Friday, December 31, 2010

Hawaii - Sharks, Dolphins and Turtles!

Our Christmas trip to Hawaii has come to an end. We had an action-packed nine days and really enjoyed (and appreciated) Ron and Sharon's hospitality. The weather was off and on, but it didn't really stop us from exploring the island and having a good time. Plus, it cleared up for our last couple of days so we had some great sunshine to end with. Elise especially enjoyed luxuriating in the Plumb's apartment. A big screen TV for cartoons, pancakes for breakfast every morning and your own private Dora chair - what more could you ask for?

On Christmas Day, we hiked to Monao Falls, a short, but lush hike in a canyon above Honolulu. We met lots of happy tourists and enjoyed the nice flora along the route. It was a bit muddy, but NOTHING like a trail we would hike later that week. Afterward, we went to the Diamond Head beach and snorkeled, beach-combed and relaxed. Sharon served a great dinner and we enjoyed socializing. It was a nice day.

As the weather looked foul for the next couple of days, we opted to do some hiking on the eastern tip of the island, which is the driest location. The first hike we did was up the ridge above Makapu. It's a rarely-travelled trail so it feels a bit adventurous, but it offers some great views of the coastline. The next day, we hiked to the lighthouse on the opposite side and had the great pleasure of watching a humpback whale breach right in front of us on the rocks below the hike. We sat for about twenty minutes and enjoyed watching it move around, surface and blow. Elise was excited and enjoyed attempting to take pictures with our new point-and-shoot camera. She actually blew off a few passable images. She's improving.

When the threat of heavy rain finally subsided, we decided to do a hike on the rainy side of the island. Our chosen route was well off the tourist path and we kind of got in over our heads. We expected mud, but what started as a moist vegetated trail eventually turned into a mud-lined chute complete with clouds of mosquitoes. The foliage was literally hanging onto the trail and we got soaked both from sweat and humidity. It was actually a pretty cool experience - we really explored a true jungle and Elise chattered in my ear the entire way, despite the nastiness of the situation. We literally couldn't stop for a drink of water - the mosquitoes were that bad. We were glad to finally make it out to the service road after an hour and have a relatively calm journey back to the car. A swim in the ocean felt wonderful after the sweat and mud. Note Elise is striking her "beach pose" in the swimming photo.

The zoo was another pleasant rainy afternoon adventure. I'd not been to the Honolulu zoo before and was really impressed with the variety of animals. Elise raced around for THREE HOURS. I really don't know where she gets her energy. She also enjoyed making a necklace out of a red flower. It was pretty creative, actually.

As the week neared it's end, we planned a couple of more "engaging" activities. First off was my trip. I stumbled upon an Internet ad for a company that offered shark tours on the North Shore and this immediately grabbed my interest. After a day of oscillation, I finally decided to go for it. I've always been curious about sharks and wondered if I'd ever get another opportunity. We drove 15 minutes offshore in a motor boat and then took turns snorkeling in a shark cage floating in about 200 feet of water. The sharks are attracted to the sound of the boats (old habits from feeding off fishermen's waste). As soon as we arrived and set anchor, I saw a dark shadow slide under the boat, then another, then another. Needless to say, there were no shortage of sharks and I was really psyched to get in the water and float eye-to-eye with an 8-foot Galapagos reef shark. It's an experience I'll not soon forget. Too bad I got a bit seasick near the end, but that's another story...

After my shark encounter, we hiked to the end of Kaena Point on the North Shore and saw two endangered Hawaiian monk seals. That was a real treat. We also saw some bonafide Hawaiian rednecks with their truck sunk up to the tailgate in the muck. A red-letter day! Afterward, we swam at the beautiful Mokuleai beach and enjoyed playing in the small waves near shore. Elise actually went in! She's normally petrified of even the smallest waves...

Our final day dawned sunny and clear. We booked a special trip for us all. It involved a catamaran ride out around the Diamond Head volcano and then an open-water snorkel with sea turtles. Well, their advertised features did not disappoint. The sail was beautiful and rough. The waves crashed over the bow soaking us all. Elise cowered under a towel (she doesn't like big waves), but came out as soon as Pam spotted a DOLPHIN!!! In fact, we saw a number playing in the water and some sailed clear out of the water, just like at an aquarium show. This would have been the trip highlight, until we all jumped in the water and swam with green sea turtles. Elise was very proud because, of the 20-or-so people, she saw the first one in about 30 feet of water. The second mate looked at her and said, "you really are a professional snorkeler". This comment came after Elise donned her wetsuit and fins - she looked very experienced! Elise and I followed the turtle and it surfaced about 3 feet in front of us before diving again. Amazing... We then had lunch on deck and enjoyed the return journey. It was a great experience and a nice way to spend New Year's Eve.

We've had a really nice time enjoying the warmth, but reality is just around the corner. We get home late on the night of the 1st and will be preparing for a transition back to winter. We hope you've all had a nice holiday.

Happy New Year!
Marc, Pam and Elise

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