Archives for posts with tag: Big Island

The best thing that we did on our recent visit to the Big Island of Hawai’i would have to be the dive that my brother organised with Manta Rays. He had chartered a boat for our group specifically which consisted of two of my three brothers, my wife, my brother’s future wife, and a host of their friends. We had got in a bout of sightseeing earlier in the morning and my brother who is based in Melbourne had only flown in the day before and was shattered through minimal sleep on the flight over. But we were all keen, especially my wife who loves getting in the water. We came equipped too, having brought over with us our own snorkels and masks. Furthermore, I had picked up an underwater case for my Canon Powershot G15. I had owned one of these before for a previous model Canon Ixus 430, which was a good little camera that I still have up my sleeve. It will probably end up being one of the Pok’s first cameras to play around with. Off we trekked in the Chevy Suburban hire car to the dive shop.

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The guys and girls from Big Island Divers were very professional from the start and this reassured us that we were going to be in good hands for the boat ride and subsequent dive. The plan was to go to a spot where they knew the Manta Rays were regular visitors, then we were to embark on two dives – one in the afternoon and then one at night. This was going to be cool! We got fitted with wetsuits and flippers in addition to our own kit. My brother and his future wife were going to do a full SCUBA dive, so they got kitted up for that too. After the mandatory waivers (i.e. you are about to do something that is potentially threatening to your health – got it!) we headed off to the marina to meet up with our boat and her crew. Quite a few of us were starving, so I picked up a snack – this would later prove to be an error of judgement on my part. Unfortunately for me I get sea-sick easily, and I had forgotten to take motion sickness tablets early enough for them to kick in. I don’t get motion sickness when I am at the helm of whatever vehicle, but a bobbing boat definitely throws me. I also challenge one of my comfort zones when I go diving, because I do get anxious every time when I go underwater and especially in the open ocean. But all of that was not going to stop us.

To the Ocean

The dive site was not too far away from the Marina, at about 5 nautical miles distance. Where we were stopping was pretty much just off the coast of the Kona Airport runway – the Southern end. It was strange seeing the solidified lava field flows where they met the ocean, and the resulting sharp coastal rock formations. Our boat trip out to the dive spot was escorted by several pods of dolphins which came quite close to the sides of your boat, and no doubt underneath our boat. The only shot I managed to get of them was when we pulled up to the dive spot.

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These dolphins would later on end up jolting a manta ray out of the ocean, with the ray shooting up a couple of feet above the sea like a flying bat out of hell.

Our boat crew proceeded to tell us about what we would experience as we suited up. This was where my dive experience would start to take a turn for the worse. As I zipped up my wetsuit my body temperature soared. I was starting to get hot before I had even jumped into the water. In hindsight, I should have just dived into the water in my board shorts. It took a while to see any fish, and the ocean bed was about 5-6m below the water surface. When they finally did come out and play from their coral hideaways they certainly put on quite a show. It was difficult with the underwater camera bobbing up and down on the surface get them in focus. The afternoon was overcast, so even though the visibility was good, the light could have been brighter. My favourite fishes were the ones that I captured in the photos below. The black one was cool, because what doesn’t come out in the photo is that he swims flat with the fins on either side of the silver lines flapping like wings.

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After about 15 minutes in the water, somebody spotted our first ray and off we all went to hover above them. This was an awesome experience, a combination of excitement and a little bit of fear. Even though the guys from Big Island Divers told us that they weren’t dangerous, seeing a ray for the first time in the water is pretty awe inspiring. The first one we saw was huge, at least 4 metres in diameter with its wings graciously moving through the ocean. I had given the camera to my wife to get some shots and missed what was the highlight of my outing when the ray turned up and headed directly for me with its mouth gaping open widely. It was feeding on the plankton between me on the surface and it on the ocean floor. The colours of its skin were beautifully shaded in dark hues of deep blue and grey.

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My wife was giddy as a school kid in the water, which is how she is whenever we go snorkeling or diving. She would swim up behind me a pull on my flipper to excitedly point out another fish as if she was the only one in the water and I couldn’t see. I managed to get a good shot of her in the water reveling in the bubbles from my brother who was SCUBA diving below.

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By this stage, I was going down for the count. I had unzipped the back of my wetsuit just so I could get cool water flowing through to my body. I pulled the pin and headed back to the boat, having succumbed to sea-sickness from all the bobbing on the surface. Unfortunately I would not get back in the water again, spending the rest of the night trying not to worship the porcelain god.

