the surface.

On my previous trips to the islands I dived Oahu, Lana’i, and The Big Island, but Maui eluded me. This time, that would change. Pulling in to the Kihei boat launch, I was warmly waved over by my dive guide Warren and boat captain Andy. I had heard rave reviews of from friends on the island and hoped they’d live up to the hype. As the boat was lowered into the water I chatted to my two fellow divers, who I liked immediately. We loaded onto the boat and with hopes high, I asked where we were headed (dive sites are decided on the day and depend on the conditions and experience levels and preferences of the divers).

I was holding my breath for a certain answer — the back side of Molokini Crater. Unfortunately, that site is fairly advanced and my two fellow divers for the day were recently certified. Instead, we’d check out the calmer and more sheltered waters of the inside of the crater, or more specifically, Mid Reef Molokini.

While Warren assisted the other two divers in descending, he gave me the ok to drop to the bottom and wait for them there. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a familiar fin flicking not far away. Curious, I approached the small cave and found a pair of beady eyes staring back at me — a white tip reef shark. As I peered in the cave. I sensed movement behind me and dodged just in time to allow another white tip to swerve past me into the cave. Though I know white tips are totally harmless, my heart beat a bit faster.

Soon after, my heart sunk as I realized every underwater photographer’s worst nightmare — camera malfunction. I wasn’t sure what exactly was going wrong but my camera was going a bit haywire. It shot video every time I tried to release the shutter, half my shots were out of focus, and the color balance was wildly off and appeared to be uncorrectable.

Having just replaced the camera in my underwater setup, I was not pleased, but I tried to focus on enjoying the dive nonetheless.

Not long into the dive, one of the divers in our group ran low on air, not surprising considering it was one of his first open water dives. Fully expecting to have to ascend as a group, I was beyond pleased when Warren brought the other two divers up the line for  a safety stop and then rejoined me so we could complete our dive.

And those were the best fifteen minutes of the whole thing. The highlight was an interaction I unfortunately didn’t capture with my camera. I watched intrigued as a large jack appeared to be attacking an eel, and then my regulator almost fell out of my mouth as the eel appeared to chase the jack away, free swimming out of its hole! Later Warren explained the behavior, which I had wildly misinterpreted, was the jack and the eel hunting together. That was an even cooler explanation than I could have imagined, and I was so glad I had a guide switched on enough to explain the mysteries of Maui diving.

scuba selfie!

With our last few moments in Molokini, I returned to where I had began: in the shark cove. I took as many photos as I dared before considering that maybe shoving my lens into a shark’s hangout wasn’t the brightest idea I’ve ever had and retracted my outstretched arm.

Having maxed out at just 75 feet, we still decided to move to slightly shallower waters for our second dive. This one was to a site I had never heard of, Pu’u Olai, though when I repeated the name later to another diving enthusiast she clapped her hands in excitement for me. It was easy to see why. Pu’u Olai blew me away.

During the surface interval I had taken my camera out of its housing and messed around with it, unable to find what had caused it to malfunction throughout the first dive. It too must have sensed that the second dive was not to be missed, because from the first photo, it cooperated completely.

This would be one to remember. Oversized jacks, a giant frogfish, and a stately sea turtle all graced us with their presence moments into the dive.

With a maximum depth of 55ft, the dive site had fabulous visibility and great light, resulting in bright and bold colors everywhere we turned our masks.

On this dive, I was treated to several first time sightings of species I had to file away to ask Warren about back on the boat. The first, he would later identify as a , shown below left. It was just about two inches long and the way it anxiously darted around the reef won my affections immediately.

Another underwater discovery that had me scratching my head? A pulsing pile of , a sight so strange I wondered if I was hallucinating.

I also delighted in finding a new variety of an old friend — a . Or as I like to refer to them, underwater aliens.

And along with all the amazing new attention getters were the familiar favorites — wide-mouthed eels, colorful sea stars, and intricately patterned shells.

