Wednesday, April 26, 2017

New Adventure: Sailing BC and Alaska

Safari Quest in Fishermens Terminal, Seattle
  The Hawaii season is finished, the whales are all headed north back to their feeding grounds in Alaska, so that is where I am headed as well. It was a great winter season leading trips in Hawaii onboard the Safari Explorer, followed by a multi-island private trip for a family that I will only say was... educational for all involved. But now it is on to new adventures, onboard a new boat.

  You may even call this one a yatch. The Safari Quest is a beautiful boat inside and out, with all the amenities you could ask for, including a pastry chef. We can take a maximum of 22 passengers with a compliment of 10 crew. We have a shoulder season itinerary of the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia. Then we will spend the greater part of the summer sailing through Alaska's Inside Passage.

British Columbia Wildlife
  I am still the expedition leader, however now I am also the guide. I'm familiar with this set up in Hawaii but all of my Alaska experience to this point has been managing a team of guides, and leading excursions every once in a while. Now I'll be out two times a day and still have all the paperwork to finish before sleep. Luckily the Safari Quest has the best espresso maker in the fleet, a wonderful multi-tasking crew to help me out, and about a 15 second commute to work.

  We have one B.C. trip under our belts already and it was a huge success. It is pretty wild waking up on day two in a different country, and the wildlife and landscapes are breathtaking. And this is all before we even make it to Alaska. Its going to be a fun season.

 To see my photo album from my past two seasons in Alaska click here.  Dai Mar's Alaska Photos

Monday, April 24, 2017

Into the Mist: British Columbia

We just completed our first week of the season sailing the Safari Quest through British Columbia and the San Juan islands. We will run this itinerary during the shoulder seasons before and after our Alaska summer.

 I had not spent much time in British Columbia so I was anxious to get out and see it from the water. I had sped through the channels before on our way to Alaska in previous seasons but was never allowed to stop. The Quest is a SOLAS boat which allows us to take her internationally into Canada waters. This does mean a few stops during the week are planned for customs and such but they work pretty seamlessly into a very fun itinerary.

  The first stop in Canadian waters is Victoria, on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. Its a beautiful first view of British Columbia and everyone enjoys a bit of High Tea at the Empress Hotel. But then in typical UnCruise fashion we head off into the wilderness. We run the rapids at Skookumchuk and continue on to the crown jewel of the area, Princess Lousia Inlet.

  It was here that the mist and fog moved in, which really brought the landscape to life. One moment you could see towering mountain summits, then the next moment they were lost in a sea of white. The mist had a way of clinging to the tree covered cliffs as it ran in and out of the trees almost like a river. The calm waters of the fjord cast reflections that tried to trick the eye.

  They say that mist can be a landscape photographers delight but you can see here for yourself. I tried to capture some of the mood that the mist brings with it. I do hope for some sunny days in Princess Louisa but I admit, they might not do it as much justice as some good misty fog. So for now I will throw on my rain gear and enjoy the changing landscapes, and guess as to what a sunny day might bring.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Where to Night Dive in Kauai

Jess: Local Knowledge
Entry at Koloa Landing, Kauai
   For shore diving the south side of Kauai there is one solid option that will satisfy beginners and experts alike.The name of the place is Koloa Landing. Located in between the resorts of Poipu and the famous blow hole, Koloa Landing provides an easy boat ramp access and gravel parking lot right next to the water. My friend Jess has been working as a dive instructor in Kauai so knows the waters pretty well. She agreed to take me out for a crepuscular/night dive to see what kinds of interesting creatures we could find.

Potter's Angelfish
  After a very easy entry and a short kick out we submerged to a find a large school of blue stripe snapper. Large boulders were strewn about the site with some nice looking coral sporadically among them. It was in and among the coral and crevices that we wanted to search for the rarer species.

Leaf Scorpionfish
Jeweled Anemone Crab
  And fine them we did. An unusually bold Potters Angelfish stayed put long enough to get a couple of shots, and then a jeweled anemone crab ambled over the top of a rock. It didn't really know which way to go when I put my light on it, which gave me the chance to get a few shots of that as well.

