Today, we start a three-day series of Hawaii diving and snorkeling posts written by my friend Elisabeth Ostrander.
First, I am not an expert diver by any means, as I have only 20 dives under my weight belt, but I do enjoy the activity itself and all the things there are to see when scuba diving.
However, there’s a twist – I’m terrified of being underwater — unlike my husband, who I swear has hidden gills somewhere. Needless to say, I’m not your typical scuba fanatic, yet… but I am getting there slowly.
If you are reading this and wondering why I scuba dive at all, wait for it … I particularly LOVE seeing sharks while scuba diving. I am dead serious when I say, they calm me down underwater, because they are so mesmerizing to watch; I forget about all my fears.
I must also add, having gotten SSI certified back in 2007 (no small task, considering how uncomfortable I was with water) just prior to our honeymoon in Fiji, we’re admittedly spoiled having had that as our first dive trip. After an amazing week scuba diving in Fiji, the pesky thing called ‘life’ got in the way, and it was soon over two years until our next diving adventure in Hawaii.
In the last two years, the story has changed dramatically – I’ve since visited Oahu twice (but have only snorkeled there), the Big Island, Kauai, and most recently – Maui.
At this point, it’s fair to say a love affair with Hawaii is blossoming, and the amazing experiences I’ve had so far scuba diving in Hawaii is just one of the many reasons why.
Hawaii is best known for its abundance of dive spots inhabited with sea turtles, manta rays and dolphins, as well as smaller endemic marine life species, living among the volcanic formations under its clear blue water.
Scuba Diving on the Big Island of Hawai’i
Back in January 2010, we made our first ever voyage ever to Hawaii. From Salt Lake City, we first flew to Honolulu on Delta, spent 3 days on Oahu, checking out Wakikki, the north shore and Pearl Harbor.
Next, it was off to the Big Island for a six night stay at Kona Village Resort* / Four Seasons Hualalai, where we’d planned to do several days of diving.
In the excitement of planning our first trip to the islands and escaping winter on the mainland, we failed to research our timing. If we had, we may have realized it wasn’t the best time of year to visit for scuba diving, due to the possibility of large ocean swells – great for surfers, not so much for diving.
Visiting in January did have its perks however. Because the resort was only about 60% full, we also had the luck of being the only two divers on the boat that first day, along with a couple spare crew members diving for fun. It practically gave us a private refresher course with our very own, patient dive leader. (A very good thing after it had been so long since our last trip. )
From the Kailua-Kona coastline, we could see whales breaching often in the distance, and getting on the dive boat that first day, we were hoping for a 2-for-1 whale watching tour and a 2-tank dive.
We were not disappointed during our surface interval, when we saw more whales breaching within a closer range.
While underwater, the ‘singing’ of the whales resonating at times created such a powerful ‘thumping’ in our chests and the resulting vibrations were so powerful and close, I felt as though I could pivot and be face to face with a giant whale at any time. Of course, reason and logic (plus conversation with the other divers) tells me, the whales were probably still miles away.
Big Island Scuba Diving near Kailua Kona
Our first dive was at a site in Kua Bay, not too far off the Kona Coast.
I was immediately grateful for Shawna, one of my favorite dive leaders to date, who seemingly understood all of my crazy fears and was able to help me work through them. We took our time descending to the clean, white sandy floor at a depth of about 40’, where she had us work on a couple of skills before continuing our dive.
Just a few minutes into this process, our attention was captured by this sight:
Luckily, the other dive crew members had brought along a camera and underwater scooters, and managed to catch us in the picture with this 10-12’ wide Manta Ray gliding past us. (I am on the far left – I have since improved out my buoyancy skills:)
All my other thoughts and irrational fear slipped aside, as I soaked up the fleeting moment – as quickly as it came, it was gone.
We spent the remainder of the dive tooling around spotting just a few things – eels and a “crown of thorns” starfish moving along the ocean floor.
Dive #2 brought the boat to Black Coral Arch, a dive site reaching 60’ depths, with a short swim-through lava tube and a more open arch formation, which plenty of light filtered through.
Doing a pre-dive briefing on the boat, Shawna assured me I’d be OK and more comfortable swimming up through the larger arch.
We plotted, however, to position me on one end of the lava tube, and she would lead my husband through it, in order to ‘flush out’ 4 smaller, white tip reef sharks (each no more than 4-6’ in size) resting there, so I could get a good look at them. A fifth shark swam by before my fellow divers were out of the tube.
Dive heaven for me! A bonus was the surprised look on my husband’s face upon seeing the sharks, as he doesn’t share my love of sharks, and he had been chatting on the other side of the boat when we made this plan.
Sadly, this was our first and only day of scuba diving off the Kona Coast. Due to growing swells, the resort grounded all water activities, so we beached ourselves by the pool (and the pool bar) the rest of the week.
Seeing that amazing manta ray ‘flying’ gracefully towards us through the water made it worth the trip alone. I might have been happy if that was my last dive ever.
About the Author: Elisabeth Ostrander is an experienced travel journalist, although a past life saw her writing mainly about snow based activities such as skiing and snowboarding, she has slowly started to succumb to the allure of surf, sand & scuba … in between ski seasons, that is.
Watch for two more posts this week from Elisabeth about scuba diving In Poipu. Kauai and scuba diving in Maui & Lanai.
*Note: In March 2011, both Kona Village Resort property & the Four Seasons Hualalai were heavily damaged from an earthquake-generated tsunami. The Four Seasons underwent several months of renovations and re-opened for guests; Kona Village Resort, which had been in operation since 1965, has yet to reopen, much to the dismay of its loyal guests.