And diving in Hawaii wouldn’t be diving in Hawaii without a turtle or two. Or in our case, I think up to five in this one little dive.

Don’t worry — the above is only an optical illusion. No turtles were smooched in the making of those images.

a poor turtle suffering from a serious fungus

I just marveled over and over at how many exotic creatures we managed to meet on one tank. The icing on the cake? Our final find of the dive, a baby frog fish no longer than an inch.

Tell me that isn’t a morning worth throwing up a shaka for. Scuba enthusiasts, do not miss Pu’u Olai when you come to Maui.

My Maui friends were right — I couldn’t have been happier with Mike Severns. Thus far I have a perfect record of adoring every single dive operator I’ve used in the Hawaiian islands, and I’ve noticed something several have in common: baked goods on the boat. Yes, these guys have fresh baked cinnamon rolls and cookies on board for us. A+, Captain Andy, A+.

And I really can’t say enough about my dive guide Warren. He handled the different experience levels in our group effortlessly and truly impressed with me with his breadth of knowledge about the creatures calling Maui home.

Which of these amazing creatures would you be most excited to see under the sea?

. . . . . . . .

Many thanks to the Maui Visitors Bureau and to Mike Severns for hosting me and showing me so much aloha. As always, you receive my honest opinions regardless of who is footing the bill.

. . . . . . . .

Curious about my underwater photography setup? Check out my Obsessions page for information on my camera gear, editing programs and more.

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95 Comments...
  • Bethany Dickey
    July 22 2014

    These pictures are incredible! I’d love to try scuba diving but I’m TERRIFIED of water – I’ve managed to snorkel a ton down south but it’s still so so scary…not sure if I could ever dive!
    Bethany Dickey recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 23 2014

      I believe in you, Bethany! 🙂 I used to be terrified of the ocean as well, and look at me now! All you need is the right instructor.

  • how big are those sharks? it’s hard to tell. I always love your underwater photos!
    Rachel of Hippie in Heels recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 23 2014

      They are little guys! Probably just 3 feet? Cuties! 🙂

  • Kristin Addis
    July 22 2014

    I’ve been wanting to check out the diving in Hawaii for a while now. I’ve only dived in SE Asia and Belize so far. Looks like you got a really good sampling of awesome sightings! That nudibranch is incredible. Those are always my favorite things to see, which some of my dive masters laugh at, but I always think they’re the one thing that changes the most.
    Kristin Addis recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 23 2014

      I love them too! There are so many varieties and I always get so excited to see a new one.

  • Bonnie Toth
    July 22 2014

    If I’d known you were going diving with Mike Severns, I’d have put you in touch with Pauline Fiene, a member of the Women Divers Hall of Fame!

    Pauline Fiene, 2009
    Pauline Fiene, a marine biologist with over 8,700 dives, has studied Hawaiian marine life for twenty-seven years, discovering over 60 new species of opisthobranchs, two of which have been named for her. Through detailed annual monitoring she discovered the spawning pattern of Hawaii’s most abundant species of coral – the first time spawning had been determined for this species worldwide – and now offers trips for divers to see this rare daylight spawning event. She is coauthor of several books including Molokini – Hawaii’s Island Marine Sanctuary; and Diving Hawaii and Midway; and with Cory Pittman published the comprehensive Hawaiian nudibranch website, covering over 500 species of Hawaiian sea slugs.

    • Meihoukai
      July 23 2014

      I have heard of Pauline, but I didn’t realize she was a WDHOF member! Okay, I’ve learned my lesson — I’m going to email you before I dive anywhere 🙂

    • Pauline Fiene
      July 24 2014

      That’s OK, Bonnie. Mike Severns Diving is the company that I own and operate! 🙂 And although I’m on the boat 3 days a week, I wasn’t on the boat that day unfortunately….

