In March this year we went to Hawaii for James’ aunt’s wedding. We stayed on the East side of the Big Island which is the volcanic side versus the beachier West side.
We did drive to Kona our first day, which was 2.5 hours (each way!) to swim with dolphins and manta rays. Unfortunately I am a GoPro noob and it turns out the times I thought I had the video running I, um, didn’t. =(
We did get some dolphin footage, though not the pod of hundreds of dolphins that we were right in the middle of. Gah. Gah! But anyway here is a tiny fraction of the dolphins we saw.
Sometimes you could hear the dolphin echolocation before you actually saw them. You can hear it in the (unfortunately shitty – sorry!) video below of James swimming alongside them.
Whenever the dolphins felt annoyed they would just dive down (or speed up) so it was pretty cool they let James swim with them. (Dear Diary, today the dolphins accepted me as one of their own). James said that he was kicking frantically to keep up the whole time.
I was more bummed that I didn’t have any usable footage of the manta rays. We went at 8pm so our group was the only one out there and we had all the manta rays to ourselves. They were so big and so close and doing loop de loops right underneath us!! They swooped about 30cm away from our stomachs and I kept hearing James exclaim through his snorkel mask.
It was an incredibly memorable day – definitely two experiences to put on your bucket list! It was also a super long day (something like 4am-midnight!) and we didn’t even get to sleep in because the next day because we went on a hike to some active lava flows. After a long hike we emerged from a forest to see this: The ground was lava that had cooled and become hard but was still emitting lots of heat; the newer the crust was the hotter it was – and some of it was just a day old! James was wearing his hiking vibrams and if he stood still for too long on yesterday’s lava his feet would get uncomfortable. Later he had the bright idea to pour water over his feet to cool them off, and when the water hit the ground it sizzled, turned into steam, and burned him. =/
Even moving around was challenging because we were carrying long, awkward sticks, trying to move quickly across uneven terrain, and if we fell we’d land on a hot, brittle surface that would basically cut us like glass while it burned us.
At times we had to hop over lava (the floor is lava!): While dead trees burned on contact with the lava. You can see the lava wasn’t that molten stuff that sprays everywhere like in the movies. The black stuff was old and the light silver stuff was the active flow but even as it slowly oozed it was already hardening.
We poked the lava with sticks – really long sticks because it was crazy fucking hot (it’s hard to tell from the photo but that stick is almost twice my height). The outer layer would be like thick, viscous honey and the molten lava inside was more liquidy, and much hotter – every time I poked a hole I’d get a burst of intense heat. Even a fair distance from the active flow it was like standing next to an open oven and nobody could stand next to the lava for very long. I tried at one point and it felt like my ankles (which were exposed) caught on fire.
James had a pretty hard time because he really doesn’t like heat and had to keep his feet moving because of his shoes. One guy in old hiking boots had his sole detach from one of his shoes because the glue melted. Luckily this happens a lot so the guides had duct tape. After a couple of token lava pokes James retreated to a safe distance. I think this photo is of him telling me to hurry up. His loss though, because he missed out on making lava marshmallows. They were weird and crunchy.
The next day we went with James’ family to the Volcanoes National Park. The crater (the bit in the middle right with the steam) was cool but we missed the lava being 20 meters from the rim by one day. =( We explored the museum and walked through some cave-like lava tubes. This is us in front of one of the steam vents. The steam was super humid (obviously) and smelled like Chinese food (less obviously). And here we are again after the wedding a couple of days later, in the same pose and both still doing the same hang loose gesture. The day after was our last full day and we’d planned an open door helicopter ride but it was cancelled because of the weather. Pro tip: never leave anything you really want to do for the last day. The manta ray people told us that 20% of their trips don’t see any manta rays, and those people get a free do-over, but a lot of the time they’ve left it for their last night and can’t go.
Instead we did a bunch of snorkeling with James’ family where we saw some turtles fighting underwater (OMG it is like seeing a fight in slow motion. A turtle bites and smacks sooooo slowly that the only thing that can’t avoid it is, I guess, another turtle).
Then in the late afternoon/early evening we headed to Mauna Kea with James’ parents. Like Haleakala it was cold on top (apparently they get snow in the winter!) so we made sure to rug up.
It was super overcast and looking really dire on the drive up. It was still cloudy at sunset and I was worried we wouldn’t be able to see any stars. Everyone kept looking up at the sky worriedly. At least we got one more piggyback in. Mauna Kea was chosen as the location for a bunch of observatories because it is hardly ever overcast. Luckily that night was not an exception, and as the sun set the sky slowly but surely cleared.And we saw sooo many stars! The stargazing volunteers brought out a bunch of telescopes that people could look through and they gave a talk about the different constellations that were visible. The highlight for me was seeing a shooting star through a telescope and being able to see two of the moons of Jupiter.
It was a gorgeous way to spend our last night. The Big Island wasn’t on our must-do travel list and we mainly went to see James’ family, and I’m really glad we did! We got to do some really amazing stuff – swim with hundreds of dolphins! Look down the throat of a manta ray! Poke lava with a stick! – and it was all super amazing. =)