Sunday, October 30, 2011

Diving Oahu's Wild North Shore

    There were some pretty amazing view driving around the east part of Oahu on our way to the North Shore. China Man's Hat is the local name for the beautiful island just offshore in the picture above. The water is very shallow and I hear that on really low tides you can walk all the way to the island, but it was just deep enough for us to snorkel on this day. It was hard to see in the shallow, silty water but we did have a great find, a green lionfish hanging onto this rock (above right).

    We stopped at Sunset Beach and Pipeline just to see the famous wave breaks. It was a very mellow day on the north shore but still some surfers were out. I jumped in for a quick surf session at Chun's Beach with my buddy Mark and scored some fun rights. Turtles were popping up all around me here.

    The real underwater magic happened when we strapped on some scuba tanks and dove a site called Firehouse. It is named this because the entry is right behind an actual firehouse but the site is between Three Tables and Sharks Cove. A picture of sharks cove can be seen below.

   Underwater here life clings to vertical rock faces and overhangs, as well as hiding inside cracks and crevices to avoid getting swept away from the famous north shore big waves. We found eels galore and a couple of nudibranchs including a beautiful red spot nudibranch (below right) which Heidi and I had never seen before.

 At one point I looked back in a cave to see this prehistoric face looking out at me (left). I thought at first it may be some kind of deep water shark but then I realized it was a conger eel! A couple of cleaner shrimp were picking off of the eel which is usually only spotted at night.
  It was an amazing feeling to get a chance to dive in a place where huge powerful waves make diving inaccessible for half the year. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

 The underwater world in Maui is pretty breathtaking but there is somewhere a hop, skip, and jump away that can provide all kinds of new, fun sights even for the seasoned hawaiian sealife hunter. The island of Hawaii, or known here as 'the Big Island', has an incredible amount of dive sites, mostly along the Kona coastline. It is the only place in the Hawaiian Islands that has enough sites for a year round live-aboard dive charter to exist. Even though I had been there ten years ago while going to school in Hilo I did not really experience all it had to offer. It was time.

Heidi and I flew over and after a quick breakfast immediately grabbed some tanks and hit the water with my good friend Erica. Beautiful coral right off the beach, caves, and beautiful fish abounded.

But we were on a mission. We were looking for fish and other creatures that are much rarer or not on Maui altogether but could be found here. We eventually went on four dives along the Kona coast including Magic Sands (shore dive), O'Hanaunau (shore dive), Garden Eel Cove (boat dive), and Manta Ray Heaven (boat dive).

Leaf Scorpionfish
 We ended up finding some incredible sea life including leaf scorpionfish, reticulated butterflyfish, manta rays, tons of eels, longnose butterflyfish in their brown phase, a flame angelfish and beautiful underwater topography. It is amazing to think that we just scratched the surface of all the diving there is to be done on the big island!
Reticulated Butterflyfish
Juvenile Rock Mover Wrasse
Juvenile Hawaiian Cleaner Wrasse

Monday, October 24, 2011

Manta Ray Night Dive

  Heidi and I had big expectations of diving on the Big Island. There are fish there that you just can't find on Maui even though they are geographically very close. We did a couple of shore dives through some beautiful, healthy reefs but the big dive was this Manta Ray Night Dive we had heard so much about. Going into it I was hoping my expectations weren't too high.
  We signed up with Kona Honu Divers who came recommended by several people in Kona. We did a 2 tank dive so one dive before sunset on a nearby reef and then one after sunset with the mantas. I will cover the first dive in another post just because we saw so many cool, new things.
  After the first dive we gathered back on board to warm up with hot shower water in our wetsuits and some food in our bellies. It got dark fast and that is when I noticed something moving in the water behind the boat. We had a manta feeding right off of our stern! Here is our first feeding manta and we haven't even gotten in the water yet! I snapped a couple of pictures and movies just by sticking my camera under the surface a few inches. It was amazing to see such a big, wild animal so close. It turns out they get closer than that...
   To give you a good idea of the size of these manta rays, imagine the ray in the picture to the right about 13ft from wing tip to wing tip. Only somewhat related to sting rays, mantas don't have a stinger and they feed on plankton with their huge mouth which is located in the front of the animal as opposed to the bottom.
When the group was ready we descended quickly and formed a circle with our flashlights all pointing up. Snorkelers were on the surface with flashlights pointing down which gave the water a very cool spotlighted effect. The rays were performing a ballet with flips, twist, and graceful turns as they opened their mouth to suck up all the plankton attracted by our lights. Multiple times the huge mantas came so close that they actually bumped my head. I learned pretty quickly that I was going to have to duck to make sure to avoid contact.
We stayed there, on the bottom, watching these graceful mantas for about 45 minutes. Sometimes a bit of a surge would push us around but by holding a large rock between your knees you could stay in place. When the dive master finally told us it was time to head back I felt like I could stay and watch the mantas forever. At one point I counted 8 mantas around me, although by identifying the individual mantas by their black underside spots our dive leader would later tell us 10 different mantas paid us a visit that night.