  Leaf scorpionfish hid in plain site, while goatfish and parrotfish tried to sleep without being eaten. Predatory eels were out and about, possibly on hunt for octopus or sleeping fish.
Eared Sea Hare
  An eared sea hare crawled around near a pin cushion sea star. I looked to see if the sea star had any commensal shrimp living on it but I didn't find any. And all this time we spent searching the cracks and crevices were we very aware of the presence of camouflaged scorpion fish and hiding moray eels that could prove a danger for a misplaced hand. A couple of times throughout the dive we also came across resting sea turtles. It seemed that night time meant sleep for them as well. 

Eel on the Hunt
Grumpy Devil Scorpionfish
  While I don't think the overall diving in Kauai is quite up to that of Maui or the Big Island, there are still some hidden gems to keep the avid diver busy. I feel like many more rare species could be found just at this spot alone. I am looking forward to diving here again, but can't wait to get some nudibranch diving in back in Maui in a few weeks!

 Check out some other awesome night dive locations in the Hawaiian Islands:
Kona Manta Ray Night Dive
White Rock, Maui
Night Muck Dive, Maui

Friday, March 31, 2017

Swimming with an Oceanic White Tip Shark

   The oceanic white tip shark, (Carcharhinus longimanus) can often be encountered swimming with pods of short fin pilot whales off the Kona coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. They are present in all tropical seas and responsible for most of the injuries and deaths during big shipwreck and airwreck disasters, like that of the USS Indianapolis in 1945 made famous in the retelling in the movies Jaws. 
     I have swam with these sharks on two different occasions and both times the curiousity of the shark was evident. You can see in the video how the shark is not scared at all, and swims right towards me. This is how it checks to see just how easy a meal this new creature might be. I take solace in the fact that I also appear as a predator, with my eyes facing forward and swimming with confidence, in the crystal clear Hawaiian waters.
  There are often small pilot fish that hover around these sharks, picking up morsels of food that the sharks discards. One such fish can be seen swimming with this 7ft oceanic white tip. It is always a pleasure getting to have such an encounter with one of the oceans top predators. Sharks are considered sacred guardian spirits, or amakua, here in Hawaii. After this encounter I can see why.

  Check out my first encounter with an Oceanic White Tip Shark back in 2012 here: 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

2 Days Exploring the Garden Isle of Kauai

 How much of the island of Kauai could you really see in just two days. Read on and see how I managed to fit just about every corner of the island into two long days of driving and then think to yourself what you could do with an entire week!

 Starting off centrally located was key. I stayed at the Beach Hostel in Kepa'a, which is about twenty minutes north of the airport. I separated my two days into a southern and a northern itinerary. There is one big road that goes around the coastline of Kauai, with a few roads heading inland to see waterfalls, rivers, and canyons. The coastline is awash with beautiful white sand beaches, and a number of hotels, resorts, vacation rentals, and restaurants to keep the regular tourists busy. But for the adventurous visitors who want to get off the beaten track Kauai is an untapped playground.

 Just south of the airport lies Kalapaki Beach and Nauwiliwili Bay were surf lessons can be watched with mai tai in hand on the lanai of the famous Dukes Barefoot Bar. Follow the river up along the old back roads and you will be rewarded with a beautiful overlook of the Menehune Fishpond surrounded by movie quality scenery all around. It is no wonder that Hollywood keeps coming back to here to film movies. Most of the island is unhabitated, undeveloped, and green.

Hanapepe Town

 Farther yet a stop at Kauai Cookie and bakery is a great place to get some road snacks. Then a detour through the 'biggest little town' in Hawaii, Hanapepe, is worth some time. An old swinging bridge adds charm to the artistic and photogenic town. A couple more miles and an old Russian fort guards the Waialua River mouth, which just so happens to be the place where the famous explorer Captain Cook first made landfall in the Hawaiian Islands. If it was up to Cook then the islands might still be called the "Sandwich Islands."

