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Hawaiʻi 2017: Manta Rays

Day 7, Tuesday, May 16, 2017

My last full day in Hawaii had arrived.  We decided to make it another quiet pool day.  After a delicious breakfast of eggs, bacon and stuffed papaya (amazing!), we sunned ourselves and I tried to get a bit of sun-kissed glow so I wouldn’t go home as pale as when I arrived.

Enjoying our breakfast of papaya filled with banana, coconut milk and cinnamon. YUM!

Me trying to achieve a sun-kissed glow is basically a pointless game by the way; remarkably I don’t sunburn easily (thanks to my Dad’s olive complexion), but in reality, I only have several shades of pale.  Even if I know I am tan (for me), nobody else will notice…

Yep, still pale…

I also had a chance to sit on the sea wall and chat on the phone with a close friend for awhile.  There is something peaceful about a conversation had while listening to the waves lapping on the rocks.

Me sitting on the seawall

 

The Muscovy duck resident at the condo. So cute!

I went back to the market and got some gifts for my mom and my employees back home.  And of course, one for me…

In the late afternoon, we headed into town.  We went to the Sheraton Hotel to have a couple of drinks and watch the sunset.  After dark is where the real fun starts though!

The Sheraton is situated on a bay, where the manta rays come in to feed on plankton.  The plankton are attracted to lights.  So both the tourist boats and the Sheraton Hotel light up the ocean with lights to draw in the plankton, and then the manta rays.  The tour boats offer an amazing experience; the opportunity to swim with the manta rays!

The rays are hard to see when the tourist boats are there, because the lights from the boats keep the rays further out from shore.  However, once the boats leave for the evening, the Sheraton’s lights draw in the manta rays and they soar through the water, doing barrel rolls and flipping over to expose their white under-bellies.  They are very large fish, growing up to 18 feet in width!  They are listed as vulnerable, and many nations have put a ban on fishing for them and exporting their parts.  However, there are still problems with manta rays being caught in international waters as they migrate, and as by catch.

The boats after dark – there is a manta ray in the center of the photo, slightly above the rocks

The night we were there, we saw at least a half a dozen rays.  They are beautiful, majestic creatures, and really impossible to catch on film, at night, from shore.  So you will just have to take my word for it; watching their dark shadows glide just below the surface of the water is an experience you won’t soon forget.  I definitely want to take one of the boat excursions next time and be able to swim in the water with these amazing animals!

A Manta Ray in the water – trust me on this…

That night, we went back to the condo and filled up on a later dinner of Portuguese sausage, salad and Cool Ranch Doritos. YUM!  That night I went to bed with very happy thoughts of my day and my evening with the Manta Rays.

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Hawaiʻi 2017: Hawaiʻi Volcanoes NP

Day 6, Monday, May 15, 2017

After we climbed back up the road from Waipio Valley, we had lots more sightseeing to do!  Once again, we went to Tex’s for malasadas.  I got guava filling the second time.  So yummy!

Malasadas in the oil!

Our next stop was at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park; unfortunately by then it was really raining hard.  We went to the museum near the crater (it is open later than the main Visitor Center).  From the patio at the museum you could see the glow from the crater after dark.  The sun was going down when we arrived, but you couldn’t see the sunset because it was so socked in with rain!  My camera battery died at that point but I did get a few photos with my phone of the crater glow with streaks of rain.  And I got the stamps for the park and some postcards at the museum store.

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

 

The crater glow with rain streaks!

Next we drove over to the Thurston Lava Tube, named for an influential family that played a big part in the establishment of the park.  Brandon and I walked down and through it in the rain – the rain flows through the porous lava and drips in from the ceiling.  Brent and Rich had already seen it and opted to stay in the car.  The tube was really cool – it was about 20 feet tall!  It wasn’t very long, but we didn’t go quite all the way to the end, because there was quite a bit of standing water at the end.  It was interesting to compare it to other lava tubes I saw a few months later in Idaho, Washington and Oregon!

The lava tube

 

Me in the Lava Tube

On my next trip there, I would really like to hike out to where the lava flows into the water.  The hike varies based on where the lava is flowing.  When I was there last May, it would have been about an 8 mile round trip hike.  It would be awesome to do it in the late afternoon, so I can see the sunset over the water, and see the lava flowing after dark.  Of course, the hike back would be in the dark with headlamps – fun!

Interestingly, Hawaiians used to sometimes bury chiefs in lava tubes.  They removed the flesh from the bones and wrapped them and placed them in a lauhala basket; they then placed the baskets and offerings into the lava tubes and closed them off.  I learned that there are a number of lava tubes in the cliffs on Hawaiʻi that have been sealed off that way.