I have been all over the world looking for wildlife encounters and this one blew me away. It is so rare that you can safely coexist with wild animals, bigger than you, in such a breathtaking way and in such close range. There is nothing else quite like it.

Since words can only describe this experience so much, I put together a short movie from this dive. Definitely check it out so you can see just how magical this experience can be.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Manta Ray Ballet

 A graceful 10ft manta ray seems to dance a night time ballet. Silhouetted by the lights of our scuba boat this incredible animal glides through the water with open mouth to feed on plankton.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Big Island's Underwater Magic

   This is a glimpse at what the Big Island has to offer the underwater adventurer. It is a scuba diver's playground. It is no wonder that the Kona coast of the island of Hawaii has the only 'live aboard' dive boat in the Hawaiian Islands. The reefs are magnificent, the sand incredibly white, and the fish plentiful.
   This photo was taken at night on the popular Manta Ray Night Dive. This is one of those wildlife spectacles that must be seen to believe. Definite top 10 dive in the world. But more to come on that and many others when I get home and get to a solid internet connection. It took 20 minutes just to upload this one picture but I had to get it out there.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Flying Over Maui

Kihei and Wailea coast of Maui with Molokini
and Kaho'olawe in the distance.
Looking back at Ma'alaea Bay and the island
of Lanai in the distance.

Down the southwest slope of Haleakala
Another rare view of some of the ancient cinder cones
and pressure vents on the slopes of Haleakala

The wild south side of Haleakala
Looking back at Haleakala with all of its ridges and
valleys cut into the slope after thousands of
years of erosion.
My kind of view. Looking over the shallow coral

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Melon Headed Whales (Peponocephala electra)

A very rare encounter with a huge 100+ pod of melon headed whales!

We got word over the marine radio as we left Molokini that a pod of false killer whales or short finned pilot whales had been spotted near our second snorkel site. We jetted over to find a huge group of what turned out to be melon headed whales (Peponocephala electra), lazily swimming near the surface in a pretty tight formation. They would roll at the surface showing off their curved dorsal fins and every once in a while give us a peak at the funny, blunt heads. It was my first time seeing these whales. They frequent the deeper waters farther off the coast of the Hawaiian Islands so we hardly ever see them in this close to shore. When we met up with the pod we were in about 200ft of water only a couple miles off south Kihei shoreline. We drifted slowly, taking in this rare experience, and the whales swam about 30 yards off of us as they headed back out to deeper water.

Commando Hike, Maui, part 2

 The Commando Hike, cont.

After making it through the vines and swimming through the little waterfall pool things really got interesting. A large downed tree signified the start of our waterfall climbing section of the hike. We ducked through a small tunnel, bored out of the rock by the water and then climbed our way up about twelve feet, chimney style. This is where some people turn back. But you don't want to miss whats ahead.

  The cave entrance was way bigger than I expected. The creek was running pretty low but looking up at the cave ceiling 35 feet above was a good reminder how fast and powerful this water can run. Much more waterfall/rock climbing greeted us inside. I was surprised at the nice foot and hand holds in the slick rock face.
    Just as the light from the entrance disappeared I caught a glimpse of the exit. Rock hopping the creek through the cave was not just exciting because of the dark, but also because deep filled in sinkholes were interspaced so you had no idea when and where to expect them. Luckily I was behind Josh and Marcel so I would catch a glimpse of one of them disappearing underwater marking the next deep pool. While this is a tough hike, going through this cave is worth all the effort. I havn't done anything else quite like it.

 After squeezing out of the exit of the cave you quickly round the corner and are greeted with this incredible view (see picture below). A secluded swimming hole with tiered waterfall is just one of the many payoffs for this hike. Not even a little chill from the rain could keep us out of this pool. We thought we would check out the cliff jumping possibilities as well...

Marcel going native, or is he just giving his best Gollum imitation?