I couldn’t not choose both of these pictures that Mike took last night of a family with a goofy girl all showered, ready to watch Despicable Me 1 and then enjoy an early bedtime.
That early bedtime was for all of us, actually. Mike rose at 5 and then slowly started to stir his dead tired family. He was ready to get on the road this morning. We drove about an hour south of us to Kealakekua Bay, home of the Captain Cook Monument, marking the location of his death here on the Big Island. If you are going to have to choose one place to be the last thing you look at before you are stabbed by an islander, this bay would not be a bad choice. It is one of the prettiest places on the island. Very quaint and somewhat hard to get to; we even saw some lady in a pick up hauling fresh water and propane to her home. One side of the bay is marked by a huge cliff that extends out and descends down to the monument, making the land that supports the monument (and its amazing reef) accessible only by water. We met up with the sweet couple that owned Bay Side Adventures who had our kayaks and equipment all ready for us, once we found them. On our last trip to the Big Island with our friends, Anne and Rich, we were part of a group with a tour guide that did basically the same thing we did today, only for about 3 times the cost. This bay is known for being a favorite spot for pods of dolphins that like to come and play in the calm water so it is popular not only for the kayaking and the snorkeling, but for the creatures that come here. Two years ago, we must have seen 60 dolphins (probably two pods) playing among the snorkelers just off shore. I was so excited to see them again and this time have the freedom to get out of the boat and swim with them. Alas, they were absent. I am not sure who was more disappointed, Dan or me. A friendly local we spoke with said they have been swimming in the bay every morning this week. I am campaigning for another trip back to the bay on Sunday when we head to the other side of the island and will pass right by this area.
In the meantime, these are some of the 400 pictures that Mike and Dan took today while snorkeling. Casey even got in and floated around for a while, using a mask intermittently to see the fish and the amazing reef, but mostly she stayed on the boat, counting the minutes until she could get back to shore because, “Kayaking is boring.”
After a few hours, we were pretty much toast; that monument and reef are about a mile and a half each way from the boat launch. (Let’s just say I am going to be a bit sore tomorrow!) We needed to refuel and fast.
We headed back up to Mamalahoa highway, and I mean up; the elevation rise from the bay to the highway is about 1400 feet to Captain Cook, the town where we enjoyed lunch at the Coffee Shack. This spot is not only an awesome cafe but it sits above their own coffee farm where some of their famous Kona coffee is grown. The view is to die for.
We attempted a farmer’s market in Captain Cook on the way back from lunch but the only word I can use to describe it is lame. Maybe 5 vendors total, quite spread out. In fact, the whole area just looked like they were waiting for the other vendors to show up. We quickly moved north toward the house to relax for the rest of the day.
Mike and I took a nice walk again and of course stopped for a snack at the Fairmont. This time we ventured around the Pauoa Beach property including just about the fanciest ‘Community Center’ I have ever seen.
Anyway, now I get to describe the one of the most AMAZING experiences ever. Seriously, I am still geeking out about what we did last night. Granted, it was sort of terrifying, but that just made it all the more amazing. Dan and I drove over to Mauna Kea Resort (very cool and beautiful by the way) at sunset to meet up with Martina Wing of Manta Rays Hawaii. She and her husband are professional underwater photographers and manta experts that provide guided tours every night! I had NO idea my mind would be so blown away by something and at the same time be so scared. We were given a long safety briefing that included a biology lesson about these beautiful, graceful, gentle giants upon our arrival. There were only 6 of us allowed out a time so as not to overwhelm these animals and to make sure we were all safe. I had NO idea that Mantas were SO BIG, so amazing, so gentle. They are plankton eaters and use their gill rakers inside their mouths to filter out the plankton while they never stop swimming.
They NEVER stop! If they stop moving, they stop breathing. They also take 15 years before they are able to reproduce, need 13 months for gestation, are born with a wing span of 3 feet, and eventually grow to 12-14 feet. The 4 mantas we saw were 6 to 8 feet long, but looked like giants as they come toward you to feed. After we were led out to the spotlight that attracts the plankton (who then attract the mantas) she allowed us a few minutes to get comfortable. I use the term ‘comfortable’ very loosely… I was cold, scared, and getting stung by the little jellyfish that were also attracted to the light. (and yet, I would do it again in a heartbeat!) Each of us floated over the swimming rays, holding on to each other so that our heads were all lined up together. I hooked Dan’s arm like I might instantly lose him and tried to breathe calmly through my snorkel while I let my legs float behind my body to avoid kicking the rays under us.
Then she told us to turn our lights on. Within a few seconds, these huge creatures started barrel rolling toward us so that their bellies were LITERALLY inches away from our faces. I’m not exaggerating… INCHES! The collective squeals and moans heard underwater through snorkel equipment were audible. If I hadn’t been so scared and so surprised at the same time, I might have laughed. The rays must have been used to those sounds because they just kept coming around again and again. Their wings would brush our legs and stomachs as they swam by. One in particular would come toward me, his HUGE mouth open to receive the plankton and I thought he might swallow me. I could have put my head inside his mouth, it was so large. But his body would suddenly turn to the right as he would continue on.
Comparing anything else I have ever done to this 40 minute swim would be fruitless. I think the best part of the whole experience was hearing Dan, unable to contain his excitement through his mask and snorkel under the water. I realized last night that witnessing your child squeal in delight, unapologetically surprised by their own glee… that might be one of the greatest joys of parenting.