Western Caribbean Cruise (Spring 2017)

Until recently we had never taken a cruise. Over the years I encountered several people who love to take cruises. So, we figured why not try just one cruise and see what it’s like. Recently we took a Western Caribbean cruise… should I finish this sentence with the popular click bait “and here’s what happened!”?

Note: The images below are low resolution for obvious reasons.

Overall, I took over 600 fish pictures at just 2 locations. I still really like my Olympus Stylus TG-830. I bought this camera 3 1/2 years ago and it still works great.

The cruise

We took a 6-day western Caribbean cruise on Royal Caribbean Freedom of the Sea. Some stats:

  • Guest capacity: 3,634
  • Crew: 1,365 to 1,800
  • 15 decks

Locations:

  • Ft. Lauderdale (our starting point)
  • George Town, Grand Cayman
  • Cozumel, Mexico
  • Costa Maya, Mexico
  • Return to Ft. Lauderdale

Onboard the ship we went rock climbing on a good size wall, played mini-golf, watched two recent Star Wars episodes, saw an ice skating show and a magician, blew a few dollars in the arcade, used the exercise and weight room (which was very large). Also, Kung Fu Panda was available for pictures! Other activities included: basketball, riding the ‘Flow Rider’ with a boogie board or special wake board.

Overall the ship was very nice, great food, the crew was great.

However, there were 2 downsides we experienced while taking this cruise.

(a) Too many people nearly everywhere you went – people at the pool, people eating in the Jade/Windjammer restaurant, people on the decks, etc. Just too many people.

 

(b) Anything related to entertainment with music was waaaay too loud. What’s way too loud? Well, you had to yell at the person next to you if you wanted to have a conversation. Blaring music by the pools, in the movies, around the basketball court, during the magic show and ice skating show, around the FlowRider, etc.

Overall, we learned that we particularly aren’t ‘cruise people’ and won’t be taking any cruises in the future. We prefer to rent a condo, rent a car and make our own plans.

Ft. Lauderdale

We were only in Ft. Lauderdale for 1 night waiting for our ship to leave the next day.

We visited the Hollywood Beach Boardwalk. It’s a very active scene with lots of people walking around, biking and many different ‘mom and pop’ restaurants to choose from. At night the boardwalk seems to have concerts. It’s a nice place to visit and go for a walk.

We contacted Uber and had our driver drop us off at 1111 N Ocean Dr, Hollywood, FL which is one main entrances to the boardwalk.

We got up early the next day and took a shuttle to the crowded port. They happened to have 8 ships arrive with ~60,000 people going through the port that day – it was very hectic.

We spent a day at sea before reaching Grand Cayman early the next day.

George Town, Grand Cayman

The first stop on our cruise was George Town, Grand Cayman.

We previously booked a tour and headed to Stingray City. The tour started with a ~30 minute bus ride from the port to the yacht club followed by a ~35 minute boat ride to Stingray City. Unfortunately, the wind was very strong and whitecaps were present on the ride to our destination. I was a bit concerned when I saw ~8 other boats already moored in the area.

Our boat captain found a place to park. We hopped out of our boat to join the throngs anxious tourists looking to get close to a few stingrays.

 

And here is our token Stingray photo…

 

After we returned from Stingray City we took a bus to a hotel near the southern end of 7-mile beach. We walked onto the beach and found a nice, quiet spot to go snorkeling (without any other people around 🙂 )

 

Nice, huh? Aside from the snorkeling the only thing missing was a comfortable chair, a chilled Mai Tai and a good book.

Compared to snorkeling I’ve done over the years on the 4 major Hawaiian Islands the southern end of 7-mile beach was clearer. I saw many types of large fish (12” surgeonfish) and small fish (schools of tiny fish about ½ an inch long). The coral looked very healthy and the fish seemed happy! If I were  fish, I’d be happy here too…

 

Snapper and Surgeon fish above and below.

 

Below is a juvenile Beaubrummel Gregory. This was the first time I saw this fish – absolutely beautiful.

 

Later that evening we left Grand Cayman. Our ship traveled overnight to reach Cozumel in the morning.

Cozumel

 

After engourging ourselves on a typical cruise breakfast, we hopped off the ship with snorkel gear in hand and walked a long pier to the port. We quickly found a cab and asked the driver to take us to Chankanaab.

We visited Cozumel and Chankanaab beach park over 15 years ago, Chankanaab has changed a lot since then. They seem to have expanded the park by 60%. They added the Blue Lagoon restaurant, an area to swim with the dolphins, more Mayan replica statues and art work, a zip line, etc. Despite the growth the park is still a great place to visit. There were enough people to take up all of the chairs and umbrellas and yet the park didn’t seem too crowded. I always found quiet areas to snorkel.

I snorkeled along the whole length of the park, north from the first metal staircase entrance down south to the ‘underwater cave for certified divers’.

The snorkeling was great. Again, compared to Hawaii the water was clear. I saw many different types of fish I hadn’t see in Hawaii. Below are a few fish I hadn’t seen before.

Smooth Trunkfish

 

 

 

 

 

French Angelfish

Butterflyfish

 

 

 

 

 

Blue Chromis

Highfin Chub

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They intentionally sunk 3 statues to give divers/snorkelers something to look at underwater. Below are the Christ statue, Madonna statue (not the pop star) and Chacmol statue. Each statue seemed to be 20-30 feet underwater.