      • Meihoukai
        July 28 2014

        Hi Pauline! I knew you owned the company because both Kyle and Wendy raved about you 🙂 I thought from Bonnie’s comment that she knew as well. I would love to meet you on my inevitable return to Hawaii!

  • Maddy
    July 22 2014

    The little frog fish is so kuhhyeeewwwwtttt!

    I’m still a little too nervy to try full on diving but I definitely plan on snorkeling when I go to the big H-I! 🙂 Your pictures always inspire me to want to do more water things!
    Maddy recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 23 2014

      The snorkeling in Hawaii is phenomenal! I bet you’ll leave looking into PADI courses 🙂

  • Rekha Devarapalli
    July 22 2014

    Hey Meihoukai,

    I have never heard of gold lace nudibranch before, but it looks so exotic and so very pretty and I would love to see it some day! Even frogfishes are fascinating creatures 🙂

    Cheers,
    Rekha
    Rekha Devarapalli recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 23 2014

      I love them all! I look at those crazy creatures and just think… who made these?! They are wild!

  • Amanda
    July 22 2014

    Meihoukai these photos are GORGEOUS! Great job 🙂 Love the first shot from the second dive; totally jealous of that awesome nudibranch; yay so many turtles! I’m assuming it’s way way more expensive than SE Asia, but how much does diving cost in Hawaii?

    • Meihoukai
      July 23 2014

      Thank you Amanda! A two tank dive with Mike Severns is $139, not including gear. If I recall correctly diving in the Big Island was $116 for two dives but we had our own gear and a professional discount, so probably around the same. It’s pricey for sure, but I think the quality of the companies and dive sites is accordingly high.

  • becky hutner
    July 22 2014

    ok, you might be winning me over on this diving thing. hmmm…gonna do a few more rounds of snorkeling in the med this fall & see how i feel.
    becky hutner recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 23 2014

      Ooooo where are you going in the Med?! (Sorry if you’ve told me already!)

      • becky hutner
        July 23 2014

        No I haven’t told you! Southern Spain & actually Malta is on the table! Between that & Hawaii, I feel like I’m chasing your tail.
        becky hutner recently posted..

        • Meihoukai
          July 23 2014

          NOT A BAD TAIL TO CHASE. Budum-chhhhh! (That’s my phonetic interpretation of that drum noise people make when they say something funny, can you tell?) Sounds like an awesome trip!

          • becky hutner
            July 23 2014

            i’m super excited. i actually checked out your ibiza guide in prep. from when you were just a little alex in wanderland.

            and i totally got the drum noise. might steal it too!
            becky hutner recently posted..

  • Fiona
    July 22 2014

    Damn you. I read this post and have lost 90mins to googling diving in Europe and in Ireland (was contemplating braving the cold water because I can’t get away anytime soon:( )And now googling Divemaster courses and buying dive equipment and underwater housings.

    Note to self, do not read Meihoukai’s diving posts, will induce bouts of envy
    Fiona recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 23 2014

      Will induce bouts of wanderlust, more like 🙂 I love to hear it!

  • Shaun
    July 22 2014

    Excellent pics on this dive! That camera learned its lesson somehow. Crazy eel picture! The baby frogfish looks like it was coloured in with a highlighter! The black and white shell looks like it has a palm tree on it.

    Diving and cookies sounds like an awesome combo!
    Shaun recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 23 2014

      Seriously. And on my dive boat on the Big Island they had brownies, goldfish crackers, hot chocolate and cup noodle! (It was a night dive.) YUM!

  • Katie
    July 22 2014

    That first frog fish is huge! But the that little baby – how freaking cute! I’m still holding out for seeing a sea turtle in the wild – why do they hate me? I love your nudibranch shots too – whenever I try to get closeups they always blurs. Fingers crossed my new toy (a gopro) will do better! Awesome shots, as always!
    Katie recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 23 2014

      Ha, they don’t hate you — they are just waiting for the right moment! Good luck with the GoPro, and consider investing in a red filter!

