Honeymoon in Hawai'i - Day 7: Kona (The Big Island)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Kona was another early morning. The tenders began at 7:00 a.m. and we knew we had to be on the first one in order to make it to SeaQuest for our 8:00 check-in for the "Expedition South Kona" tour. We got down to Pink's Champagne Bar, where tender tickets were being issued, at about 6:45, and there were a dozen or so people waiting. We were issued our tickets for the first tender a few minutes before 7:00, then we all went down to Deck 3 to board. I was really worried about making this first tender because I know ship tours get priority, but I don't think there were any ship tours even leaving that early, and our tender was less than half full.

The day before, we'd called Mel's Taxi in Kona so that there would be a cab waiting for us when we got to the dock. We'd told the taxi service that we would be on the first tender off POA, but the driver got there sometime before seven and started calling us every five minutes to see where we were. At one point he even said he was just going to take another fare! That was pretty annoying, but T.J. assured him at that point that we were already on the tender and were just a few minutes away, so he was still there when we docked. It was a good thing that we'd reserved a taxi ahead of time, because when we got off the tender, there were only four or five taxis waiting, and those were taken pretty quickly. I'm sure they come at regular intervals, but if you are on a tight schedule, you might want to consider reserving one ahead of time.

The Seaquest boats dock in Keauhou Bay, about fifteen or twenty minutes from where the tenders dock. The cab fare was about $25 (+ tip) each way, so it was a bit pricey to venture out there. Seaquest's building was damaged in last year's tsunami and they aren't using it anymore, so when we got to the boatyard we wandered around trying to find where we were supposed to check in. Chris, our captain, was actually parked in front of their old building, and he was just checking people in out of the back of his SUV. We were the first to arrive, so after we checked in, we wandered around the boatyard a bit. There are bathroom facilities right there if you need to change, but other than that nothing of great interest. I decided to sit down by the water while we waited and was rewarded with my first honu (green sea turtle) sighting!

I saw three honu by the dock (one that morning and two when we returned in the afternoon), so they must be drawn to that area. At any rate, I'm glad I saw them there because I didn't see any the whole rest of the trip!

Once our whole group was checked in and assembled, we headed for the boat. This was around 8:15, so I needn't have worried so much about making it in time for our check-in. There were two boats that were going out (one without any kind of awning, and then our zodiac, which was mostly covered). I think the other boat was going on one of the shorter tours (we were on the "deluxe" five hour tour), but I was glad to have the awning to give us some shade. 

Chris and his assistant stowed all of our belongings in a center compartment, and then we headed out for our first snorkel spot, Honaunau Bay at Pu'uhonua o Honaunau (the Place of Refuge). I'm not going to lie--the ride out was rough. There were only about twelve of us on board, but we were getting tossed all over the place sitting on the sides of that zodiac and sometimes it was difficult not to bump into other people. We were really flying over the waves, and it was pretty tiring holding on to the ropes, bars, or whatever was in reach. It got easier once I got into a sort of rhythm with the boat and relaxed my body a bit, but I'm not sure how some people (who had to reach much further to hold on to a bar) were able to hold on for so long. 

When we finally reached Honaunau Bay, we could really see how rough the sea had become. Chris had warned us of the incoming surf, which was battering the western coasts of Hawaii from Kauai to the Big Island. The waves on the North Shore of Oahu were reportedly 30+ foot those few days, although they had calmed down considerably by the time we got there on Saturday. Honaunau Bay is fairly protected, so the surf didn't affect our snorkeling much, but it did mean we had to be more careful about straying too close to the rocks, so we kind of circled the middle of the small bay. 

The snorkeling here was good, but not great. We saw lots of schools of yellow tang, and many tropical fish I'd never seen "in the wild" before, but they were all pretty far beneath us.

Yellow tang about a thousand feet (okay, maybe thirty) below.
We had about 45 minutes to snorkel before heading for our next destination further down the Kona coast--a secret place Seaquest uses. Along the way, we watched enormous waves shatter against the rocky coast, creating avalanches of white water, spontaneous waterfalls, and blowholes where there normally were none. 

We also looked at sea caves (our captain got us pretty close, considering the conditions) and Chris pointed out old lava tubes that once flowed into the ocean.

Hole in the roof of one of the sea caves
One of the lava tubes
When we finally reached the "secret" spot, which is far less protected than Honaunau Bay, Chris decided the conditions were too rough for us to snorkel there safely (and that visibility would be nil anyway), so instead we went to our final snorkel spot, Kealakekua Bay, where we were given extra time to make up for the missed stop. This actually worked to our advantage because the snorkeling at Kealakekua was fantastic. Probably the second best I've done, after Roatan, Honduras. Kealakekua is really shallow (or, at least, Ka'awaloa Cove is--the coral drops off into nothingness not too far into the bay), as in, so shallow you have to constantly watch your fins to make sure you don't kick anything, so the fish are right there. And the fish are used to people, so they are pretty friendly, coming right up to you and swimming along leisurely even when people are kicking nearby.

From what I've read, Kealakekua can get pretty crowded sometimes, but we were sharing the bay that day with only a couple of other small boats and several kayakers. It isn't easy to get to Kealakekua (you have to boat in), which cuts down on overcrowding, I think. I know the boats get annoyed by the kayakers dragging their canoes over the reef because that can destroy it, but I still thought the reef was in much better condition than most of the ones I've snorkeled in the Caribbean.