The Chacmol statue (or Chacmool) in the bottom right above isn’t very clear. Chacmol was “a particular form of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican sculpture depicting a reclining figure with its head facing 90 degrees from the front, supporting itself on its elbows and supporting a bowl or a disk upon its stomach.” Wikipedia.

Ooooh! Barracuda! Aaaaw yaaah!

Barracuda

This was one of several large barracuda in my vicinity. There was a school of about 10 of them just… hanging around…

The best part of snorkeling for me was seeing reef Octopus. The last time I saw these little critters was when I was snorkeling probably 8 years ago off Kamaole 1 Beach on Maui. They’re amazing creatures and very smart too.

 

If you’re curious, here’s a neat video on reef octopus.

More info on Chankanaab can be found here. Here is a map of the park.

Costa Maya

Costa Maya was once a tiny, quiet fishing village. In 1995 further development started and the port was expanded. It’s still a small, quaint place to visit that doesn’t yet have a ‘touristy’ feel about it. I didn’t notice any American fast food restaurants yet. To give you an idea of where its located, Belize is about an hour south and Cancun is about an hour north.

 

We previously booked a tour of the Chacchoben Mayan ruins. At the port we boarded a bus which took us on an hour ride west to Chacchoben.

Chacchoben was inhabited from about 200 AD to around 1200 AD when, like several other Mayan cities, it was abandoned for unknown reasons. Population explosion, lack of fresh water, lack of fertile land to grow crops, better living conditions at another Mayan city, etc. are all possibilities that our tour guide mentioned as reasons that may have caused the Mayans to leave Chacchoben. After the inhabitants left the jungle took over and buried the pyramids.

In 1972 the pyramids were rediscovered by an archeologist. In 1994 the Mexican Government began to excavate the site. It was opened to the public in 2002. Walking around this site there seems to still be several smaller overgrown mounds with buildings underneath. Perhaps, one day they will be excavated as well.

Over 15 years ago we visited Chichen Itza which is about 1-2 hours west of Cancun. By comparison Chacchoben has smaller pyramids yet they are still amazing. Also, Chacchoben overall is big enough to casually walk through in 1-2 hours or you can pretend to be Indiana Jones seeking another lost temple. Several pyramids have a gate to deter you from climbing the stairs, however there are several other pyramids where you can still climb the stairs. Chacchoben is worth the 1 hour bus ride and cost of admittance.

More info on Chacchoben can be found here and here.

More info on Costa Maya can be found here.

In closing

Overall it was a nice vacation. Each destination was great. We had great snorkeling, saw a number of beautiful fish for the first time and earned a better understanding of the ancient Mayans.

Very friendly (or hungry) Sergeant fish at Chankanaab

 

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Maui (Fall 2016)

Kamaole 1 beach

Kamaole 1 beach

We just returned from Maui. This was our 8th trip to Maui since 2007. It’s a beautiful island that has a lot to offer.

We’ve seen the entire island with the exception of the most southern road, the Piilani Highway 31 and 360, past the Pokowai Sea Arch to the “Seven Sacred” Pools at Ohe’o Gulch. Here’s a map. I emphasize “seven sacred” since there aren’t seven pools and it’s not really sacred. The Maui Revealed book also describes the history behind this area.

Overall, the weather was nice, partly cloudy and warm in the mid/high 80’s. Although, we’ve had better weather on other trips to Maui.

I was great to see that the bleached coral that I wrote about in our Maui trip last year in November was gone. The water was noticeably colder this year. The algae returned and the coral looked healthy. I even saw purple coral which I don’t see very often.

I took over 1,200 fish pictures. Yep, over one thousand two hundred fish pictures… I still really like my Olympus Stylus TG-830. I bought this camera 3 years ago and it still works great.

Since fish don’t pose for photos I especially like the “burst mode” for taking fish pictures. I usually set it to take 2 photos every second, dive to the fish I want to photograph, hold the button down and swim towards the fish. At home I tend to delete about 1/3 of the photos taken in this manner but I also get great pictures since you don’t know which way the fish is going to swim, what the sun will do, how the sun will reflect off the surrounding coral and the fish, etc.

Since we revisited the same locations below that I blogged about them in the past, I’ll summarize where we visited on this trip from north to south.

Nakalele Blowhole

We tried to visit the Olivine Pools again on the north eastern side of the island but on the day we went it was rainy with harsh gusts of wind. The farthest we made it was to the Nakalele blowhole.

Nakalele Blowhole

Nakalele Blowhole

The Olivine Pools are one of Hawaii’s most dangerous spots. I believe people tend to get carried away with the beauty of this location, get too close to the ocean and get pulled in by a big wave.

Below is  picture of the road around the northern end of Maui. It was a smooth road most of the way and reminds me of the road to Hana (tight, narrow road, lots of curves, 1-lane bridges, etc.)

northern maui

Northern Maui

Ka’anapali

We spent a few days in Ka’anapali. It’s a nice area with a beach walk/boardwalk that spans several miles. You can walk to the Whalers Village shopping center and other restaurants.

Kahekili Beach

This is still my favorite snorkeling spot on the entire island. Basically, while snorkeling at this spot I can see almost every type of fish in one of my fish books. There are all kinds of wrasses, surgeon fish (Yellow Tang, etc), Angelfish, Butterfly fish, Triggerfish, etc. Just amazing!

