Maalaea is located in central Maui on the southern part of the isthmus between the western and eastern parts of the island. Once a small fishing village, Maalaea is now home to the busy Maalaea Harbor which is a port for inter-island shipping and also a departure point for humpback whale watching tours, fishing charters, sunset sails and diving and snorkeling excursions.
The small beach at Maalaea Harbor provides some shelter for local outrigger canoe clubs. Spear fishers search for fish on the nearby coral reefs and families often enjoy fishing together off of the harbor wall.
When a southern swell is running the harbor is the site of a popular surfing spot which produces the “Maalaea Pipeline” wave which is considered to be one of the world’s fastest ridable waves. Children learn to shred the waves at Maalaea’s Buzz’s Wharf surfing break, and to the left of the harbor is the popular “Freight Train” surf spot.
Hawaiian green sea turtles are often seen around the coral reefs bordering the entrance to Maalaea Harbor. On the west end of Maalaea Bay is a scenic lookout at Papawai Point which is a great place to see humpback whales as they pass by offshore during the winter months. Across the ocean channel are the distant islands of Lanai and Kahoolawe.
Also visible offshore is Molokini Islet where the pristine waters provide an excellent snorkeling site teeming with colorful fish within the crescent moon shaped volcanic crater. Molokini is about 3 miles (4.8 km) offshore of Makena and rises 165 feet (50 m) from the sea.
Near Maalaea Harbor is the family friendly Maui Ocean Center which exhibits a wide variety of interesting marine species. The area around the harbor is also home to dive shops, restaurants and condominiums.
Inland from Maalaea Harbor the slopes climb toward the peak of Haleakala Volcano. Between Maalaea and Kihei is the Kealia Pond National Wildlife Reserve where you can see a variety of native Hawaiian waterbird species in their natural habitat.
Just west of Maalaea toward Lahaina is McGregor Point which is the site of the McGregor Point Lighthouse. This is a great vantage point to spot breaching humpback whales as they pass by offshore.
Maalaea town is home to about 500 people. South of Maalaea is the busy town of Kihei, north is Kahului and to the west is Lahaina.