The Night Dive

This is where the rest of the night would be the experience of my wife and brother Marc. There were six of us struggling with sea sickness, including the soon to be married couple. In fact, my brother Daniel threw up in his SCUBA mouth breathing apparatus – poor bugger. The guys on the boat proceed to explain to us a bit about the manta ray and what we as humans knew about them. They told us how for the night dive they would be shining torches down into the water from the surface. This was to attract the plankton which in turn would attract the rays to feed. They would also come very close to the people in the water, but largely ignore them. So with camera in hand, my wife returned for the second leg, and managed to get some amazing photos. Both my wife and the rest of our crew all came out of the water with grins from ear-to-ear. My wife proceeded to explain to me who close they had come to her, sometimes within a foot and then turning away. They would perform loop after loop through the water constantly scooping in plankton. Here was the best shot, though in the dark light the camera was really struggling for focus.

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The unique markings of manta rays are denoted by not only their skin colouration but also their birth marks on the underside of their torsos. This is how the marine biologists keep track of the populations.

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The best part about the dive was the video my wife took. Here is her attempt at a bit of movie production. Not bad for a first go, and I wish I had the stomach to get back in the water.

This had to be one of the highlights of all of my travels – it was an awesome dive. Thank to the guys at Big Island Divers, who really took care of us throughout the whole night and made the experience even better dealing with a professional and knowledgeable crew. If you ever get the change to go diving with manta rays in Hawai’i, I definitely recommend going with these guys.

Our second stop on our Hawaii island hopping trip was the Big Island of Hawaii. The guidebook (yes I still do pick them up to get a point of reference) told me that Big Island’s area covers the area of all the other islands combined. So we were going to be in for a bit of driving. I did not know what to expect, as all I really knew about the island was a few things; it had cool volcanoes and one that was still active, it had Mauna Kea which is technically the tallest mountain in the world if measured from it’s base on the ocean floor (at over 40,000 feet it is taller than Mount Everest), there are the Koch observatories at top of Mauna Kea, and they do the Hawaiian Ironman triathlon there too.

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All cool things things to set the scene. I didn’t realise that it was from the Big Island that King Kamehameha I was born and set out to unite all the islands into the Kingdom of Hawaii. We did have a lot of fun trying to learn the pronunciation of his name.

Flying into the Big Island airport of Kona is one cool experience! They have carved the runways and airport complex out on a lava field on the Western side of the island. It is kinda spooky and otherworldly being on such a barren rocky landscape. My boy, The Pok, was a little awestruck at the sight – taking it all in. After picking up our bags, we went to get the rental car that we would be needing for the stay. At this point I tried to convinced my wife to revel in the fact that we were in the USA and upgrade our ride to a Chevy Suburban! My Father had no idea what I was referring to until he was shown the big black beast in the car park. I even tried the argument that we could drive over lava in it. What won the day was the luggage capacity – the Suburban was mine… well at least for 3 days.

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I wonder if this thing could drive over lava, definitely over small children.

As soon as we got out of the airport I realised why cyclists love the Big Island so much. The main roads had massively wide shoulders that were super-smooth like glass for miles and miles on end. The kind of stuff that us cyclists have dreams about (sad – I know). Driving along you get a sense of the scale of the island. Big Island as the name says is big. The western side of the island is also quite dry, as a result of the weather break caused by the two massive peaks of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. We stayed at the resort village of Waikoloa, which is pleasant but could be anywhere – except for golf courses which have lava fields for the rough. Waikoloa proved to be a good base to explore many of the sites on the Western side of the island. We pretty much relaxed for the first day and night allowing me to indulge in a bit of photography and tasting what would become my favourite Hawaiian dish – kalua pork loco moco. I don’t do photos of food, but here is the my attempt at a bit of photography art at dusk. The first night we were there was also when my brother and all his mates arrived from Canada for his wedding, and we did savour a few cocktails at the Marriott Hotel at Waikoloa.

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The North of Big Island

The second day we had planned two stops for our travels. First stop was Pololu Valley up North which was used as one of the locations for shooting Jurassic Park. The second stop would be night diving with manta rays (my next Hawaii post). The drive up to Pololu Valley took us through the town of Kapa’au This is where they have one of the three statues of King Kamehameha I who was the one who united (probably through lots of bloodshed) all the islands into a single kingdom.

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Pololu Valley itself is stunning, and it is one that I would like to come back to with hiking boots on. You are greeted with rock cliffs dropping into the ocean from the Kohala Mountains. I don’t think that any photo that I could take would do these cliffs justice. The valley is surreal, and lush, and inviting, with cloud resting on the shoulders of the valley. I can see why Spielberg and his crew would have chosen this location.

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Driving back along the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway made me jealous as I wanted to be out on the road on two wheels. Did I say that the highway is a cyclist’s paradise, with a massively wide road shoulder and super smooth tarmac for miles, and miles, and miles. This was probably one of the worst sections of road. I am definitely going back to spin some wheels!