The beach also has plenty of parking and restrooms.

Below are a few photo’s I took while snorkeling at this beach.

Forcep Buttterfly fish

Forcep Buttterfly fish

The fish below is a baby Triggerfish or Humuhumu Lei. The bright yellow band just behind his eye looks like a lei. He was about 3-4 inches long and will grow to be ~10 inches long.

Baby Humuhumu Lei or Triggerfish

Baby Humuhumu Lei or Triggerfish

Below is a baby Yellow Tang, about 3 inches long. To the left is a baby Lavender Tang.

Baby Yellow Tang

Baby Yellow Tang

There is a fish in the photo below, it’s a Devil Scorpionfish. This fish doesn’t have a swim bladder and sinks when not moving. They rest on the bottom and sit camouflaged waiting for smaller fish to swim by, then they lurch forward, open their huge jaws and swallow their prey whole!

Devil Scorpionfish

Devil Scorpionfish

Black Rock

The snorkeling here was good as always. It’s great for first time snorkelers since you can see a variety of fish within ~50 yards from the shore. There are also alot of other snorkelers around. I tend to snorkel around the point into the U-shaped area and see many different types of fish and the occasional turtle.

Below is a photo taken when snorkeling at Black Rock.

Moorish Idols and Yellow Tang

Moorish Idols and Yellow Tang

 

Lahaina

We ate dinner in Lahaina one night. Afterwards, we  walked through the stores and art galleries. The town hasn’t changed much over the years and retains its charm.

Kamaole Beaches in Kihea

Kamaole 3 and related beaches to the north are great to visit. You can snorkel in a few spots. Kam 3 offers waves big enough to boogie board. Kam 3 also has showers and restrooms.

There is a nice beach walk that connects the 3 beaches. It took me about an hour to walk from Kam 3 to the trail end on Kam 1. The photo at the top of this blog is where the trail ends on Kam 1.

Kamaole Beach 3

Kamaole Beach 3

 

Ulua and Mokapu Beaches in Wailea

Snorkeling around the point between these 2 beaches is fairly good, although it can be cloudy on some days. Further south on Ulua beach the waves were big enough to boogie board, so we did!

This location is also popular for divers.

There seeems to be enough parking spots, although they usually fill-up by 10am. This location also offers showers and restrooms.

There were a number of fish at this beach so I included the most unique photo’s that I took.

Hawaiian Whitespotted Toby

Hawaiian Whitespotted Toby ~3 inches long

Bluehead Butterflyfish

Bluehead Butterflyfish

Changs Beach in Makena

Parking is south of the metallic gold “Makena Surf” sign. The parking lot has about 8 stalls. Since it’s a small, secluded beach there are no showers or restrooms.

Snorkeling north around the point you’ll see turtles. For example, in 45 mins I saw 4 turtles. The picture below shows a small turtle. He seems close to me but that was his choice. I was calmly floating around with no one around me looking at fish then to my surprise I see this little guy swim up next to me to grab some air. I provided some distance but also took his photo. He was kinda funny, he just floated at the top and looked around, no stress, just taking it easy like… a turtle.

Turtle

Turtle

I’ve noticed over the years that some Unicornfish tend to be curious and will swim right up to your camera or goggles.

Unicorn fish

Unicorn fish

Maluaka Beach in Makena

This beach is in front of what use to be the Makena Beach & Golf Resort. When we visited this time the resort was completely closed with a fence around it.

Snorkeling a little south just around the point is usually very good. I see several different types of fish and a few turtles. Periodically, tour boats will anchor to let folks onboard snorkel.

There is adequate parking in 2 lots, showers and restrooms.

There were a number of fish at this beach. I included one of the fish that I don’t see too often – the Porcupine fish.

Porcupine Fish

Porcupine Fish

La Perouse Bay

One evening we took Makena Road south until it ended near the Makena Stables.

I’ve seen people swim and surf at this location, however it seems a little rough. I haven’t gone in.

Instead of diving into the water we chose to go for a short hike along the trail at sunset. It’s a rugged trail so you may want to use gym shoes vs. open toed flip-flops.

Below are 2 images off to the side of this trail.

La Perouse Bay

La Perouse Bay

La Perouse Bay

La Perouse Bay

Below is a photo of sunset over Kaho’olawe taken from La Perouse Bay. The perfect ending to our trip.

sunset over Kaho'olawe taken from La Perouse Bay

Sunset over Kaho’olawe taken from La Perouse Bay

 

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Oahu (Spring 2016)

Waikiki

Waikiki

We just returned from our 3rd trip to Oahu. Overall, we had a great time. We stayed in the Kailua/Lanikai area.

Hanauma Bay

During our visit we went to Hanauma Bay twice. The snorkeling remains great.

Both times we arrived at ~8:30am. We were nearly the last folks allowed into the park since the parking lot was full.