Due to the rain, and the fact that it was getting dark when we got there, we didn’t get to see much of Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park.  A return visit is certainly in order, to see more and do more.  There is a scenic drive along the crater rim that we saw very little of, the Chain of Craters Scenic drive, which goes down to the water (part of this drive has now been closed due to the active lava flow), and over 150 miles of hiking trails!  One of the most fascinating things about the park is that while the lava continues to destroy things; 9 miles of the Chain of Craters road, a visitor’s center, a historic Hawaiian village, etc., it also continues to add new land to the island and the park.  I can’t wait to get back.

That night, we went to the Thai Thai restaurant – I had a Shrimp Wonton soup that was soooo good.  It had broccoli, cauliflower, carrot, cabbage, spinach and green onions.  And shrimp wontons!  Delicious!  I should have taken home leftovers. And now I’m craving that soup!

My Shrimp Wonton Soup – YUM!

We got home late that night. On our drive home, we passed South Point, which has one of only four green sand beaches in the world!  The sand is green because the lava there contains olivine, which gives the sand its green hue when the lava rock breaks down into fine sand.  Of course we just passed the turnoff on our drive home, and wouldn’t have been able to see anything anyway because it was long past dark.  I definitely want to go there on my next trip.

Volcanic glass with olivine

Our day was once again amazing and we saw really cool things.  We also had to pass up a lot of really cool things!  I have so many ideas for my next visit!

Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park History

Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park was established on August 1, 1916 by President Woodrow Wilson.  It was the 11th National Park established in the U.S., and the first in a U.S. territory. It contains and protects two active volcanoes: Kīlauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, and Mauna Loa, the world’s largest shield volcano.  A shield volcano is one built almost entirely of fluid lava flows, and is usually lower to the ground than other types of volcanoes with gentle slopes; it is said to look like a warrior’s shield.

The park today consists of 323,431 acres (505.36 sq mi) of land, with more than 50 percent designated as the Hawaiʻi Volcanoes Wilderness area.  In 2004, an additional 115,788 acres of land were purchased through a partnership with the Nature Conservancy and added to the park, making it 56% larger than its original boundaries.

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

Historically, Kīlauea and the Halemaʻumaʻu caldera with it are considered by the Hawaiian people to be the sacred home of the volcano goddess Pele, and Hawaiians visited the crater to offer gifts to the goddess.  In 1790, a party of Hawaiian warriors (along with women and children) were in the area, and were killed in a violent and fast-moving eruption. Many of the Hawaiians killed and others left footprints in the lava that can still be seen today.

The first western visitors to the site arrived in 1823, and the volcanoes became a tourist attraction in the 1840s.  Several hotels and restaurants were built along the rim of the volcanoes to accommodate the tourists traveling there.  Now, Volcano House is the only hotel within the borders of the national park.

The park has an easily accessible lava tube that was named for the Thurston family, a family that was influential in the designation of the park as a National Park.  It is open and can be walked through, with only a short, paved walk to reach it.

There are also amazing hiking and camping opportunities – how often do you get to hike and camp on lava!  The park ranges in elevation from sea level to the summit of the active volcano Mauna Loa at 13,677 feet.  From ocean views all the way up to stunning and violent lava flows!  The climates in the park range from tropical rain forest, to a desert landscape.  I was consistently surprised by the range of climate and bio-diversity that I saw on my trip to Hawaiʻi.

There are also a couple of scenic drives, giving visitors amazing views of the volcanic craters and the ocean.  The Chain of Craters Road takes you past several craters from historic eruptions to the coast. However, some of the road has now been covered by more recent lava flows.  The landscape here is always changing.

Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park was designated as an International Biosphere Reserve in 1980 and a World Heritage Site in 1987, designations that recognize its beauty and importance in nature.

It was a brief visit, and I didn’t get to see as much as I would have liked, but I will share my visit in my next post!

Hawaiʻi 2017: Waipio Valley

Day 6, Monday, May 15, 2017

Monday morning we got ready to go for some more sightseeing!  And out we went!  We stopped at Havi, a small town that is known for being an artist community, to have lunch with Rich’s friend at a local BBQ food truck.  It was so yummy!  I had BBQ ribs with sticky rice and macaroni salad, but there were lots of options for both the main course and the sides.  On my next visit, I would like to poke around in the local shops and explore Havi a bit more than we did.

