Sunday, June 28, 2015

Hawaii Trip: The Water Spots

The Pool

I loved our pool. 

Michael and I were a little anxious because we had two kids who couldn't swim on their own, but I had arranged to rent an area gate (meant to make a little pen) and we used that to form a little barrier around the pool. (Along with most of the lounge chairs.) So, while we never left the kids outside alone, the gate at least kept Bennett from constantly having access to the pool. We could still sit around and let him wander with little concern. 

As for June, she LOVED being in the water, but wasn't really interested in venturing past the first two steps. All she wanted to do was chill there and pretend to be a mermaid. We didn't know what to do...try to push her to practice swimming more? Or just let her stay in her comfort zone? But I wanted this trip to have happy memories, nothing but happy ones, not ones where she was crying and constantly being forced to push her limit, so we just let her do her thing.

We all spent lots of time around the pool, enjoying drinks and the sound of the ocean. 

The Lagoon

JusJust down the sea wall path was our little lagoon. It was perfect for our family. It was calm water, protected from big waves and currents by a natural wall of lava rocks. 

We all wore water shoes because the sand was very coarse and there were bits of shell and rock everywhere, and in the lagoon there were plenty of large rocks under the water. They worked out so well, and now I'm wishing I had gotten a picture of all of our little water shoes, including Bennett's tiny ones.

The water was warm and comfortable

The Tide Pools

Of course, in the ideal world, we would have found a house to rent right on a white, sandy beach. But white, sandy beaches are a little rare on the Big Island (though not altogether missing! There are a few that are considered some of the nicest in the US!), so we picked a house right on a lava rock beach that was a short walk down to a little lagoon. 

The lava rocks right behind our house were a source of entertainment on their own, though. There were little tide pools we checked out, with all sorts of sea creatures living there and the water washing in and out. 

Just a short walk down the sea wall path gave us an awesome view of the sunset - and a really cool little blowhole-like structure. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Manta Ray Night Dive!

Leading up to the trip, our family knew that we wanted to have plenty of time to hang out and relax. In other words, we wanted "nothing planned" on the agenda. We did know, however, that there would be a couple of items we might plan in advance. 

One of these items was the Manta Ray Night Dive. In reading up about Kona activities, this one was listed over and over again as such a unique, once-in-a-lifetime, can't miss experience. I knew JP is really into snorkeling, so I asked him if they would be in for this adventure. Mom and Dad offered to watch the kids that evening, so us 'middle generationers' had a date!

We arrived at the marina in the early evening and met our crew. (We used a company called Neptune Charlie's Ocean Safaris.) 

The boat ride was so fun. Michael and I immediately went up on the bow to feel the wind in our hair, the splash of the water on our legs. We had the sun starting to set ahead of us and the Big Island of Hawaii behind us, with the volcanoes disappearing into the clouds. It was so perfect.

When we arrived at a spot near the Kona airport, there were several other boats ready to go as well. As we waited for darkness to fall, the Neptune Charlie's crew told us stories about the manta rays.

Apparently many years ago, outside of a particular Big Island resort, guests started noticing this big black shadow in a spot of the ocean where the resort was shining a big light. They soon discovered it was a big manta ray, then they started to notice that many more were following this ray's lead and showing up at night. Eventually someone put it together that rays eat plankton, plankton is attracted to light, so this spot off this resort was suddenly a nighttime buffet for manta rays. 

So it became a thing on the Big Island - boats take scuba divers and snorkelers out into spots in the ocean where the plankton is/where the rays are known to come, shine bright lights and observe them.

As soon as the sun was down, we got into our wetsuits, flippers and masks.

I won't lie, it was a little unnerving jumping into the black ocean, but it helped that there were lots of other groups of people doing the same thing. 

Our company had this big surfboard with holes cut into it to shine lights down into the ocean. The surfboard had PVC pipes secured all around it as something for us to hold onto - and to make sure the group stayed together. (They also secured glow sticks to our snorkels so they could see us if we ever got separated. Brilliant idea and a terrifying possibility I hadn't really considered yet.)

 This is a blurry shot, but here's a glimpse of our surfboard from below. (All photos from this point on are stills from JP's Go Pro video.)

We drifted around for a while, looking, looking, watching these little fish who were also trying to gobble up the plankton. And then, out of the darkness came these big shadows. I had gone into this adventure thinking that manta rays were about 5-6 feet long, which already kind of freaked me out. (They're as big as me!) Well...

So the manta rays glide along the bottom of the ocean, their black backs the only thing we can see. Then they curve and come directly upward, opening their giant mouths to suck in as much plankton as possible. We start to see the glow of their white underbelly, then they curve again, completing their C-shaped curl and they come within a foot of us, their white bellies glowing brightly in the light. 

The manta swimming directly at us, with his big, open manta mouth:

A manta passing right under us. You can only see one corner of his belly because he's so close!)