Hanauma Bay

Hanauma Bay

Hanauma Bay - Bluestripe Butterfly fish

Hanauma Bay – Bluestripe Butterfly fish

Hanauma Bay - Yellow Spotted Jack

Hanauma Bay – Yellow Spotted Jack

Hanauma Bay - Convict Tang

Hanauma Bay – Convict Tang

Hanauma Bay - Yellowfin Surgeonfish

Hanauma Bay – Yellowfin Surgeonfish

Hanauma Bay - Palenose Parrotfish

Hanauma Bay – Palenose Parrotfish

Hanauma Bay - Bullethead Parrotfish

Hanauma Bay – Bullethead Parrotfish

Hanauma Bay - Convict Tang

Hanauma Bay – Convict Tang

 

Although, the thing about Oahu is that there aren’t many places to go snorkeling. Maui and the Big Island (both on the western side) have many more places to snorkel.

 

Pearl Harbor

Went to Pearl Harbor to see the USS Missouri and Bowfin sub. In the photo below past the tip of the USS Missouri you can see the Arizona Memorial.

Pearl Harbor - view from USS Missouri

Pearl Harbor – view from USS Missouri

 

Lanikai Pillbox Hike

We picked the hottest day to hike up to the pillboxes (old WWII concrete buildings). The trail is very steep and has become even more difficult over the years. This site seems to give a good history behind the pillboxes.

Lanikai Pillbox Hike

Lanikai Pillbox Hike

Circular day trip from Lanikai to the northwest, north and eastside of the island

  • We took a drive to see the northwest part of the island that we hadn’t seen before. Once in Pearl City we took Hwy 99 north. The first part of our day trip was a nice drive. There were a few nice, small towns along the way.
  • I’m not sure why we drove past Waimea Falls State park. It seems like it would have been a nice place to visit. More info can be found below:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g29222-d737421-Reviews-Waimea_Falls_Park-Oahu_Hawaii.html

http://www.waimeavalley.net/botanical-collection/map-of-gardens

  • On the west side of the island you’ll find ‘Ehukai Beach Park. This is the beach closest to the legendary Banzai Pipeline.
Ehukai Beach

Ehukai Beach

 

  • Next, we visited Pupukea Beach Park. It has 2 main areas; Shark’s Cove and the calm cove on the left. We weren’t able to go snorkeling since the water was a bit rough this time of year, but it looks like a nice snorkeling site in the summer. Others seem to rave about it (see link above)
  • Turtle Bay is located on the north-end of Oahu. We were able to park in the public parking that is adjacent to the Turtle Bay Resort.
  • Further down the eastside of the island is the sea arch off La’ie Point. Driving directions and the legend of La’ie Point can be found here:

http://www.portaloha.com/SecretsOfHawaii/LaiePoint.htm

http://www.yelp.com/biz/laie-point-laie

I chose not to post my photo of the sea arch since millions of others have taken the same picture.

  • We drove by Chinaman’s Hat from the north. Since it was a partly cloudy day I took this photo instead…

Eastern Oahu

  • And finally back to Kailua/Lanikai.

 

Southwest Oahu – Ko Olina Lagoons

We also drove to the western side of the island and visited Ko Olina Lagoons. The lagoons are man-made. The surrounding beaches are nice. There is a trail that connects each of the lagoons. These have restrooms and probably showers.

We went snorkeling in lagoon #4 which is the largest of the 4 lagoons. This lagoon also more parking than lagoons 1-3.

The snorkeling wasn’t great, somewhat cloudy, but there was a good variety of fish. The photo’s below will give you an idea what its like to snorkel in the lagoons.

Ko Olina Lagoon #4

Ko Olina Lagoon #4

Ko Olina Lagoon #4

Ko Olina Lagoon #4

 

Kailua Restaurants

We enjoyed the following restaurants.

  • Cinnamons, lots of great food at a great price. Pancakes the size of dinner plates! Get there early for breakfast since the parking and restaurant fill up quickly.
  • Big City Diner
  • Boots and Kimo’s Homestyle Kitchen. Sports themed, good food, but a little loud in side.
  • Late Thursday afternoon we stumbled on the Kailua farmers market. It’s a fairly good sized farmers market with a variety of restaurants, fresh fruit, veggies, etc. One guy was selling avocado’s the size of a softballs.

Aloha.

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Maui (Fall 2015)

Maui_2015_Makena_Little_Turtle

Maui_2015_Makena_Little_Turtle

We just returned from Maui. This was our 7th trip since 2007.

Also, after 2 years I still love my Olympus TG-830 underwater camera.

Note: All pictures below are low res for obvious reasons.

A few days after we arrived the local weather guy said they were about to have some “unusual weather”. Yep, it was unusual all right. For most of our trip we received mostly cloudy, partly rainy and somewhat windy weather. We tried to evade the unusual weather as best we could. As if written in a script the day after we left typical Maui weather returned; mid 80’s, sunny, gentle breeze… How did the weather know when we were leaving?

Napili Bay

Before the weather turned “unusual” we went to a northern beach we’ve always wanted to visit, Napili Bay.  This beach is just south of Kapalua Bay, which is another one of our favorites.

Napili Bay is a beautiful, wide, relaxed beach. The light beige sand beach gently slopes into the water. There can be a moderate amount of shade in a few spots. The northern side of the bay offered better snorkeling than the center or southern end. The water was mostly clear and calm when we visited. I saw a decent variety of fish; schools of unicorn fish, a few Triggerfish, Filefish, a one eyed porcupine fish (for some reason his right eye was missing) and a few other fish.