After lunch, we drove up over the volcano again, so some of the scenery was familiar from our previous trip a few days before.  But this time, our second stop was in Waipio Valley.  Waipio has a really crazy one lane 4WD road down to the bottom.  You are on private property; they say you are supposed to be a local to go down there, but there are hikes down there and it is beautiful!  The road was very rough – it was nice to have the old, rickety Rodeo; it isn’t a road that is suitable at all for cars – although you can walk down to the bottom (and then back up!).

 

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Down at the bottom there are a couple of river crossings, and then we got to an amazing waterfall, a beach and the river’s tributary at the beach.  It’s even black sand there.

We wandered around on the beach for awhile.  Feeling the sand between my toes!  Wading out into the river tributary was so peaceful.  One day I really want to do the hikes in that area, and explore the jungle trail.  A friend of mine has done one (a 12 miler one) and had excellent things to say about the experience.

 

 

I saw a bird I had never seen before standing near the river fishing – it turned out it was a Juvenile Black Crowned Night Heron.  Rich took some great photos of Yellow-billed Cardinals that were eating from a coconut someone had split open for them.  The females aren’t as brilliant as the males, with brown backs and heads instead of the black back and bright red head of the male. We also saw several mongooses (what is the plural of mongoose anyway?) running in front of the truck too as we were driving on the road down into the valley, but I wasn’t able to get photos of them, despite my best efforts.  Those little guys are fast!

 

 

Next time, I want to spend a lot more time here!  The weather wasn’t that great when we were there, as it was periodically raining lightly and windy, so returning on a sunny day would be awesome!  Hiking, having a picnic on the beach, just hanging out listening to the crash of the waves.  Waipio Valley is one of my favorite places on Earth!

 

Hawaiʻi 2017: Beach Walk

Day 5, Sunday, May 14, 2017

After I swam with dolphins, Jay dropped me off back at the condo and that afternoon Brent and I wandered over to the market across the street and checked out the wares.  I didn’t buy anything then, but checked out things for gifts at home.  We also had shave ice!  So yummy!  Straight sugar and ice!  There were about 50,000 different syrup flavors (give or take a few), and I’m not sure I can really even tell the difference between most of them, but shave ice is so good!

Brent getting ready to dig in…

 

A gecko licking a peanut M&M (M&M not supplied by me)

We then went for a walk along the beach to work off our sugar high; it isn’t a sand beach but a lava beach.  I picked up some shells and coral and we poked around in the tide pools.  There is a historic kōnane board on the beach there too; it is interesting to think you are sharing space where people walked hundreds of years ago. We also saw some the rich houses that are nearby the condo.

This crab was dead. It just died upright like that. How?

 

The underside of a Helmet sea urchin

As we got back, there was a sea turtle munching on the algae just on the other side of the sea wall!  He was so close!  All in all, it was a relaxing way to spend a few hours.

A sea turtle at the condo

That evening, we made a dinner of BBQ burgers, salad and fresh papaya!  Yum! We made a pitcher of margaritas too and took them outside to the beach!  We chatted in the evening with some women who were vacationing in one of the other condos – they happened to be from Washington too!  Brent knew one of the women from previous trips because they had stayed at the same condo before.  Meanwhile, I chatted with the gang about astronomy and volcanoes.

We saw a toad!

We watched a beautiful sunset from the condo sea wall.  Such great company and an absolutely gorgeous view.

A boat and the sunset

 

Sunset from the sea wall

 

Hawaiʻi 2017: Swimming with Dolphins

Day 5, Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sunday morning I had plans to go snorkeling with an old friend who lives full-time in Hawai’i.  Who knew it would turn into a bucket list experience of a lifetime!

We went to Two Steps Beach, right near the National Historical Park I had visited on my first day.  We walked out over the lava rocks and found the spot to get into the water.  From shore, we could see that there were dolphins out in the water!  A man near us told us that they had been there all morning, but we didn’t want to chance it, so we got in the water right away and swam out past the reef to where the dolphins were.  It was pretty deep water there, but so clear that you could see all the way to the bottom.

The dolphins were swimming in a big circle, they would swim near us and then go on their way to complete their circle.  They would swim really close, and then swim away and disappear for awhile as we tread water.  There were a few dozen dolphins, including calves!  A couple of them would jump high out of the water and spin in the air, clearly happy and playing.  There was another that was slapping his tail on the water.