Glowing in the darkness:

I have to tell you, it was incredible. Some of the manta rays were 5-6 feet across...the young ones. The biggest one we saw was reportedly 16 feet across! That was as wide as the boat we came in on! Her name is "Big Bertha" (the companies that do these tours have all named them based on their identifying features like their spots on their bellies and their little mouth fin things) and there were plenty of others that were around 12 feet across. (Including one named Vicki, which I was excited to tell mom about.)

They were just so graceful, so massive but gentle. They would look like they were going to collide with each other (or us!) but then swerve at the last moment. 

Near the end of our tour our guide had us push over to a central area where all the scuba divers gather called "The Campfire." The scuba divers take lights down to the bottom to check out the rays and it was such a cool sight. There were fixed lights and lights that were controlled by people. Bubbles rising and catching the light. Then giant bodies would pass over the lights and you'd see the awesome outline of these creatures.

Here's one final shot that shows how close they come:

This was one of the coolest things we did on the trip and I'm so glad we did it. I couldn't wait to get back to Mom and Dad and tell them how awesome it was. (And hear that the kids had done well - thank goodness!)

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A Day at Waikoloa

One of my favorite days in Hawaii was the day we spent in Waikoloa. 

The guys and mom had arranged a tee time to play golf nearby, so the whole family drove up to Waikoloa for the day. We went to the Waikoloa Village Hilton, which is the same hotel our family stayed at over 15 years ago! This place was even more gorgeous than I remember!

We had arranged for Alison and I (and the kids) to have a day pass at the resort, meaning we had a room to use until 6 PM and had access to the pools. But the whole family decided to walk around for a bit and grab some lunch. I think we were all pretty excited when we walked down the main staircase and caught the first glimpse of the lagoon, waterfall and ocean in the background. 

The sea turtle we saw in the lagoon:

We went to a casual restaurant located right on the dolphin cove, meaning we had entertainment for the afternoon too! June was IN HEAVEN. She had been so into dolphins in the weeks leading up to our trip, specifically spinner dolphins. Her nightly routine had started to include her playing on our bed, us throwing a pretend fish toward the end of the bed and her flopping to retrieve it.

After that, the guys and Mom headed off to golf!

Back at the resort, Alison and I had a really great time with the kids. 

The resort has three ways to get around (it's a big place). The tram, a boat and lots of footpaths. We ended up taking all three! The main pathway to walk the resort had tons of art and statues along it, which the kids wanted to pose with.

The tram was definitely the fastest (and most air-conditioned!) of the three. The kids loved riding on it. 

The resort was just so many things to see, like the flamingoes and the rope bridge:

We went to their biggest pool, which had a really awesome side devoted to kids. It was shallow (only going about up to June's chest) and had coarse sand all along the bottom. June loved it because she could have the freedom to go everywhere she wanted, but wasn't worried about going under water. Bennett was so happy to sit in the first few inches of water and play with the sand. Even Kai was totally happy to play here.

Actually, Alison and I were sort of waiting for Kai to tire of the kiddie section of the pool and ask to move on to the lagoon or the other pools, but he didn't want to! We had a mid-day ice cream (overlooking the dolphins again!) and asked where the kids wanted to go next. Kai and June both asked to go back to the sandy pool, so we did!

No doubt, watching all three kids was an undertaking. Especially for several hours in the sun, in water while two of the three don't know how to swim. But it was a surprisingly relaxed day, in my opinion at least. The kids were all so happy to be where they were, so we weren't dealing with tantrums. The biggest stressor for me was making sure the kids all got enough sunscreen...and I'm happy to announce that no one got a sun burn! 

(Alison and I were laughing at the beginning that I hadn't brought any SPF less than 50, but I think it worked out in the end!)

There was even some time where Kai and June were off splashing around nearby and Bennett played happily by us and Alison and I got to just sit back and chat. I was surprised to get such a relaxing moment - I had not been expecting that when I was thinking about our day of watching the kids.

After another hour or two at the kiddie section of the pool after ice cream, we headed back to our little room. It was so nice to get some showers in and get everyone cleaned off and in fresh clothes for us to meet the rest of our group out to dinner. Alison was SO SWEET helping me get my kids ready. Kai is pretty self-sufficient, but my kids still require a little extra help.

I LOVED our day at this resort, but even the (maybe one) hour total we spent in the hotel room had me so doubly grateful for the Dolphin House. Bennett in particular was getting restless in that small space, wanting to climb on everything, lots of breakable things and getting fussy and ready to move on. I was glad to go 'home' to our house where he had so much more room to keep entertained.

After we were ready, we took the final mode of transportation - the boat! We all really enjoyed it - a fun little ride, getting to see the beautiful grounds with the setting sun. We even rode it past our stop to take another loop around, just for fun.

Then we met everyone else for dinner. We had a ton to catch up on and had such good food. Bennett fell asleep while nursing, so the sweet boy just slept on my arm most of the night, which I didn't mind at all! (It actually made it a lot more relaxing a meal than it might have been otherwise.)