Maui_2015_NapiliBay_TriggerFish

Maui_2015_NapiliBay_TriggerFish

The southern side of the beach was more accommodating for boogie boarding.

There are no public restrooms, but there is a shower. There is a restaurant at the northern end in case you’d like to get lunch or a drink. Here is some additional info about Napili Bay.

Here’s a short video I took while snorkeling in Napili Bay.

Day trip to Lanai

Early in our trip we decided to take a day trip to Lanai and go snorkeling. We booked our trip through Pacific Whale Foundation in Lahaina.

Overall, it was a good trip. It took about 45 mins to reach our snorkeling spot in Manele Bay. On the way the crew was helpful and very knowledgeable about fish, dolphins, whales, etc.

Maui 2015 - Lanai #1

Maui 2015 – Lanai #1

The food on the boat was good. They offered a continental breakfast. For lunch, they had grilled chicken, hotdogs, etc. with a side dish, drinks and cookies.

Just before we reached the bay we saw a school of ~40 dolphins near shore “resting” and gently swimming around. You’ll be disappointed if you expect them to jump out of the water and do tricks like the dolphins at SeaWorld.

The only down-side to taking this trip was the distance between where our boat moored in Manele Bay and where the fish were. When I first jumped into the water with my snorkel gear and peered through my mask the ocean floor was barely visible because it was so deep. I’m not afraid of the open ocean just lazily wondered how far I had to swim to find coral and typical reef fish. It was about a 5 min swim for me. I believe there were 2 other boats that moored closer to the reef, although they were smaller boats and may have been tossed around on their trip to/from Lahaina.

Maui 2015 - Lanai - Manele Bay

Maui 2015 – Lanai – Manele Bay

Maui_2015_Lanai_ManeleBay_Fish

Maui_2015_Lanai_ManeleBay_Fish

Other activities

During the remainder of our trip we visited our favorite beaches and grumbled at the unusual weather.

The beach in front of the Makena Beach & Golf Resort was still a great snorkeling spot. It has a fair amount of public parking, restrooms and a shower. The snorkeling is best at the southern end of the beach. Of all of the Maui beaches I’ve snorkeled this one has the most variety of fish although the visibility can be variable. The resort has a nice website with great pictures of the beach.

Maui 2015 - Makena Resort beach - 4 Spot Butterfly

Maui 2015 – Makena Resort beach – 4 Spot Butterfly

Changs in Makena: I wrote about Changs in my prior blog post. On this trip the only new thing I discovered at Changs were the tide pools. There were so many amazing baby fish that inhabit a fish tank sized pool of water. The photo’s below look like a fish tank!

Maui_2015_ChangsBeach_TidePool

Maui_2015_ChangsBeach_TidePool

 

Maui_2015_ChangsBeach_TidePool2

Maui_2015_ChangsBeach_TidePool2

Ulua & Mokapu Beaches in Wailea: Both times we visited the water was rough and murky because of the weather. They have ample parking but it fills up by 9 am. The have a public restroom and a shower.

Kamaole 3 in Kihei: A nice beach with ample waves for boogie boarding. They have a public restroom and a shower.

We also visited Lahaina and walked through a number of stores and art galleries. We visited the Iao Needle again.

Coral bleaching

All of the beaches above where we went snorkeling I was surprised to see a fair amount of bleached coral. As I mentioned above we’ve been visiting Maui since 2007 and have snorkeled the same places over the years, but this is the first time I’ve seen so much bleached coral.

“Warmer water temperatures can result in coral bleaching. When water is too warm, corals will expel the algae (zooxanthellae) living in their tissues causing the coral to turn completely white. This is called coral bleaching. When a coral bleaches, it is not dead. Corals can survive a bleaching event, but they are under more stress and are subject to mortality.”

Source: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/coral_bleach.html

Flying home…

When it was time to fly home we wept openly since we knew the weather forecast for the next few days would be substantially better than the weather we received. Oh well, just another reason to return to Hawaii again in the future.

Aloha Bra [:]-)

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The Big Island of Hawaii (Fall 2014)

 

Kekaha Kai State Park (Manini’OWali Section, Kua Bay)

Kekaha Kai State Park (Manini’OWali Section, Kua Bay)

 

We returned to the Big Island of Hawaii for the 2nd time. We stayed mostly in the Kailua Kona area and spent a few days in Waikoloa Beach.

After 1 year I still love my underwater camera the Olympus TG-830.

Note: All pictures below are low res for obvious reasons.

 

Restaurants we enjoyed in Kailua Kona

  • We ate at the Big Island Grill. They have great food at reasonable prices. Get there early for dinner (5pm or so) otherwise a line starts to form.
  • Bongo Ben’s was fun. They also have really good food at reasonable prices. Get there about 45 mins prior to sunset so you can watch it across the street.
  • Lava Java for breakfast. We’ve eaten here several times on different trips. They have the largest cinnamon rolls I’ve ever seen. They seem to have live entertainment most nights – usually 1-2 people playing guitar and singing mellow tunes.

 

Beaches and Snorkeling

I took several underwater videos on this trip and edited it to a 4 minute video. Here’s my best snorkeling videos from the Kailua-Kona area.

