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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?

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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.

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

  • 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!
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    • 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!
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