Saturday, December 29, 2012

Dad's Visit to Maui, Dec '12

   It is possible to circumnavigate Maui by road but it is not an adventure for the faint of heart. The drive to Hana and around Haleakala is infamous for its hairpin turns and one lane bridges but some would say the road around the west Maui mountains is a scarier drive. My dad came out for a visit this December and managed to fit in a ton of adventures as well as the complete circumnavigation of the island by road. He tackled the road around the west maui mountains almost by accident and then I accompanied him to the top of the volcano for sunrise and on around the backside to Hana and back for the complete circumnav. 0-10,023 ft in a day and 80-25-80 degrees in a matter of hours. From desert to lava fields to waterfall filled rainforest are just some of the environments we traveled through.
Over his entire trip we went snorkeling, whale watching, to beaches of all different colors (red, black, white),  lava tubes, boat rides, sunset dinners, swimming with sharks, hanging out behind waterfalls, and even had time for a little back and forth homerun derby at the batting cages.
  It's always a blast traveling with my dad and I am already looking forward to the next round of adventures...wherever they may be.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Frigid Beautiful Haleakala Sunrise

   Here we are on a tropical island surrounded with bikinis, beaches, and mai tais but this morning we find ourselves searching for any piece of warm clothing we can find. We are going to the top of Haleakala Volcano to watch the sunrise.
  Being the shortest day of the year we were able to sleep in longer than I was used to. A leisurely 4:15 wakeup time and a cup of coffee got us going. We found ourselves a nice parking lot at the summit and then braced ourselves for the very untropical conditions we expected outside. Somehow no matter how much I bring I still feel unprepared.

  We tried our best in these pictures to look warm and fuzzy in our winter getups but it was a job with the 50mph wind and frozen over puddles on the ground. Our group of intrepid adventurers stayed tough and witnessed an incredible sunrise over Haleakala crater.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Tide Pools: The Hidden Nursery

 There are many amazing sights in nature that people walk by every day. And while people do tend to take an extra minute to notice sunsets, coral reefs, and breaching whales here in Maui there is still a hidden world just beneath their feet. Many people walk right over tide pools without ever stopping to glance down into one. The amount of life that a four inch deep tidepool can contain is astounding.
 When the low tide and the sun setting coincide Heidi and I go with flashlights to our favorite tide pool locations. I look at it as a snorkel without getting wet. Last night we found hunting moray eels, camouflaged octopus, and vibrantly colored nudibranchs. All three of these creatures were juveniles. Tidepools can act as a protected nursery for reef creatures. Protected until you stray too close to the moray eel! I was just about to take a picture of the eel last night when a fish swam in my way. As I hesitated for him to keep swimming all the sudden the eel snapped the fish up and it was gone!
  My favorite of Heidi's finds was this juvenile red margin spanish dancer nudibranch. Its colors were so bright and contrasted the surrounding anemones. How many people would never think to look...

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Five Caves Magic in Makena, Maui

Red Spotted Nudibranch
Dwarf Moray Eel
What a dive! In a place where people go for big things like sea turtles and white tip reef sharks, we found a treasure trove of the small and overlooked creatures of the reef. Carefully picking our way over the reef provided a rare opportunity to see creatures like nudibranchs, dwarf morays, and cleaner shrimp.

Mating Tom Smith Nudibranchs!
The tiniest frogfish
 One of the most fascinating events we witnessed on this dive was mating nudibranchs. Two Tom Smith nudibranchs were very close to each other, head to tail on their right side, with the reproductive gland extended and touching. It was easy to miss but Heidi's sharp eye and constant research into the behavior of nudibranchs allowed her to know exactly what was going on. I could hear her thru the water yelling, "They're mating, they're mating!"

Grumpy little frogfish
Wire coral goby
 As I slowly set pictures up from different angles and settings, Heidi would glide ahead and snap her tank banger to let me know she had found something else picture worthy. I had no idea what she was pointing to when I came up to this tiny, neon yellow, frogfish. It was so tiny yet still had the typical grumpy look of a fully grown frogfish.

Gold Lace Nudibranch
White Spotted Nudibranch
  I couldn't believe how many nudibranchs we ended up finding. It must have been close to twenty. A couple of gold lace nudibranchs and a rare white spotted nudibranch were perfectly perched on little rock outcroppings, almost as if posing for the camera. This coral banded cleaner shrimp below was out walking around a boulder inside one of the many caves here at Five Caves and I managed to catch him just as he jumped over to another rock. Another wild dive off the coast of Maui.