There were maybe 20-25 people who had swum far enough out to be so close.  You had to be a strong swimmer, as we were a ways out and the bottom was far below.  At one point, one of the dolphins jumped out of the water only about 10 feet from Jay!  It was an amazing experience.  The dolphins were coming so close to us with each pass; they were obviously very curious about us.

This was easily one of the most amazing experiences of my life.  I could see their eyes, as well as the bite that one had on his side from a cookiecutter shark (also known as a cigar shark).  I watched the baby dolphins swimming next to their mamas.

Jay and I stayed out there for awhile, until I started to get a bit cold in the water.  We swam back into the reef, and watched the fish that were swimming  among the coral.  We saw puffer fish, trigger fish, and lots of other tropical fish.  Sadly, we didn’t see any turtles swimming.

When it was time to go in, we swam back to the same spot, where there is a little shelf under the water to stand on to get out.  If you go, just remember to keep your feet flat because there are holes in the lava rocks with sea urchins in them!  Don’t curl your toes!

Of course I wish that I had photos, but the memories that are in my mind will last a lifetime.  Since I don’t have my own, please enjoy these photos from Wikipedia of Spinner Dolphins and Cookiecutter sharks.

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I am so grateful that Jay took me to this spot – I swam with dolphins!  In the wild!  Amazing!

Hawaiʻi 2017: Sunning and Pub Crawling…

Day 4, Saturday, May 13, 2017

On Saturday, Brent and Rich went to work again, so Brandon and I decided to enjoy a quiet pool day at the condo.  We lounged and and relaxed.  I read my book and took a nap – it was wonderful, and the weather wasn’t even too hot!  In fact, I wished the sun were out a bit more!  I was the most pale tourist around!

Relaxing with a book

 

My sunshine view…

I had more salad for lunch and then we had a few cocktails in the afternoon.  I mean, I was on vacation!  Perfect for a little day drinking!

Brandon and Me on the lanai

 

Me on the lanai – the humidity kept fogging up my camera!

In the late afternoon, we took the trolley into town and went to the Kona Brewery for beer and dinner.  The beer and food were excellent, and they have a lot of different kinds to try!  We had nachos with Portuguese sausage (which is very popular in Hawaii), and I had a Pineapple IPA.  YUM!

The sunset from the trolley

Since we were already in town, why not go all out with an impromptu Pub Crawl!

After the Kona Brewery, we wandered down to the Fish Hopper for a Mai Tai, and then stopped in at Bubba Gump Shrimp Company for a beer.  This place was nearly dead – I was surprised by how quiet it was on a Saturday night…  Since I have never been to one though, I really had nothing to compare it to.  Little did I know my night was about to get more lively…

I wanted to sit by the bar by the window, because it overlooked the water, and it was windy and I wanted to watch the waves crashing against the shore outside of the restaurant.  Brandon and I started talking to a man at the bar next to us.  He was originally from Seattle and now lived in Hawaii.  He made a comment to me about my husband, and I responded that Brandon and I weren’t married, and that he was a friend.  Then the man said to me, “Are you a prostitute?”  What!?  Excuse me!!!?  Mind you, I was not dressed up or dressed sexy or showing a lot of cleavage or anything!  I was wearing a brewery t-shirt, shorts, and Chaco sandals.  After replying that “No,” I was indeed not a prostitute, he apologized for the mistake and then weirdly explained that his employer sends prostitutes to make contact with him regularly to try to tempt him, so he never really knows when he is going to be solicited, so surely I could understand the confusion…  Ummmm… Ok…  Wow…  Stories of tin foil hats certainly came to mind…  I mean really, I had SO MANY QUESTIONS…

Brandon and I got up to move to a different spot, and the man asked if we could keep talking.  NO!  The second you ask if I am a prostitute is the second where you lose your opportunity to talk to me, even if you are clearly mentally ill.  And even though I was curious about why you think your employer is intentionally sending prostitutes to solicit you on a regular basis…  Oh my!

Me in my finest prostitute duds

Our last stop on our Pub Crawl was at Humpy’s Big Island Ale House – who makes up these names!?  Yeah, yeah, I know, the whales…  Humpy’s was a great outdoor bar, with a covered and uncovered area, and I believe there was a nightclub upstairs for those inclined to go dancing.  Humpy’s has a great beer list, both of Hawaiian beers, and all sorts of craft beers from all over the US.  Brandon and I enjoyed ourselves talking and making friends with the guys sitting next to us, before finally heading home for the night.

Aside from the prostitute incident, it was a wonderful, relaxing day!  And I have a travel story that will probably never get old!

Note: The Kona trolley is $2 per person, bring cash and exact change.