Molokini is a crescent-shaped, partially submerged volcanic crater which forms a small, uninhabited islet located in Alalakeiki Channel between the islands of Maui and Kahoʻolawe, within Maui County in Hawaiʻi. It is the remains of one of the seven Pleistocene epoch volcanoes that formed the prehistoric Maui Nui island, during the Quaternary Period of the Cenozoic Era. The islet has an area of 23 acres (9.3 ha), a diameter of about 0.4 miles (0.6 km), is 161 feet (50 m) at its highest point and is located about 2.5 miles (4.0 km) west of Makena State Park and south of Maʻalaea Bay. The islet is a Hawaiʻi State Seabird Sanctuary.
Molokini is a popular tourist destination for scuba diving and snorkeling. Its crescent shape protects divers from waves and the channel’s powerful currents. However, experienced scuba divers will also drift dive off the 300-foot (91.5-meter) sheer outer wall, using the channel currents to carry them along. In the morning, when winds are calmer, smaller tour boats can also bring guests to safely snorkel the backwall of Molokini as well.
The crater houses a lush reef with excellent visibility as deep as 150 feet (46 m). Molokini is home to about 250 species of fish, many endemic. The best conditions occur in early morning. The water depth ranges from a single foot near the shore to 20–50 feet in the majority of the allowed dive spots.
Because Molokini attracts many boats, the Hawaii State Division of Boating and Recreation established mooring buoys and “Day Use Mooring Rules” for Molokini to protect against damage from dropped anchors. Its popularity has led many water-sport guides to lament that overcrowding has made the experience less attractive.
Molokini in Hawaiian Mythology
Given the volcanic history of the offshore crater it’s of little surprise that the Hawaiians attribute its existence to Pele, the volcano goddess so prevalent in much of Hawaii’s mythology. According to legend Molokini Crater is not a single entity unto itself, but rather is the tail end of a mythological figure who met an unfortunate end.
In addition to Pele, mo’o—giant guardian lizards—are also common figures in Polynesian lore, and although scientific basis for their existence (such as fossils) has yet to be found, it’s widely believed by many Hawaiians that these large, sacred lizards once roamed the islands.
With respect to the origins of Molokini, legends state that a female mo’o fell in love with a chief in Maui by the name of Lohiau. Unfortunately for this mo’o the tempestuous volcano goddess Pele also had strong feelings for Lohiau, and in a fit of romantic fury Pele cut the mo’o in two pieces and turned her into stone. Today, the head of the mo’o exists as Pu’u Olai (the 360 ft. cinder cone above Makena State Park), and the tail of the stricken mo’o became the crescent of Molokini. Though various iterations of the myth abound, all relate to the jealous fury of Pele and the connection of the islet with Pu’u Olai.