Not everybody wants to snorkel or scuba dive in Maui. Particularly those of us who (full sheepish disclosure) don't know how to swim.
The Maui Ocean Center wasn't built for the underwater-averse, but it sure lets everybody experience — feet firmly on dry land — the majesty of underwater Hawaii.
It's not the biggest aquarium out there, but it does the state's marine population proud. About a quarter of the animals on exhibit are found only in the region.
You'll see hundreds of varieties of seafarers: tiny sea horses and urchins; colorful reef triggerfish and bullethead parrotfish; those slinky, odd trumpetfish and moray eels; and, yes, the rock stars — hammerhead sharks, gray reef sharks, blacktip reef sharks. The displays showcase the ocean in its increasing depths, from a surge zone and shallow reef exhibits to ever-deeper waters.
The most fascinating exhibit is the last, Open Ocean: This 750,000-gallon tank includes a 54-foot acrylic tunnel you walk through, with sharks, rays and green sea turtles among the other animals swimming alongside and above you. Think of it as a "surroundswim" effect — and as close as this landlubber is going to get to looking at the underside of a stingray as it swims past overhead.
I'd recommend the ocean center early in a trip. It offers a history lesson tied to the sea, which is so integral to Hawaii's history and culture. Those who do plan to snorkel or dive will acquaint themselves with some of the creatures they'll be seeing in the wild. (In fact, because the museum's fishes are regularly released back to the ocean, you might even see the same fellas.)
Most exhibits are inside, but outdoor fun includes a Tide Pool exhibit where you can "pet" starfish and other creatures, and the obvious draw of Turtle Lagoon.
Maui Ocean Center, 192 Ma'alaea Road, Wailuku, Maui; 808-270-7000 or mauioceancenter.com. $25.50; $18.50 for children (there are online discounts). The excellent audio tour is recommended for an additional $3.