Kealakekua is also the home of the Captain Cook monument (Cook's famous voyages ended here when he was killed in a skirmish with the native Hawaiians), which people like to climb all over.
Captain Cook Monument
You can tell from this picture just how close snorkelers can get to the shore, so you can imagine how shallow it must be (and how much more wonderful that makes the experience). Here are just a few of the fish friends we made that day:

When we boarded the boat again, Chris and his assistant (I really wish I could remember her name because she was so nice!) had lunch ready for us--sandwiches and cookies and Maui Style chips and island juices. After a morning in the water, the lunch was delicious (What is it about swimming that makes picnic food taste so wonderful? Childhood associations, perhaps?), and after we'd all had our fill we headed back for the dock.

Along the way, Chris pointed out more sea caves and rock formations, like this one:

See the face in the far left part of the rock?

Closer view of the face.
I can't remember exactly whose angry face this is supposed to be (one of the Hawaiian gods, I'm just not sure which one), but the "eyes" are old lava tubes. Can you imagine that face with red hot molten lava streaming out its eyes?!? Terrifying.

When we got back to the dock, another one of Mel's taxis was waiting on us, so we didn't have time to change. We just wrapped our wet towels around us and climbed in the middle seats of his minivan. Both cab drivers had really nice, new minivans. We had originally planned on changing and then having the taxi driver drop us off in town so we could shop, but since we were still sticky with salt water and in wet clothes, we decided to just go back to the ship, dry off and change, and then come back to shop, which is exactly what we did. On the cab ride back, we passed several shops selling Hawaii and Kona hoodies that I liked, so I decided that's what I wanted to look for that afternoon. Taking the tender back to the ship, changing, and then taking one back to Kona didn't end up being a problem at all, and I'm really glad we did it. I felt much better walking around Kona in clean, dry clothes than I would have otherwise.

Our first stop was Lighthaus Camera for a small camera repair. Somehow, the UV filter on our new Canon T3i had become jammed, and we couldn't take it off or add our circular polarizer to it. We'd tried to go to Lighthaus in Maui, but it was closed for New Year's, and the POA camera crew had tried to get it off for us and couldn't either, so they'd recommended going to the Lighthaus in Kona, just a short walk up the hill from the main shopping street. Lighthaus has a very nice store where they also showcase active lava photography from Extreme Exposure Fine Art Photography, so while T.J. took care of the camera business (which involved disassembling the lens and breaking the old filter) I explored the small gallery. The photographs were gorgeous but well out of my price range, so instead I settled for a 2012 calendar from Extreme Exposure. Unfortunately, the calendar doesn't include my favorite picture from the gallery, but I still love the included images. Now every month I'm treated to a vibrant, glossy picture of flowing lava--a perpetual reminder of the one thing I wanted to see in Hawai'i that I DIDN'T get to see. :-P

Once our lens was reassembled and we had a new UV filter in place, we headed back to the main shopping street, which winds along the waterfront.

We wandered in and out of stores, looking for the hoodies I'd seen on the way back to the dock. We found several places selling them, but they were pretty expensive (around $50), which I can't justify paying for a hoodie, even if they are an indispensable part of my wardrobe now that I live in PA. (I honestly never owned one until I moved here.--Okay, I take that back, I bought one in Paris a few years ago, but I only wore it once and donated it to Goodwill a couple of years back. No real need for hoodies in Auburn, Alabama.)

It was pretty warm out, so eventually we grew tired of hoodie-hunting and decided to stop in at Scandinavian Shave Ice. They have about a gazillion different flavors you can try, but we stuck with tropical combinations--mango, pineapple, coconut. I'm not sure exactly which combination T.J. chose (something with mango, I think), but I had the strawberry colada--which I believe mixed strawberry with pineapple and coconut. They were both very yummy.

This is a SMALL shaved ice.
After our cool, fruity refreshment, we continued down the main road, where we passed perhaps the two most famous Kona landmarks:

MoKuaiKaua Congregational Church (the oldest Christian church in Hawai'i)...
...and right across the street, Hulihee Palace, once a royal summer home.
We wandered down a little further, past the Kona Inn, which I believe is one place where you can pick up car rentals (and it really isn't that long a walk from the dock), but it was clear by that point that we were leaving the village shopping area and probably weren't going to find the hoodies I'd originally seen. We turned around and walked back past the shops, and this time I decided to duck into some of the shops that were off the main road. We went in one that had beautiful silk dresses and sarongs hanging outside, and it was there that I finally found my hoodie--one of the same ones I'd been seeing all day, but for only $25! T.J. was also able to find himself an Iron Man t-shirt there (the Iron Man competition is held in Kona), so overall we thought it was a pretty successful afternoon. This was the only afternoon we had time for shopping, so it was fun just wander around the shops even when we didn't intend to buy anything.

Around 4:00 p.m., we joined the enormous line for the tender that was forming down by the dock. The line moved pretty swiftly, though, and we were back on board in plenty of time to shower and get ready for our 7:00 reservations at Jefferson's Bistro, a really beautiful little restaurant with perfect ambiance. After a leisurely dinner, we turned in early again because tomorrow would be another early day--our first day in Kauai!

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