 

Kekaha Kai State Park (Manini’OWali Section, Kua Bay)

Big Island of Hawaii - Kekaha Kai State Park (Manini’OWali Section, Kua Bay)

Big Island of Hawaii – Kekaha Kai State Park (Manini’OWali Section, Kua Bay)

The picture above was the most painful picture I have ever taken. On my left is a 3-4 foot wave. I stood right where the wave hits. Thankfully I had a camera that takes several pictures a second as you hold the button down so I didn’t have to take it again.

This beach is located on Highway 19 north between mile marker 88 and 89. The entrance is right across from the Veterans Memorial Cemetery.

This beach has showers and a bathroom.

There’s no real snorkeling since the water was too murky. The murkiness is odd given the beautiful color above the water. There were a few people snorkeling when we were there but they all said the same thing – it was “too murky”. It’s a beautiful swimming, boogie boarding, laying around, relaxing beach.

Since they paved the road to the beach a few years ago the beach parking fills up by 9:30am, but you can park along the road leading down to the beach.

Apparently, there can be swells that can be dangerous. Even though the beach and water are beautiful, almost surreal, be careful. Here’s some more details about this beach from Trip Advisor.

 

Snorkeling off the Fair Wind II at Kealakekua Bay/Captain Cook Monument

Big Island of Hawaii - Captain Cooks Monument - Fair Winds boat

The Fair Wind morning snorkel cruise and BBQ was the highlight of our trip. More info about the boat company can be found here.

Since the Fair Wind is a catamaran the ride was smooth. Some other boat operators go out in small, single hull boats which offer a louder, rougher ride. The Fair Wind also had 2 water slides for the kids.

Once we reached the bay we had about 2½ hours of snorkeling which was plenty of time.

The crew was very polite and helpful. They went around to each passenger and asked if they needed snorkel gear. If so, they actually got it for you.

Breakfast was good – danishes, juice, eggs, etc. just enough food before you dive in.

Lunch was really good – BBQ hamburgers, side dishes and drinks.

The snorkeling was great. Kealakekua Bay is a nature preserve so the water was very clear, almost pristine. There was an abundance of fish. I saw schools of Yellow Tang, Whiteline Surgeonfish, Yellowtail Goatfish. Below are a few photos of the bay.

Big Island of Hawaii - Yellow Tang

Big Island of Hawaii – Yellow Tang

Big Island of Hawaii - Yellowtail Goatfish  - Captain Cooks Monument.

Big Island of Hawaii – Yellowtail Goatfish – Captain Cooks Monument.

 

After several years of snorkeling in Hawaii I finally got a decent picture of an Achilles Tang below. “So what, it’s just a fish!?”. We’ll these guys are very agile and lively so it’s difficult to get a decent picture of them. I dove repeatedly, chased this guy for about 10 mins and took about 20 pictures of him.

Big Island of Hawaii - Achilles Tang

 The Place of Refuge (Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park)

Wikipedia explains how Place of Refuge got its name.

We visited the Place of Refuge and walked through the park. We also snorkeled here 3 times since it was simply amazing.

As usual parking next to the beach is full by 9:30am or so. However, people park along the road and walk down.

I noticed there were 2 places to enter the water. The first place is where most people enter. It seems to be a natural formation with one step above water and another one just below. Although, the step just below water has sea urchins embedded in it.

Big Island of Hawaii - Snorkeling at Place of Refuge - 1st place of entry

Big Island of Hawaii – Snorkeling at Place of Refuge – 1st place of entry

 

On our final to the park visit I realized that there was another water entrance. It was a narrower “2 step” entrance and no sea urchins embedded in the second step so it was safer to enter and exit.

Big Island of Hawaii - Snorkeling at Place of Refuge. 2nd place of entry.

Big Island of Hawaii – Snorkeling at Place of Refuge. 2nd place of entry.

The 2nd entrance also made snorkeling in front of the 4 houses easier. I also found this to be the best snorkeling since it was clearer. Also, there were fewer people over there.

Snorkeling by the boat ramp can be a little murky but we saw tons of fish and small turtles in that area. It’s a great place for first time or young snorkelers since there is a gradual beach entrance. Also, the water isn’t very deep (3-4 feet deep).

More info can be found on Trip Advisor. Also, here’s various pictures of the Place of Refuge.

Below are some of the pictures I took while snorkeling in this area.

Big Island of Hawaii - Decorative Butterflyfish

 

Big Island of Hawaii - Yellow Tang

Big Island of Hawaii - Pebbled Butterflyfish

Big Island of Hawaii - Reef Lizard Fish

 Big Island of Hawaii - Various fish

 

 

Big Island of Hawaii - Pink Tail Triggerfish

Kahalu’u Beach Park

We visited Kahalu’u Beach Park a few times and snorkeled. It’s a good place to snorkel, easy access, relatively shallow water (10-15 feet). It’s also protected by an outer reef which can keep the water calm. There are also many different fish as well.

Below are some photos I took while snorkeling here.

BigIsland_Nov_2014 - Yellow Tang and Rare Long nose Butterflyfish

 

Big Island of Hawaii - Convict Tang

 Waikoloa Beach

Waikoloa Beach is a beautiful area is surrounded by rugged terrain. There are several great beaches in the area. There are also several great petroglyph’s to visit as well.

One down-side to Waikoloa Beach are the strong winds. Apparently Waikoloa means gentle breeze, however we only felt strong winds trying to knock us over.

I don’t have any more details from this trip that I haven’t already written about in my earlier post.