  • Shaz Lake
    July 22 2014

    I love the colours! I’ve always been terrified of diving, but I’m thinking I’m going to face my fear and get my PADI while I’m in the Galapagos. Everyone says its the best place to dive so I figure I might as well give it a go. I love the water and sea creatures, it’s just the whole breathing under water thing that gets me. Maybe once I understand what’s happening and feel in control I’ll be more comfortable with it.
    Shaz Lake recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 23 2014

      Hmmm… I don’t want to discourage you but from what I have heard the diving in the Galapagos is super advanced — I’m not sure it’s the best place to learn! Maybe I’m misinformed but do look into it, I would hate for someone to be turned off diving because they got started in the wrong place!

      • Shaz Lake
        July 24 2014

        They have many very advanced dive sites but quite a few that are suitable for beginners as well.
        Shaz Lake recently posted..

        • Meihoukai
          July 28 2014

          Oh, good to hear! Well let us know how it goes and good luck! 🙂

  • You’re such a great underwater photographer. Absolutely amazing shots!

    • Meihoukai
      July 23 2014

      Thanks Miriam! I truly treasure that compliment 🙂

  • Thanks for the diving fix! I loved reading this post and felt like I was right there along with you.
    Danielle @ The-Lifestyle-Project recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 23 2014

      Thanks Danielle! That’s a great compliment for a writer to hear. Hope I can bring you all along on more dives soon…

  • Justine
    July 22 2014

    Where do I start!? The white tip reef sharks would have startled me but given that they are harmless I think it would have been so cool to see them in their little cove! I’ve never seen anything like that little frog fish. What an odd creature! And of course, turtles always take my breath away. How harmful is that fungus? Will it ever go away naturally or will it just get worse?
    Justine recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 23 2014

      I know that Warren told me all about the fungus situation…. and I also know that I promptly forgot it 🙁 From what I recall it was very harmful and there was sadly no hope of recovery.

  • Petra
    July 22 2014

    Wow… this is incredible!!! The visibility is so amazing. I definitely have Hawaii on my diving bucket list now! I’m going diving in Cozumel for the first time soon, can’t wait!
    Petra recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 23 2014

      Nice! I haven’t been to Mexico yet, but it is very much on my list, mostly because of the diving (and the food). Enjoy!

  • Ashley
    July 22 2014

    Love the turtle photos! And that baby frog fish is so cute!
    Ashley recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 23 2014

      I adored him! Unfortunately I was not able to take him home as a pet…

  • Ayngelina
    July 22 2014

    I’ve been to Maui twice but never scuba diving, I guess it means I have to go back!
    Ayngelina recently posted..

  • Scott
    July 22 2014

    Do you bring all of your dive gear when you travel, or just certain items? What items are “must brings” when you go to a place like Maui, Indonesia, Malta, etc as far as diving goes if you don’t bring everything?

    • Scott
      July 22 2014

      And pS – gorgeous photos as always!

    • Meihoukai
      July 23 2014

      It depends on the trip! Have you read this post? I pretty much always bring my mask, snorkel, and fins if I’m going somewhere with water and try to throw in a wetsuit/rashie too. If I’m diving, I always bring my dive computer. The rest depends on how much diving I’ll do and how light I’m trying to pack! Hope that helps 🙂

  • Janice Stringer
    July 22 2014

    The sharks I would love to encounter but that baby frog fish – well who wouldn’t want to give him a big underwater kiss! He was adorable…
    Janice Stringer recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 23 2014

      It’s funny how something so cute grows up to be something so… not cute. Kind of like some humans, I guess! 😉

  • Leah
    July 22 2014

    Glad your camera didn’t quit on you…beautiful! I’m going to scour your archives for Central America diving recs, I’m planning to make those waters my bitch! It’s been too long! xx
    Leah recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 23 2014

      Hit up Bocas and the Bay Islands for sure! And Coiba if you want a challenge 🙂 If only our Central America travels were overlapping, argh!

