The big activity for our second day in Hawaii was scheduled for the evening, so we had a few hours and decided to drive up to North Kohala for a visit to the newly opened Hawaii Wildlife Center. I wasn’t expecting much to be there yet, but wanted to support it and check out their gift shop. Unfortunately I forgot the first rule of being on Island Time – call ahead. Although their web site clearly indicated their public areas were open on Saturday, the sign on their locked door said otherwise. That was okay, though; Steve and I had a nice drive and picnic lunch on their grounds, then headed back to Hawi for an ice cream cone and a chance to peruse the local artist galleries in “town”. Hawi is another place that seems to have really picked up. It is no booming metropolis, but there were open stores in most of their 2 block downtown area, and a livelier vibe than the last time we drove through.
On the way back to Kona, we stopped briefly at a lava tube on the side of the highway. It’s not a maintained tube, just a very convenient hole in the ground.
We also got to see some of the mountain goats that have apparently started to overtake the west side of Hawaii. They have apparently started coming down to the airport grounds every morning and afternoon, coordinated with the airport’s sprinkler timers. I love the goats, so any chance to stop and take photos will be utilized.
But, as I said at the beginning, the big activity was a night time adventure: Night Snorkeling with Manta Rays! Steve reveled in taking photo after photo of me trying to get into my wetsuit, but somehow didn’t manage to take any of me fully suited up. I noted the gentleman in the other couple waited for his lady to be fully garbed before taking her photo. Steve seems to have lost much of his Southern Gentleman upbringing during his time in the Wild West.
Anyway, we went with a group called Blue Sea Cruises, which leaves a little later than the other night snorkel/scuba groups, the idea being that our boat would be pulling in to the swim location just as the rest of the boats were pulling out. They also emphasize the snorkel bit – this is not a night swim; we didn’t even put on flippers. When we got to the swim spot, they tossed out this large, floating PVC rectangle, with a bright light shining in it, that we all swam to and then held on and watched the show.
I’ll emphasized these are not captive manta rays, and we were not adding food to the water – the light attracts the plankton, which in turn attracts the manta rays. They can come or go as they please, but it’s become a reliable meal for them and a great tourist attraction for the island.
Before Steve and I had even gotten into the water, we heard the crew pointing out the manta rays to those who’d gotten in before us, and the non-stop giggling of the two young Belgian ladies who would exude this excitement the entire time they were in the water. (A quick side note for all the single ladies – grab a single lady friend and take a vacation together; you will be the most well-attended visitors on every outing!)
Steve and I enjoyed our 30 minutes in the water, watching 4 different manta rays fly around us, and sometimes seemingly straight for us, with their mouths open wide, scooping up their dinner.
At first, I was a little unsure about the notion that we weren’t going to be able to put on our flippers or swim, but I quickly realized that the PVC rectangle (a creation of Blue Sea Cruises and used, I think, only by them) is really the way to go. Humans aren’t trying to follow a manta ray, pestering them and ultimately missing everything, and we aren’t flopping around kicking up the water (and potentially the mantas) with our flippers – we just hang on and float while the mantas come to us. Everyone gets to see the manta rays, and it’s safe for everyone involved. A highly recommended experience!
We enjoyed the trip back to port with a Mai Tai in-hand (the Belgian girls got theirs first), and toddled off to bed in preparation for the next day’s activities!