Life is rough, you understand. I was forced to take a vacation because I had accrued the maximum 280 hours of vacation time at work. Conveniently my friend Andy was making arrangements for a trip to Hawaii for the end of October. By way of some freak ignorance of the pursuit of happiness, I had never been to Hawaii before, and so we begin our photo-documented tale. Click on all of the links for more pictures. (To get better color in the sunset shots, turn your desktop to 24 bit (Millions of Colors).) (And if you want a hi-res version of any of these, just email me.)


We flew to Honolulu and then Kona on Saturday. The house that Andy had arranged for is built on a mango plantation and you almost need a 4x4 to get to it. The backyard/garden overlooks Kealakekua Bay and the setting sun. Rain must not be a problem except from the north-east direction because there are almost no glass windows in the house. The upper level is completely open to the outside and most of the lower level has entire walls made of screen. The effect is that you feel "one" with the Hawaiian jungle. The affect is that we woke up at dawn every morning with the sounds of the critters of the jungle and neighboring plantations. In the ocean-side garden is an outdoor bathtub and shower behind a group of bushes and trees.

The bathroom is beautiful with mirrors surrounded by stained glass and only screens in place of windows. Screens completely surround the master bedroom and the beads hanging in the doorway make very cool wave-effects in the gentle breeze that comes down the mountain every night. The screened-in kitchen has an equally amazing view of the setting sun and ocean. In the early morning, the house and trees shadow the outside bathtub area.

Immediately after dropping off our bags at the house we went down to Kealakekua Bay to snorkel before the sun went down. This was the first time I had snorkeled in a tropical area and I was just amazed at the vibrant colors from the fish. There were also a *bunch* of snapping shrimp in the coral areas where the fish were chillin.


The next morning we drove to Big Island Divers and rented SCUBA gear with two tanks each. The dive spot for the day was Ke'ei Beach. We entered on a sand boat ramp and were immediately treated to a huge wall of coral just busting with beautiful fish life. The visibility underwater was easily 100 feet and I don't think I've ever seen so many fish. We surfaced a little off-course and got smacked around a bit on a shallow reef that several local boogie boarders were surfing on. We got separated from the boat entrance by some rocks and made a less-than-elegant exit from the water.

We ate lunch on the beach and just generally tooled around waiting for the sunset that gave me the picture to the left. Deeper into the sunset I snagged this shot of a local couple.


On Monday we went diving in the bay near the City of Refuge. The local divers call this Two Steps because there is a spot with two or three ledges of rock to make entry and exit from the water easier. The coral and sea life were amazing here as well. We saw a Morey Eel too! After having a couple of close runs with a boat above us, we decided to head out of the water instead of pursuing some turtles that other divers had told us about.

After returning the dive equipment, we caught a sunset at Kona.


Tuesday we took the Chevy Blazer south looking for a trail that could get us down to a secluded bay. We found the Manuka Bay Road trail which recommended 4 wheel drive although any reasonable car could travel it. Manuka Bay was beautiful with ancient Hawaiian ruins and shrines built into the landscape. There were probably 20 to 30 dolphins feeding and playing in the bay. Their flips and jumps were terrific.

On the drive back up Manuka Bay Road, we struck a rock that must have been much more planted than it appeared. Stopping the Blazer immediately when we noticed that the oil pressure was at zero, we saw that the oil pan was dripping oil at a steady rate. This is not a good situation since AAA, car insurance, and rental agreements do not cover 4 wheel drive situations. We hiked four miles out to the main road and called AAA, but they never showed up and it had begun to rain on us.

We hitched a ride home with a very nice woman that likes to free-dive with some of the pros on the island. It turns out that most local tow truck drivers will not touch a vehicle off-road for anything less than $300. Always take two vehicles with you when you drive off-road. The next morning at 6am I hitched a ride with the friendly neighbor and caretaker of the property to the airport to rent a Jeep Wrangler. With tow strap, oil, and tools in hand to do a temporary repair of a cracked oil pan, we returned to Manuka Bay Road to fetch the Blazer. Crawling underneath, we found that there was actually a 2" hole in the oil pan and we could only hope to tow it out. The Wrangler performed like a champ and pulled the big, dumb Blazer up some pretty loose and steep hills to the road. Three hours and two calls to AAA later, we had the Blazer back to the rental agency and could continue with the vacation already in progress.

After returning the Blazer, we drove to the north side of the island to see the beautiful Pololu area. The north side of the island receives a lot of rainfall which explains the deeply cut valleys and forest.

On the way back to Kona, we stopped by a resort beach on our search for a sand beach without any rocks. Hawai'i, being the newest island, is still very rocky from the lava flows.