  • Karlijn Travels
    July 22 2014

    OK, scuba diving in Hawaii goes on the list! And there I was, thinking four weeks on the Hawaiian Islands next year would be enough 😉
    Karlijn Travels recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 23 2014

      No amount of time in Hawaii is ever enough!

  • Miquel
    July 22 2014

    Wow! Those pictures have me convinced I need to try diving sometime soon.
    Miquel recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 23 2014

      That’s what I love to hear, Miquel! Good luck!

  • Jello
    July 22 2014

    Amazeballs ;))
    Jello recently posted..

  • Diana Edelman
    July 22 2014

    These photos are absolutely magnificent. I know I say over and over again I don’t think I could ever dive, but you are slowly chipping away at that idea. This looks like such an incredible experience!!
    Diana Edelman recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 23 2014

      You are living in the perfect place to learn, girlfriend! Go for it!

  • Yayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy! The best! I died at the frogfish. I just went to Utila for a week and there were many promises of a frogfish but no delivery 🙁 Also, super cute nudi! This looks like some awesome diving…but… what is the water temp? Everyone is in full suits in summer? Eeeep!
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 23 2014

      Okay I had to Google this because I never pay attention to numbers (I seriously sometimes still ask people when looking at the weather app, “So… 70 means like jeans and a t-shirt, right? Or no? Shorts? Sweater?”) But this is what the search engines tell me: Water temperatures on Maui range from about 74 in the winter-82 in the summer. Boom 🙂 Last time I was there I dove in my shortie Swish with a 1mm top layered under and was fine too.

  • Ugh! Beyond jealous of this experience! If you thought being out of the water for 4 months was bad, try 12… that’s pretty much the case for me at this point and I am super depressed, especially as I have no idea when I’ll have the chance to dive again.

    I have to admit, I’m not really interested in visiting Hawaii except, you’ve totally convinced me that a trip would be worth it even if all we did was dive! 🙂
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 23 2014

      Yeah, I’ve been grounded for much longer but I never like it! I don’t know if you recall my early posts but I was soooo “meh” about Hawaii until I went there. It really does win hearts big time. I challenge you not to fall in love 🙂

  • Scuba Dennis
    July 23 2014

    Love your dive posts! Not saying your other posts are bad but when you write about diving they “shine” through somehow.
    Maybe because I’m a diver myself and can’t get enough about anything dive related 🙂 ….. Keep up the good work!
    Scuba Dennis recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 23 2014

      Thanks Dennis! Next dive posts coming to you from Malta. Stay tuned! 🙂

  • The pictures of the sharks are so creepy! I’ve never been diving before but these pictures are enough to make me want to learn how!
    Kendra (the Escapologist) recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 23 2014

      Love to hear that Kendra — I love getting people underwater for the first time 🙂 You should go for it, it might just change your life!

  • Bob Clark
    July 23 2014

    Great post. We are going it Hawaii next year for 21 days and Maui is one of the islands we will visit. We will be looking for several good dive sites while there and photos like these keep me excited about the trip.

    • Meihoukai
      July 23 2014

      That sounds like an awesome trip Bob! Glad to hear you are going for a nice long chunk — though I warn you, you won’t want to leave!

  • I’ve never been scuba diving before but I’d be more than willing to learn for an experience like this one! I can’t get over how many sea creatures you saw!!
    Sara @ The Let’s Go Ladies recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 23 2014

      Go for it Sara! There truly is a whole new world down there for you to explore. I’ve even been diving in Iceland 🙂 (Saw your latest post!)

  • Giselle and Cody
    July 23 2014

    Your diving photos are always so beautiful! We really need to get back in that water!! We also need to get to Hawaii!!