Aloha.

Posted in Big Island, Hawaii, Vacation | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Arizona Summer 2014 (Phoenix, Flagstaff, Kayenta, Tuba City, Sedona)

Arizona, Monument Valley, Mitten

Arizona, Monument Valley, Mitten

Trip Summary:

We flew into Phoenix, rented a car and drove between Phoenix, Flagstaff, Kayenta, Tuba City and Sedona. On the way between each stop we saw lots of amazing sites (natural and human made).

Quick stats about our trip:

  • Miles driven: over 1,300 miles
  • Time in the car: over 30 hours of “bonding” with family members
  • Family squabbles in the car: 4
  • Family squabbles that resulted in a car accident: 0 (which is an amazing accomplishment. Here’s an interesting article.)

Phoenix Area

Goldfield Ghost Town – This was about an hour east of Phoenix in the Superstition Mountains. It’s a great place to visit and kids would love it. The mine tour was very cool. You can walk into several old buildings. They also offer panning for gold and other minerals!

Goldfield Ghost Town, AZ

Goldfield Ghost Town, AZ

Goldfield Gold Mine Tour, AZ

Goldfield Gold Mine Tour, AZ

 

Visited the Heard Museum – If you like native American artifacts this is the place to visit.

Our favorite restaurants –

  • Greek Town great food, great service.
  • Kiss the Cookgreat food, great service, great prices. They serve these hot, little, tasty muffins too and of course the Yelp listing.

Flagstaff area

We didn’t see much of Flagstaff since we only stayed 1 night.

About 30 mins east of Flagstaff is the most well known and best preserved meteorite crater on Earth! It’s a pretty drive and a very cool hole in the ground to see. They won’t let you go into the crater itself but they do give tours on the edge of the crater. The visitors center is nice as well.

In this picture, just look how close the meteorite landed to that building!

Watch the meteorite promo video. More info on Wikipedia.

The Meteor Crater is directly behind me.

The Meteor Crater is directly behind me.

North of Flagstaff we drove through the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and Wupatki National Monument. It was a great side trip. We actually went inside several real pueblo’s that were built in the 1100s.

Unfortunately both Bing and Google don’t provide very good maps of these monuments. This is the best map I could find showing the circular side road east of route 89.

Kayenta and Tuba City area

We used Kayenta and Tuba City as a launching point for Monument Valley. On route 163 heading north from Kayenta, as you cross a small ridge the beginnings of Monument Valley open up in front of you.

We took the Goulding’s 3½ hour tour. It was kinda pricey but was the cheapest tour we could find. Also, you needed a guide to get to remote corners of the valley. The tour left at 9am or so. We had a total of ~12 people in our truck. The driver stopped a few times and explained things to us. 

On this map we stopped at points #1 through #6. Next, the tour headed south to the area marked “Restricted Access Beyond This Point” and saw Moccasin Arch, Sun’s Eye and Ear of The Wind in the bottom right of that map. In that restricted area we were able to see petroglyph’s up close.

It was a long trip after 3 hours in the sun. On the way back the truck kicked up dust from the sand. You should come prepared for a fairly rough ride.

monument valley moccasin arch, AZ

monument valley moccasin arch, AZ

monument valley eye of the sun, AZ

monument valley eye of the sun, AZ

monument valley ear of the wind, AZ

monument valley ear of the wind, AZ

Grand Canyon

Now, this may sound like heresy but we all agreed that the Grand Canyon really isn’t that great when compared to Monument Valley or Sedona. In the Grand Canyon you can’t get very close to the scenery unless you hike or ride a horse into the canyon, whereas Monument Valley or Sedona you drive right through it in an air conditioned vehicle!

Sedona

Beautiful! Hiking, walking, shopping, just beautiful.

Near Chapel of the Holy Cross, Sedona AZ

Near Chapel of the Holy Cross, Sedona AZ

We went on 2 hikes. I’m not suggesting that you go on these hikes, just describing things we did on our trip. We arrived at the trailhead around 8am before the temperature became too hot. Even though they were short hikes we brought plenty of water and food.

On our 1st hike we attempted Devil’s Bridge. This hike is down Dry Creek Road then take FR152 to the parking lot. Some people had a 4×4 and were able to drive further on the road. It was tooooo hot and the rocky road never turned into a real trail so we gave up. These pictures make the destination look great.

On our 2nd hike we were more successful. We reached on the Fay Canyon trailhead early in the morning and set out on our hike. We managed to find the right place to hike up to the arch. My picture of the arch is below. Here’s some additional great pictures of Fay Canyon.

Fay Canyon Arch, Sedona AZ

Fay Canyon Arch, Sedona AZ

There is so much great scenery in Sedona. Everywhere you look there is some tall rock that resembles something and has a name (Coffee Pot Rock, Bell Rock, etc.). Sunrise and sunset also change the colors of the rocks.

Near Sedona you can find Montezuma’s Castle. By the way, Montezuma never visited this area. Apparently, there were a bunch of miners who stumbled on this pueblo in the mid/late-1800s and figured the construction was too good to have been built by the local Indians. They assumed it was built by Montezuma. Well, they were wrong. The Indian’s living in that areas were fine builders and did construct this amazing pueblo.