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To the Volcanoes We Go!

The third day we took off to check out Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. From Waikoloa there is no direct route down to the South-West of the island where the park is located. So we knew were going to be in for a bit of a road trip – translation a few hundred kilometres of driving. We had a convoy of 5 cars with my brother, his fiance, and their mates along with one of my other brothers and my whole family (old people included). Heading South along the Western coast of the island the route took us through the Kailua-Kona region of the island. This is the world famous coffee growing belt of Hawaii. But it was not coffee that stopped us on the way – it was one of our crew’s yearning for Donkey Balls. That’s right, chocolate Donkey Balls – which are made there right in the store. There is every kind of tasty chocolate that you could imagine, and the packaging is a bit cheeky too. They also sell coffee – but we ALL stocked up on chocolate to fuel us for the trip. If you are driving through Kailua Kona, then I highly recommend anyone to pullover and taste.

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We continued driving along the Kona Coast for at least 100km constantly crossing old lava fields that had descended down from Mauna Loa and the Southwest Rift Zone to ocean. This part of the island is very green and the views from the highway down to the coast line are uninterrupted. Passing the town of Ocean View, we drove another 50km or so until we reached Punalu’u Beach. Our GPS unit told us to stop here and see the black volcanic sand beach, and if we were lucky some Green Sea Turtles. We were in luck, and the beach was beautiful – if not strange for its black sand. The sand is actually ground down volcanic rock that over the millenia has been eroded down to fine crystals. There were quite a few turtles swimming off the shoreline and a few up on the beach. Fortunately there were conservationists there as well to protect the turtles, who didn’t move as slowly as everyone makes them out to do.

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The National Park was only another 50km east of the beach and we set off again. Entry to the Park is cheap at $10 a car, which lasts for seven days. The Park includes the currently active Kilauea Caldera, where you can get close enough but at a safe distance from the open crater. Apparently at night there is an orange glow into the sky emitting from the caldera. Seeing an active volcano for the first time made me feel… small. It puts you in your place seeing the immense size of the caldera and what must have been an even larger active crater which it sits in. And it looked like the surface of the moon.

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You can see in the photo above the people walking on the crater bed, dwarfed by the immense landscape.

Further along within the park there are many hiking trails where you can walk through an old lava tunnel – minus the lava, and green forest trails. The Pok was having fun being in “the jungle” again, and this time he got to share it with his grandpare (my father). Even the fern fronds were massive, the one below in the photo was the size of my head.

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We hopped back in the cars to travel a bit further and see if we could see the lava fields at Kalapana which are dropping into the ocean. To get there we had to drive up to just South of Hilo and then drive back down to the coast. As we got close to the fields, the road turned into a jumbled mess of asphalt and lava – which was as close as I was going to get to driving on lava. Again I was left in awe of the size of the flows down the mountain side from the Kilauea Caldera. What shocked me were all the houses where the flow had just avoided the properties, but found a way around or across the roads that lead up to them. It was bizarre, but I guess if you made your home there then why move – this was their reality. By the way, did I say that lava looks cool?

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We waited until night fell to see if we could get some lava glowing on the river of rock – but it was a bit disappointing. All the tourist videos showing you the rivers of molten magma are epic, but you have to pay a lot of money and be fortunate enough to be there when the volcanic activity is roaring.

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I did try my hand at a HDR photo using my Canon Powershot G15, it works well for an in-camera driven setting.

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I think that next time we go to the Big Island, and there will definitely be a next time, we will take one of the ocean boat cruises that takes you to the ocean side of where the lava drops into the ocean. The tourism videos are the very best of the volcanoes that you could possibly see, but you are unlikely to experience this stuff unless you are a volcanologist or pro-photographer.

The drive back to Waikoloa was at night and the quickest route back was via Hilo and via the Saddle Road. Contrary to what the guide book says, they have just finished paving the Eastern side up Mauna Kea to almost freeway quality tarmac. The road takes you up to over 8,000 feet of elevation and that night took us up over the cloud line. As we reached the summit of the road just South of the Mauna Kea peak, we pulled over to get a glimpse of the heavens. One word – STUNNING. I have never seen so many stars in the night sky so clearly. My wife absolutely loved it too, but for all of us who hopped out of the car we just about nearly froze. The temperature difference between the coast and the Mauna Kea mountain side is close to 25 degrees Celsius. It was a long day in the car, but definitely worth it.

There are so many other things that we now want to do having seen what was on offer. The Big Island is one cool place which we can’t wait to go back to explore further.

Since coming back from Hawaii I have started a new job and been pretty time poor with normal life. So now I am settled it to the new role, I can get back to posting again and get some more kilometres down on two wheels. Back to the real world.

 

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