Jeff and I had a mini-vacation to Kona last weekend, in conjunction with a work meeting I needed to be at Tuesday and Wednesday (hooray, frequent flier miles).
Naturally, the Wednesday before our trip, my doctor strongly suggested I NOT GO DIVING. Of course I asked what exactly she was worried about – if it was just that my ear infection would come back, I would risk it. But apparently she was somewhat concerned about the integrity of my eardrum. Not wanting to risk all the rest of my dives for the year (or, you know, my hearing), I heeded her advice.
My ear actually felt okay, except I couldn’t hear out of it – I gather there was still some gunk blocking it up from the infection. Yuck. Anyway, I was cleared to fly and to snorkel, so I was sure I’d still have a good time. And Jeff would be able to dive.
We flew out Friday morning, and landed around lunchtime. Naturally, we headed straight for beer and the world’s best pizza over at the Kona Brewery. Seriously – it’s that good, and not just because it’s in Hawaii and you can watch the mongooses run around in the shrubbery while you’re eating your pizza and working on your tan.
Saturday we were up bright and early for a two-tank dive with Jack’s Diving Locker. They’ve bought a new boat since the last time we were there; it’s almost twice as big but only takes a few more divers, so there’s more room to maneuver. I kind of miss the charm of the old boat, but it was still great to see the same old divemasters that I’ve been diving with for four years. I also bumped into a DM I know from here in SoCal; he spends 8 months a year working the boats here, and four months working for Jack’s. Pretty sweet retirement gig!
Jeff plopped into the water with the rest of his dive group, while I bobbed around on the surface building up my library of topside video footage. Sigh. I now have many, many shots of divers entering the water, the boat at mooring, and diver’s bubbles floating up from below me, taunting me with my be-snorkeled reflection.
What the real divers got to see on dive #1
I bitch about it, but it was actually quite relaxing to get to spend a day out on the water without having to fret over scuba gear.
And, as it turned out, the highlight of the day wasn’t on either of the scuba dives anyway. In between dives, we motored offshore in search of whatever critters might be hanging out in the blue. We found ourselves in front of a huge pod of pilot whales, which I’d never seen before. About a dozen of us slipped into the water just in time to watch them dive down and under us – not quite close enough to photograph, but a darned cool sight just the same.
Pilot whales surfacing near the boat
As we were finning around, waiting to see if any other whales would turn up, one of the divers calmly announced that we were being circled by a shark. From his relaxed tone of voice, I thought it might be something small and boring – but no; we were being cruised by an oceanic whitetip shark.
Jeff photographs an oceanic whitetip shark
She was gorgeous – about ten feet long, solid muscle, and just slowly circling all the snorkelers, seeing what we were up to. Every time she’d make a pass, all the photographers would hold our breath waiting for her to turn towards us for a good shot. But as soon as she did, that gut instinct kicks in – there’s a SHARK COMING RIGHT AT YOU. I had one slightly nerve-wracking moment when it looked like she was going to go right under me. I thought: do oceanic white-tips mind having a snorkeler right over them? Because if I was a shark, and something got that close to my head, I might want to BITE IT.
Whitetip shark headed straight for me
Whitetips are kind of funny. They routinely turn up on the “top 5 most dangerous sharks” list, but aren’t usually aggressive to divers. On the other hand, they’re apparently somewhat moody. A whitetip might show up and just be chilling out, and ten minutes later decide that it’s in a bad mood. This is much more likely when there’s more than one – and sure enough, as soon as one of the snorkelers thought they spotted a second shark, the boat crew shooed us all out of the water.
I should also point out that these sharks are in much more danger from people than we are from them: something like 99.7% of their population has been wiped out for shark fin soup.
After another dive, we took a break for dinner before meeting up with a different dive operator for a manta night dive. I was looking forward to doing the manta dive as a snorkeler, to get a different perspective on the action. We’ve done this dive three times before, with anywhere from three to eighteen mantas showing up.
This time? Zero mantas. Know what’s more boring than a “manta dive” snorkel with no mantas? Nothing.
Jeff had a fun night dive, though. In fact, he was the only scuba diver on our boat, so he and the DM just went off by themselves and had a blast.
Sunday was pretty much the same drill. The first dive was at Manta Ray Bay, right outside the harbor. This is where I saw a tiger shark several years ago, and other big critters often cruise through. Nothing so exciting showed up this time, but there was a really pretty area for snorkeling close to shore.
This would have been my third frogfish EVER if I’d actually been on the dive:
Once again, the real excitement was between dives. As we prepared to leave the harbor, a humpback whale and her calf showed up. Boats aren’t allowed to come within 100 yards of humpbacks – though if you stop the boat, and the humpback comes to you, that’s just fine. So – that’s pretty much what we did. At one point, they came right by the boat for a few breaths. The little guy was always right next to mama, like a little mini-whale. They were pursued by a pod of playful spinner dolphins for a while, just as curious about the whales as we were.
Humpback whale and her calf
The last dive was at Eel Cove, one of my favorite dive spots. This was the first time I was really jealous of the divers below: there were several times when I could see cool things going on down there (hunting eels, octopus) but was totally unable to join the fun, or even to get the attention of any of the photographers to point them out!
After the dives, Jeff and I hopped in the car and headed south to Place of Refuge. Turtles often hang out there in the evenings, so we planned on snorkeling around and seeing if any were friendly. Once again, there’s a rule about approaching them – but if you snorkel around the boat ramp, there’s not much keeping them from approaching you! I got tired of the murky water pretty quickly and headed over to snorkel in the pretty part, while Jeff waited to see if any turtles were feeling photogenic. There’s too much rainwater run-off there for really good photos as a snorkeler – but it’s a great place for scuba or freediving (which I also couldn’t do, thanks to my ear).
Turtle pretending to ignore me
Monday morning started out with a horrible disappointment. As long as we’ve been going to Kona, we’ve been getting breakfast at Bubba Gump’s. Now, Bubba Gump’s is a lame-ass, touristy chain restaurant in general – but the one in Kona was the only one that had a breakfast menu, and it was absolutely AMAZING.
Well, I guess not everyone thought so – they stopped doing breakfast a year ago. Doh!
I made Jeff go to Borders with my for my traditional hunt for Hawaiian music, then dropped him at the airport just as my coworkers were arriving. The next few days weren’t really any more exciting than working here at home is – less so, since we were just trapped in a meeting room for two days in the rain.
But even with the all-day meetings and the rain, I’d still step outside for a minute and just feel completely, ridiculously lucky that I got to be in Hawaii.
The rest of Jeff’s pics here.