Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What a Weekend. Part I

Jenny and I decided to finish our time on the Big Island with a bang this past weekend: Mission Accomplished. I must warn you though, this entry has so much awesome stuff in it that there are a ton of photos.

Things began Thursday night, when Jenny, Tad, and I headed up to the kipuka to do some night work (I promise I'll explain what it is we're doing sometime), a long, cold, rainy 6 hours. As we wandered around the kipuka a front moved in, providing 6 hours of less-than-30-ft visibility and chilly gusts. At least we all looked happy at the start of the night...

Things actually went really well considering the weather, and all in all, I'd say it was a (somewhat) fun, successful night.

Our big adventure began Friday around noon when Jenny, her sister Annie, her mom Jean, and I headed up Saddle Road to drive over to Kona for the night dive with the Manta Rays. After a couple hours we arrived in Kona and boarded the boat to go see Mantas!

The dive itself was definitely the most surreal part of the weekend. The Mantas were first attracted to the area by the lights from the Sheraton Resort in Kona shining into the water and attracting Manta Rays' primary food source, plankton. After years at the Sheraton, the Rays mysteriously disappeared and were missing for months, until they were found by the airport in Kona, again attracted to the lights. After the Manta Rays settled in at the airport, the dive operators devised a way to attract the Mantas every night by having divers descent 40 feet to the bottom of the cove and shine lights upward and having snorkelers on the surface direct their lights downward, creating a column of light to attract plankton and their predators: Manta Rays! Jenny and her family got the snorkeler perspective while I scuba dived (is that really the past tense?). Before the dive I did manage to snag a shot of a Manta attracted to our boat by its lights:

Down at the bottom, the Manta Rays barrel-rolled and twirled around the divers, even brushing through my hair with their wings a couple times. The video on the website of our dive operator gives an idea of what the Manta dive is like, although I must warn you, the music that plays during this video is truly terrible: http://www.konahonudivers.com/mantaray.shtml. All in all, 11 Manta Rays showed up Friday night, ranging in size from a tame 8 feet across to nearly 13 feet across.

We spent Friday night in Kona, partly because I couldn't leave Kona for 12 hours after my dive because all of the roads out of Kona ascend above 2000 feet! Saturday morning we went to nearby Kahalu'u Beach for some snorkeling. "Beach" is a somewhat misleading term, because although Kahalu'u certainly has awesome snorkeling, the "beach" consists almost entirely of rocks, which aren't so nice for a warm nap. We did get to see tons of fish, an eel, and even a turtle, so no complaints here (though I know that last statement may have seemed like a complaint...).

After an hour or two at Kahalu'u we headed south and stopped at world famous Kona Joe coffee to try some of their famous coffee and get my caffeine fix. Kona Joe's coffee is grown on trellises like wine to maximize sunlight exposure and enhance sweetness or something like that; their coffee bar and the accompanying view were the highlights of the stop. Consequently, I may have missed some of the finer points of Kona Joe's growing methods.

We left Kona Joe's and after (a jittery) two hours, we arrived at the southern-most point in the U.S., the aptly named Southpoint. Here, after a few moments of gathering courage and forgetting my desire to live, I jumped...

... 40 feet off of the cliffs into the bluest, clearest waters I've ever leaped into- from any height. The fall really wasn't too bad; I only had time to ask myself what the hell I was thinking for about the last half second before I crashed into the water with fairly decent pencil form. 5-10 nervous, heart-thumping minutes later, Jenny joined me:

I particularly enjoyed Jenny's little jig of the top. After getting it together at the bottom, Jenny and I climbed back to top, a path that involved swimming into a little cave, waiting for the waves to wash us up onto a ledge, and then scrambling back up to the top.

After I took another plunge (slightly more painful than the first), the third musketeer, Annie, took a leap. A cruel trick of gravity lead to the slightly unfortunate result documented in agonizing frame-by-frame fashion below:

The dreaded butt-flop, a result which though exceedingly painful for the past several days, will make a great story someday (easy for me to say). Definitely a 10/10 on that splash though.

After the most dangerous activity of the summer, we trekked 2.5 miles out to Green Sands Beach, just east of Southpoint. The beach is green because of the weathering of olivine-rich basalt. Regardless of the geological mechanism, the beach was certainly one of the coolest beaches I've ever seen.

We finished out the day with a drive to Volcano for some of the island's best Thai food at the Thai Thai Restaurant, and then stopped by Volcano National Park for a look at the caldera at night. It turns out the caldera glows!

It was much cooler in person I assure you. Sunday was another awesome day, but is perhaps a little too much for this entry, so tune in for What a Weekend, Part II coming soon!

Wow! What a weekend! And what a teaser! Stay tuned.

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