Our favorite restaurants –

Javelina Restaurant, Sedona AZ

Javelina Restaurant, Sedona AZ

 

Overall, it was a great, memorable trip.

 

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Maui (Fall 2013)

Kamaole 3 Beach, Maui

Maui (Fall 2013)

Went to Maui and had a great time (who couldn’t?). I’ll describe a few things that aren’t described in the travel books. Also, I need to brag about my new underwater camera an Olympus TG-830.

Note, all pictures below are intentionally low-res for obvious reasons.

Below you’ll find information on:

  • Olivine Pools
  • Olowalu Petroglyphs
  • Snorkeling beaches visited during this trip

 

Olivine Pools

Even though we have been visiting Maui for several years this was the first time that we went to the Olivine Pools on the northeastern side of the island. It is a hazardous hike down to the pools. Also, once at the pools people who fall into the ocean often drown because the sea can be very rough with no easy way out.  I’m not recommending that you visit this area just describing a location I visited.

Olivine Pools, Maui

Olivine Pools, Maui

Olivine Pools, Maui

Olowalu Petroglyphs

The petroglyphs were interesting. They are approximately 200-300 years old. Although they weren’t as numerous, diverse or clear as other petroglyphs I’ve seen.

More information on these petroglyphs can be found here and here.

Olowalu Petroglyphs, MauiOlowalu Petroglyphs, Maui

The best petroglyphs I’ve seen are on the Big Island, specifically the Waikoloa Petroglyphs or on the Puako\Malama Petroglyph Trail.

Snorkeling

We snorkeled the following beaches during this trip. They are organized from north to south. I created a short video with the best parts.

Maps to the beaches below and others can be found here.

Kapalua Bay Beach

This is a beautiful, wide, family friendly beach. They have showers, bathrooms and I believe a small shack at the north end that sells stuff. Parking can be difficult since it is a popular beach. The actual parking lot has ~20 spots, although people park along the road as well.

The snorkeling here can be very good. The water can be calm due to an outer reef breaking the waves. The place where I’ve seen the most fish is on the northern side of the bay. Also, this is one of the few places where I’ve seen a Spotted Eagle Ray.

Map showing Kapalua Bay Beach.

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Kahekili Beach Park

This is still one of my favorite beaches and continues to be one of my favorite places to snorkel over the years.

This beach is just north of Black Rock. It’s a wide, expansive beach with plenty of parking. It has a shower and restrooms.

Each time I went snorkeling here over the years the water has been quite clear. There are a variety of fish. I usually see 1-2 schools of different types of fish.

Map showing Kahekili Beach park.

Kahekili Beach, Maui

Aside from a great beach, I was curious where the name “Kahekili” came from. I did some digging and found this interesting article on Chief Kahekili.

Black Rock / Ka’anapali Beach

A few years ago I mentioned that snorkeling at Black Rock was like a floating Disneyland. Too many people, first time snorkelers trying to touch turtles (it’s against the law), people sitting on the coral (it kills the coral, you knew that right!?), etc.

While snorkeling during this trip I found a wide variety of fish along the northern wall and around the corner. If you’re willing to put up with the crowds this could be a very good spot to snorkel.

No public bathrooms. Parking is limited at the Sheraton. They have a few free parking spots in a parking garage.

Map of Black Rock / Ka’anapali beach.

Unicornfish Surgeonfish Moorish Idols

Mokapu and Ulua Beaches

Two great beaches, Mokapu and Ulua, are closely joined together with only a few trees or coral separating them. Snorkeling on either side can be good. Every time we’ve snorkeled here I have seen several turtles throughout the day.

They have bathrooms and a shower. There is much more parking than at other beaches mentioned here, probably 50-60 parking spots.

Map of Ulua and Mokapu Beach.

Whitespotted Toby

Chang’s Beach and Po’olenalena Beach

Chang’s is small, tranquil little beach where you can forget about life for a while. Both Google and Bing continue to incorrectly name Chang’s beach… which is probably a good thing since very few people find it. On this map start at “Chang’s Beach” and follow the coastline south to the first little patch of sand in a “V” shaped bay. That is Chang’s beach!

There are no restrooms or showers. Parking is limited to just 7 spots.

Over the years I’ve found snorkeling around the point north of the real Chang’s beach to be quite good. There seems to be a regular group of turtles that live here. I happened to see a smaller one as well. You may also see a turtle I named “Stumpy” since he’s missing his back left fin. His picture is below.

Sea Turtle (Makena, Maui. Missing back fin)

Juvenile Decorative Butterfly fish

Whitespotted Puffer

Maluaka Beach

This big beach is in front of the Makena Beach and Golf resort. One parking lot has limited spots for about 10 cars. There’s another lot you should see on the way in to the right that holds probably 20 cars.

There are restrooms and showers. If you want a Daiquiri just walk over to the resort and order one.

Snorkeling on the southern end of the beach can be quite good. There’s a big tree providing shelter from the sun. We’ve visited this beach more than a dozen times over the years. I always see lots of different types of fish to the south of the point. Towards the shore it can be murky but further out you can see a variety of fish and possibly some turtles.

Below is a picture of a small turtle, probably 2-3 feet long. He was a happy little guy, just swimming around then hiding under a rock shelf for a rest.

Map of Maluaka Beach.

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See the fish below?

Panther Flounder

Aloha Bra  [:]-)

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