    • Meihoukai
      July 23 2014

      Thanks guys! I don’t think I knew you were divers. We should scuba together someday!

  • Giselle and Cody
    July 23 2014

    That would be fun! We’re brand newbies though. We’ve still only done 4 dives each! We really need to get out there!

  • Your photos are incredible Meihoukai! The images are incredibly sharp. The turtles are my favourite – I snorkelled with turtles for the first time on Maui and loved it 🙂
    Katie @ The World on my Necklace recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 24 2014

      Thanks Katie! There is definitely editing involved 🙂

  • Erika
    July 23 2014

    Beautiful pictures! I have been wanting to learn to dive for a while as my fiancé is certified. This just makes me want to do it more!
    Erika recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 24 2014

      That is my favorite kind of comment to hear on a diving post, Erika! Scuba it up!

  • Mindy & Ligeia
    July 24 2014

    Once again, your photos are spectacular. Particularly magnificent is the one of the sea turtle ascending from the dark depths into the rays of sunlight. Wow!

    • Meihoukai
      July 24 2014

      Thanks guys! When it comes to underwater photography it is practice practice practice… and edit edit edit 🙂

  • TammyOnTheMove
    July 24 2014

    Wow, these sea hares and the Little alien fish look incredible. I have never seen anything like it.
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 28 2014

      They were both new and incredible sightings for me too. Sigh, I just love diving!

  • Christy Vail
    July 24 2014

    Really nice article and pictures! I live and dive here on Maui and I have a choice of dive operators. I’ve been diving with Mike Severns for 25 years and think they’re absolutely the very best.

    • Meihoukai
      July 28 2014

      That’s great to hear, Christy! I will definitely dive with them again when I return.

  • Laura
    July 24 2014

    Such great photos! (We never seem to get the underwater ones quite right) Seeing turtles is always my favorite part of a dive.
    Laura recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 28 2014

      They are such special animals! I’ve always identified with them — in fact, the first iteration of my blog had turtle in the title 🙂

  • Wow, that photo of the sun rays into the water. Stunning! What a beautiful dive!
    Jessica of Curiosity Travels recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      July 28 2014

      Thank you Jessica! It was a special one, I will treasure the memory.

  • Stacy Liebman
    July 25 2014

    Wow! What an amazing dive. There is nothing better than seeing sea turtles while diving. I love you photos of the tiny nudibranches and other exotic sea creatures. You make me want to go for a dive now. It’s been awhile.

    • Meihoukai
      July 28 2014

      Putting these kinds of posts up makes me want to dive right now too! Good thing I’ll be back in the water soon in Santorini 🙂

  • Ron
    July 25 2014

    I enjoyed the post and photos!

    I have observed the coop hunting behavior of an eel and a grouper. It lasted most of a dive so an hour and it was obvious there was cooperation. I spoke to the guide immediately after the dive and he said it is fairly common in Coz. I then observed the behavior in the Keys, again a big green eel and a 5′ grouper. Apparently once the prey is wounded it becomes a free for all.

    I find your images delightful especially when it involves fish or creatures I have not seen like the nudi! Your B&W rendering is effective when you have color issues. Sorry your camera has been having issues.

    • Meihoukai
      July 28 2014

      Wow, I would love to see the hunting behavior more thoroughly someday! Sounds fabulous. And thanks for the photography kudos! Black and white is an underwater photographer’s best friend, especially when there is no strobe involved 🙂

  • Camels & Chocolate
    July 27 2014

    Beautiful photos! If ever we dive together, I expect a full-on Meihoukai in Wanderland underwater photography tutorial 😉
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted..

  • Wendy
    July 29 2014

    Baby frogfish?! I’m so jealous! I’ve never seen a baby before. I’m going to have to sign up again soon.

    • Meihoukai
      July 30 2014

      This was actually my second… I also saw one earlier this year in Isla de Coiba in Panama! I can’t believe how lucky I’ve been. They are adorable!