Thursday we needed to pick up Greg at the airport, so we couldn't stray too far from Kona. We spotted a road that went toward a tempting lagoon that was hidden from the highway. This is Kiholo Bay and the lagoon was truly amazing. On the near side was a channel that an ancient Hawaiian king had built to create a fish pond. I spotted a sea turtle and a couple of fish swimming in the channel toward the pond. On the far side of the lagoon was a white sand beach. Only a couple of others had found this place today. Andy and I swam across the Bay to the sand beach and lagoon. The bay is strange because there is a layer of fresh water floating on a layer of salt water. The lower salt water layer is warmer than the fresh water layer. As we swam across the bay it was consistantly about five feet deep and full of fish. Once we reached the lagoon, we saw lots and lots of turtles. It was a protected area with solar-powered camera stations and a microwave antenna for transmitting the data. After we ate lunch at the bay, we picked up Greg at the airport.


We had a date with the Volcanoes on Friday. Hawaii has two active volcanoes and the previous night a good flow had begun to the ocean on the East side of the island. We hiked an active crater that we thought was quite large, but it turned out to be the small one. The other crater is huge! Lava tubes are formed by a river of lava that starts to cool near the top, causing a chute to be formed for the lava to flow all the way down to the ocean. We hiked this tube for several hundred feet beyond where the lights stopped. That night we drove down the Chain of Craters Road to the ocean where you could view the lava flow as it hit the ocean and created a large steam plume. It was an amazing sight. Greg may have some slow-shutter pictures to share.


On Saturday we strapped two kayaks to the top of the Jeep and took them down to Kealakekua Bay. After we swamped one of the kayaks, we gave up and I towed it back to the dock with my kayak. While Andy and Greg snorkeled, I kayaked across the bay to see the Captain Cook monuments and got a bit sun burned.

For lunch we cooked up some fresh fish from a local market and then headed to Kona for sunset/dinner. We caught a great sunset from a bar where everyone gathers to watch. Afterward we browsed the local shops and found this great lady that was very bitter about her job. She couldn't imagine why anyone would buy any of the junk that was in her store. Her manager wouldn't even let her open the window to the beautiful view of the ocean because the sea air would corrode the cheap jewelry.


Sunday we chartered a helicopter specifically so that we would all be guaranteed a window seat on a Hughes 500 and experience some more adventerous flying. We could also direct the flight exactly as we liked. The flight was first thing in the morning and this turned out to be great luck because the weather was just perfect before the "curtain" of clouds come in from the sea later in the morning. We had the crew remove all four doors so that we all could hang out of the chopper if we wanted.

We started toward the northern valley area of the island where the waterfalls rule. I could lean out and see straight up or down and even the tail rotor behind us. The falls were absolutely beautiful. This flight was the best roller coaster ride ever. Our pilot would climb through these valleys and once at the top ask us, "so is everyone feeling ok?". He would then proceed to roll the chopper about 80 degrees on its side and dive straight down into the valleys. It kicked so much ass.

Our pilot could perfectly hover us directly over waterfalls and objects nearly at tree level. At the bottom of all these waterfalls and valleys is where the river meets the ocean. From here we flew along the coast to the west and then inland to find a well preserved World War II bomber that had crashed into the valleys here so long ago. After that it was back to the coast and to the east towards the airport. And as we requested, the pilot did some nap of the earth (treetop level) flying on the way home. If you want more details, please email me.

That night we had rescheduled the Manta Ray dive that we missed because of the Blazer incident, so we just hung loose at Hapuna State beach until that afternoon. At 5:30 we met with the dive group that would take us out diving at night. The dive site was just south of the Kona airport and so we were instructed on what to expect and then suited up while we watched a couple of manta rays skim the surface of the water.

Once we were at the bottom, it was a completely different world. We adjusted our lights so that they floated just above our foreheads and plankton began to collect near us. The manta rays would swim directly for our faces with their mouths wide open and then just skim the tops of our heads as they swam past. Fish would collect and feed off of the plankton in front of our faces. It was so amazing. You could even shine your light inside of the rays' mouths and see deep inside to their gills. After about 30 minutes, five manta rays were swimming around us and even getting a bit aggressive. The dive master estimated that the biggest ray had a wingspan of 14 feet. After another 15 minutes or so we followed the dive master and explored the sea floor a bit with our lights. Without sunlight down there, you get a feeling of sensory deprivation. Definitely one of the best experiences I've ever had. We had rented all of our equipment and scheduled the manta ray dives through Big Island Divers of Kona. They were very professional and friendly and the equipment was in good condition.


Monday we drove up north again to hike Pololu, but it was raining, so we just explored the island by road and settled on Kona State beach for sunset.