Waimea Canyon
 The jewel of Kauai comes next. Known as the 'Grand Canyon of the Pacific', Waimea Canyon juts down to 3000+ft, and at a mile across and 10 miles long it truly is a grand canyon. Millions of years of erosion has carved away different ages of the bedrock which creates a kaleidoscope of colors in the canyon. People say that the colors will often change with the changing of the weather. There are many places to pull over to the side of the road for different vantage points...just so long as you aren't too afraid of heights.

Kalalau Overlook on a sunny day
 The road continues higher bringing you to Koke'e State Park and one of the wettest spots on Earth. The high elevation swamp up here on Wai'ale'ale summit averages 450 inches of rain a year. I happened to catch it on a beautiful, clear, sunny day so I took advantage by hiking around. But I had more to check out and it was still only day one so I had to put off any ideas of big hikes until another time. This is also a great place for birdwatching as it is one of the best spots to see the rare Hawaiian honeycreepers and pue'o. I saw both before heading back down to the coast.

End of the Road

I had driven as far as I could inland, so now it was time to check out the end of the road to the west. For the drivers extreme a challenging rut filled gravel and dirt road finishes the last five miles to Polihale Beach. This is where the road ends into a long stretch of beautiful sand and the base of the stunning Na Pali Cliffs. Even though it is stunning I would say it is not worth it if you don't have a lot of clearance.

Pueo, Hawaiian Owl
 Day one was in the books. I managed to see quite a bit of the islands and some of its feathery inhabitants as well. Next day is for waterfalls and waves.
Hanalei Bay
Taro Fields of Kauai's North Shore
 The road north leads to lusher and lusher vistas including waterfalls, stunning beaches, cliffs dropping off in the sea, and big crashing waves. The surfing town of Hanalei stands as the center of all things north shore. You can't miss the fields of taro stretching back towards the green covered mountains on your way into town. The town itself is situated around a beautiful bay where surfers flock during the winter to ride the big waves. This is where famous big waves surfer Laird Hamilton has settled down and for good reason. Imagine my surprise when I paddled out for a surf session this morning and there was Laird sitting right next to me. Luckily I held my own and caught some really fun rides.

The Famous Hanalei Bay Pier

Waialua Falls
 Waialua falls and Opaeka'a Falls are can't misses on the eastern shore. Kauai is the only island that has navigable rivers. There are some steep trails that will take you down to the bottom of both of these waterfalls but again, no time. Something to come back for.

Windy North Shore
  The shops of Hanalei are becoming quite boutique-ie as the hippie culture turns into yuppie culture with money. There is still a wonderful vibe from the people who live there, almost enough to make me think about moving islands.

Dry Cave
Inside the dry cave
 Past the town you start hitting one lane bridges and rugged cliffs giving way to beautiful sandy beaches. Huge caves open up just off the side of the road, some dry and some filled with blue water. It is fine to swim in the water although for some reason people seem to get very scared swimming in here. There is a legend about a mythical maiden who would pull people under in these caves.

Wet Cave

 But of course I couldn't resist putting that legend to the test. It was a bit scary when I got all the way back and around the corner to the left and had no light at all to lead me ahead. Note to self, bring an underwater light next time to explore a little deeper. The view looking out was pretty amazing.

 The worldwind tour wasn't over yet. Next on the list was the final end of the road, Ke'e Beach and the beginning of the famous Kalalau Hiking Trail. This trail heads for 11 miles, deep into the Na Pali Coast. Hidden valley which can only be explored by foot or helicopter spread out from here to Polihalu Beach on the far side. However if you are rushed for time like me then only hike half a mile in. You can get a beautiful over view of Ke'e Beach and then a look all the way down the Na Pali coast before turning back.
Ke'e Beach
Na Pali Coast from Kalalau Trail
 The views from around the island just seem to get better and better. The other islands always joke that everything on Kauai closes at 9pm, which is pretty accurate, but it seems to make everyone wake up early and head outside for adventure. It turns out that Kauai is definitely my kind of island. I'll be back for more hiking and deeper exploration soon.
Kilauea Lighthouse
Red Footed Booby

 If you want to see my camera setup, and what else I like to carry in my backpack you can take a sneak peak inside here: