Hawaii Pt. 1

December 16, 2006 at 4:18 pm (Diving, Travel)

Well, after trumpeting my resolve to write for 15 minutes a day, Heather and I prompty took off on a so-called jet plane for the fabulous Big Island of Hawaii, without any regular internet access. So sue me. I did manage to get a certain bit of reading done while there, however, and I’ve been reading quite a bit of cuneiform since I got back, so I don’t feel too guilty about it. But I’m back to the grindstone now, so expect to see more writing in the near future.

But I’m sure that my non-existent readers are far more interested in Hawaii than dissertations, so I’ll pander to this imaginary audience first. Since we spent a week there, and since I wasn’t updating every day, I won’t break the trip down day-by-day, but instead into categories: snorkeling, the volcano, cool hikes, etc., and try to do one a day until I’ve covered the high points of the trip. With that in mind, I’ll start with that most ubiquitous of Hawaiian vacation activities, snorkelling and diving.

On our second day there, Heather and I headed south to Kahalu’u, a wonderful little beach off Ali’i Drive. The reef there was quite beautiful, but more incredible (from Heather and my perspective) were the sea turtles, which were out in force. This is the first time that I have really snorkelled with any of the “larger” sea creatures. Although I’ve been in the water off the Channel Islands when a sea lion zipped through, these agile creatures usually do their best to avoid their clumsy, neoprene-wrapped, mammalian cousins. The green sea turtles, on the other hand, weren’t the slightest bit phased by our presence and swam right alongside us. They are incredibly graceful creatures; the slow beating of their fins in the water looks incredibly like slo-mo flight, which is (for all intents and purposes) what it is. However, they are not particularly agile, being as much at the mercy of the waves and currents as we were. Overall, my only complaint about snorkelling at Kahalu’u is that the water was too shallow. In most places, the depth was probably between four and five feet, and in such shallow water, I feel constantly in danger of hitting the reef with my fins as I swim.

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I should probably mention here our camera. About six months ago, Canon dropped the price on all of its digital cameras as a “back to school” special, so Heather and I picked up a 7-megapixel SD 550 Elph to replace my battered Powershot 400. In preparation for this trip, I headed back to Amazon and bought the Canon waterproof case for said camera, hoping that I’d be able to take some incredible shots underwater. It was with much trepidation that I took the camera into the water at Kahalu’u since, in my infinite wisdom, I had forgotten to test out the waterproof seal back at the condo! But it worked just fine, and we got a lot of nice shots. Thank you, Canon!

The next day, before Jen and Wil arrived, we headed north to Kauna’oa Beach on the Kohala coast, since a number of books described it as “one of the most beautiful beaches in the world” with “great snorkelling.” Indeed, it was a gorgeous beach; unfortunately, the weather was not nearly so pleasant. The strong winds and rough waters stirred up the sand and muck and reduced the visibility from the previous day’s 50+ feet to about 20 feet. However, parts of the reef were much deeper than at Kahalu’u, so I was generally pleased with the snorkelling. In addition to not wanting to kick the reef, the deeper reefs to me are more… mysterious and adventurous. I find my imagination is more stimulated by something 10 or 20 feet down than something I can reach, perhaps because it is more difficult to get the deeper reef to give up its secrets. In any case, I got to do a lot of deep diving, which kept my happy.

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A combination of the weather and our volcano plans kept us out of the water for the next three days, but we made up for it on Wednesday, our last day, with a double header. First, we snorkelled in the morning at the Place of Refuge, which absolutely blew my socks off. It combined my favorite features of the two previous beaches: The near-infinite visibility and sea turtles of Kahalu’u and the deep diving of Kauna’oa (between 10 and 20 feet near the shore, but it dropped waaaay off after about 100 yards). It was tremendous fun to explore, and then the girls sunbathed on the lava rocks afterwards while Wil and I puttered about in the shade.

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That evening, Wil got me perhaps the best Christmas present ever: a diving trip to watch that most glorious of sea creatures, the manta ray. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated with mantas. I used to draw space ships shaped like mantas, heroes shaped like mantas, etc. So, to be able to dive with one of them was a dream come true. It’s a neat little system: The lights from the Sheraton just south of us attract plankton at night, and the plankton attracts the mantas, who generally don’t seem to care if we’re around. So, we sank down to the bottom and got to spend about 20 minutes just watching one of these beautiful, graceful, alien creatures swimming around and feeding. The only downside to this was that, since we were so close to shore, the currents were dragging us back and forth, and I spent as much time staying in one place as I did watching the manta. Perhaps next time I do a manta dive, I’ll join the snorkelers (of which Wil was one) above. After watching the manta for a while, Amanda, our dive master (who reminded me a great deal of Sara Bareilles) took us away from the shore for a few minutes, where we happened to find a cuttlefish. This creature was about a foot long and incredibly neat. We got to follow it for a few minutes before finally surfacing. In fact, that experience was so wonderful that it may get me motivated to start diving again. Unfortunately, both of my potential dive partners are leaving town permanently in the next month, so I’ll have to find someone else to dive with, but it’s not like I have the time now, anyway, so for now it just remains an idea.

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