Hawaii was nice. How can Hawaii not be nice?! Unlike Kiev and Prague, this trip has been on the books for a while – it was Matt’s pick after we got back from the Bahamas last winter and he has especially been looking forward to going somewhere beachy and warm so a quick trip to paradise to get in some sunshine, downtime and great diving was just so nice.
It had been a long time since I was last in Hawaii last and probably a decade for the time before that, but my grandmother used to live in Makaha on Oahu part-time and so we went what seemed like often when we were kids. I remember falling asleep and waking up to the sound of the ocean, crawling the beach to collect little knobs of coral and digging big pits (instead of castles) in the sand. When we were still too small to swim in the surf my grandmother used to hold us and body surf us through the waves until our homemade swimsuits were full of sand. When we came inside, she would cut up fresh papaya for a snack and these things must have made an impact because I have never lost my love of the sea and fresh fruit.
Matt had never been to Hawaii so we split the difference between Maui (which I thought he would like best) and Kona (where I wanted to go on the manta ray night dive) and that worked out well except that we both wanted to spend more time in both places. Ah well, next time.
I was pleasantly surprised to find Lahaina less horribly touristy than I remembered but we were happy to be staying in quiet, tiny Honokowai, with a lush garden in front of our condo and the ocean working its endless magic steps away from our door. The first night after we got settled into the condo we went and sat by the ocean until we lost all the light and could only hear the waves lapping at the seawall beneath our feet. And then we went to bed because we had a 4 AM wake up call to go and see the sunrise on Haleakala. Diving and flying gets complicated on an archipelago with 10,000 ft peaks so we needed to do the high stuff first.
Thankfully we had the time change on our side because the early morning wake-up call didn’t seem that bad when we were stumbling around getting dressed. The summit is a polar region and we hadn’t packed accordingly so I just wore all the warm things I had; a t-shirt, my rash-guard, a paper-thin windbreaker…and flip flops. Matt had said so many times leading up to the trip that he just wanted to sit under a tree and read that I hadn’t even bothered to bring shoes or socks. That’ll be my lesson learned.
The last time I climbed Haleakala I made it about an hour’s hike into the valley before I was overcome by altitude sickness. I didn’t know what it was, just that I felt like I was moving through toothpaste and my boyfriend was getting farther and farther away no matter how hard I tried to keep up. Finally, I just sat down next to an alien-looking tree and cried. Eventually, we figured out what was going on but we still had to climb all the way back up to the visitor’s centre. It wasn’t fun and I wasn’t anxious to repeat it so this time we went super slowly and stopped often. By the time we got to the summit, the morning light had illuminated the clouds and brought some definition into the crater. Several people had assembled, wearing whatever warm things they could collect from their rooms – what a motley crew we looked like to greet the rising sun!
Haleakala means “House of the Sun” and in Hawaiian history, the summit was only accessible to priests. It’s easy to see why it was considered a sacred space. We were on top of the world, high above the clouds and the light reflecting off of them and into the moon-like crater was incredible. Through the occasional break we could see all the way to the sea and in the distance far below us the West Maui mountains that had seemed so large when we drove past that morning.
I’m not normally one for sunrises but when there is in fact something magical in watching the first ray of sunshine break into the day and even more so when a park ranger chants a “mele oli” (chanted poem) in honour of it:
Haleakala sunrise mele oli
The next few days we spent diving the Cathedrals – beautifully formed lava caves – off the coast of Lana’i, diving with hammerhead sharks dive off the coast of Moloka’i, and some exploring some local dive sites on Maui. On our way out to our first dive site, we were joined by a pod of 40-50 dolphins. They surrounded the boat when it slowed but as soon as the captain resumed speed they sped up excitedly to ride our bow waves then dropping back to leap through and do flips in the wake. I laughed out loud at the sight of such pure and obvious joy – they are truly the puppies of the ocean.
The Cathedrals were as beautiful as I remembered and we got to see the rare albino black coral “chandelier” that hangs from the ceiling. It’s a testament to the dive shops in the area educating divers that it’s still intact…we saw much coral-kicking on this trip but at least the stony reef-building corals are a little heartier.
We enjoyed the chill diving so much that we decided to just stay on the boat for the afternoon dives too. That turned out to be an excellent idea because our last dive at Mala Pier was one to remember! It’s a collapsed pier so it has the air of a shipwreck with all the beams and boards piled on each other and provides some great swim-throughs for divers and/or hide-outs for turtles, sharks and schools of fish – we saw all of them as well as a squadron of spotted eagle rays.
Perhaps because it’s a busy site also accessible from the shore, or perhaps because there were so many places to hide, the creatures didn’t seem to be bothered by us in the slightest. One giant turtle kept a baleful eye on me while he surfaced for a breath but a moment later I turned around to see him swimming by right behind me. And I hurriedly snapped a photo of the eagle rays on the first pass, expecting them to bolt but they cruised by so many times that I got tired of pointing them out. Even the sharks were chill.
It’s a stunning dive site and I look forward to diving it again someday – hopefully at night.
Mokuho’oniki Rock off the coast of Molokai to dive with hammerhead sharks was a life-list item for me, so I was really happy that we were able to go. They considered it an advanced dive so Matt had some detailed questions about depths and current, etc. but it turned out to be me who needed to be nervous because getting there involved crossing the dreaded Pailolo channel – Hawaiian for “crazy water.” In the briefing, the captain warned that any people prone to seasickness should take precautions.
The waves turned out to be not too bad. The first sight of these majestic creatures made it all worthwhile anyway, and we were lucky enough to see three hammerheads and a Galapagos shark gliding through the blue water on each dive, with two of them swimming along together on the last one. It was just so beautiful to watch and I only wish that we were a little bit closer or that the photos had turned out a little better.
One drawback of all the sun and salt is that my hair had almost no red in it by the end of the trip (more like a pinky coral colour) so I love this photo that Matt got of me underwater where I look like some kind of tropical fish.
We also spent a fair amount of time in the Jeep driving around the island. One day there was an accident on the road so we decided to just take the long way around the West Maui mountains and see what we could see. As we drove north from Honokowai we came up to stunning Honolua Beach where there is good surfing, snorkelling and diving. Then the road narrowed and as we got into some seriously lush countryside. It was great to see the rugged coastline and rural communities up there.
We only had two days on the big island so we had to choose between climbing Mauna Kea and diving with the manta rays at night. The manta rays were the clear winner but I would like to come back to see the observatory, as well as the lava fields on Mount Kilauea, and I would also like to do the ‘pelagic magic’ night dive where creatures come up from the deep ocean to feed at night.
The boat was full of both divers and snorkelers and no one seemed to have any idea what was going on but they were all doing it with a lot of enthusiasm. We were one of several boats at the site, all decked out with lights. It seemed like chaos, but then we were in the water, trying to keep one eye out for manta rays and another on our guide. The idea is that the divers stay low to the ground and shine their lights up while the snorkelers hang on to the surfboards and shine their lights down. Plankton is attracted to the light and then the rays come to feed on it. We only saw one manta ray on our dive – Eli, a juvenile – but it was cool to see him swimming around and eating, and it was such a spectacular dive with an octopus and several trumpet fish and eels hunting off our lights.
On our last day in Hawaii, we didn’t have a lot of options. We couldn’t dive or go above 2000 feet (so no horseback riding or ziplining or summiting volcanoes), we didn’t have a car (so no plantation tours) and we needed our gear to dry (so no snorkelling) but as a pretty awesome last resort we walked into town and hung out at the Kona Brewing Company patio for a while. Great selection of beers, and good food too.