Coral Banded Cleaner Shrimp

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

-100 to +14000ft on the Big Island, Hawaii

  There are only a few places on Earth where you can go from a hundred feet below sea level to fourteen thousand feet above in a matter of hours. The Big Island is a perfect place for this unique adventure. Now for those of you who know a bit about scuba diving you know it is not healthy to go on a dive and then travel to extreme heights. So this adventure is best done in reverse. Start your day watching the sunrise on mighty Mauna Kea then travel down to the beach for a scuba dive off the warm tropical Kona coastline.
  Our dive site was one of my all time favorites. It is a place locally known as two-step, or O'Hanaunau. We were very lucky this day because a small pod of Hawaiian spinner dolphins were cruising back and forth out in the bay. So we snorkeled out closer to them and let them swim to and fro sometimes coming quite close. We didn't chase them or make them change their behavior. I was able to snap a couple of pictures as they swam past me. Even as we descended we could still see the dolphins gliding up near the surface.

 Going so far down I knew we should try to make it as high in elevation as we could on our short trip to the Big Island. So after seeing the lava flowing in the ocean we took our Jeep up the steep winding road to the top of Mauna Kea. A short hike to the tallest peak brought us to a oxygen depraved 13,803ft. We were above the clouds and in the mid 40's for temperature. The atmosphere is thinner here so countries have built massive telescopes that search the night skies for new discoveries. This island is definitely a land of contrast. Our four day adventure took us from coral reefs to lava to the sub-Arctic tundra of Mauna Kea.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Lava Flowing into the Ocean, Big Island, Hawaii

  As soon as I heard the lava flow on the Big Island was flowing back into the ocean I wanted to see it. I saw this phenomenon ten years ago but ever since moving back out to Hawaii the lava has been pooling up underground and not flowing into the ocean. This all changed a few days ago when the lava busted out of several tunnels and started flowing over the edge of a forty foot cliff down to the black sand beach and crashing waves below.
 With the help of my friends Erica and Brent we worked our way out past the county guards with their walkie-talkies and out onto the flow. It is something that you just have to add to your list of must sees. An endless sea of pahoehoe lava rocks that have cooled into amazing formations. Some still look viscous while others bunched up into wire rope forms. As sunset got closer and as we got farther into the flow we started to see glowing red from up ahead. After an hour of rock hopping across the flow we slowly crept up to the active surface flow. We got close enough to feel not just the heat on our faces but up through our shoes as well. It was a little unnerving as I noticed red glowing lava through the cracks and fissures all around me. In the picture above Heidi and I are about ten feet in front of the lava. Luckily this lava flow moves very slowly. Although as I hiked out past the remnants of a burned homestead and a VW van that was just left for a couple of hours I figured I would keep one eye on the flow just in case.
The flow kept changing and forming new land. The real show was a couple hundred yards down slope where the lava had reached a precipice where it was flowing off the edge down into the surf below.

 I couldn't believe we were getting such a good show! Little explosions, new fissures, and a constant flow of lava marching over the edge of the 40ft cliff. There was a little black sand beach at the base and whenever the waves came in they would sizzle up in poisonous smoke. I could have sat there all night. Every time I put away my camera some new fissure would open up and the flow would change again.

This lava is coming from a crack in the Earth's crust that the North Pacific plate has been slowly sliding over for millions of years. Geologists have traced the track of the plate by following all the islands this hot spot (which doesn't move) has created. The visible islands number 132 while the oldest islands have sunk back beneath the ocean becoming sea mounts. Scientist are debating when the next Hawaiian island will emerge with its own fiery lava birth.

**Update: 7/29/16- Lava just reentered the ocean. See it while you can. It can be a long wait in between these events!
**Update: 11/3/16- Visited Lava Ocean Entry. It is now easier than ever to see. There is a road and you can bicycle in.

Prints of the lava for sale here: DaiMarsPhotos

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Manta Ray Dive, Kona, HI

Adventure dive with Jack's
Heidi and the Manta
Bowriding dolphins on the way to the Manta spot
  Nearly a year ago Heidi and I first went on the famous Manta Ray night dive in Kona, HI. We were blown away by how close and how many mantas we saw. It is like no other big animal experience I'd ever seen before. You are with them for the entire time. This time we went out with Jack's Diving Locker which turned out to be the best choice for the day. The conditions were pretty wild with Kona winds from the South and surf in the 4-5ft range which is as big as Kona has seen all year. On the way out we came across a very large pod of spinner dolphins who bowrode the fast moving boat and were surfing our wake behind us. It looked like the bad weather was not affecting their playful mood at all.

Once we got to the spot I could see the looks between our divemasters and captain were not ones of joy. The conditions in the usually protected bay were pretty wild to say the least. But our divemaster Alexia faithfully jumped in to get us all tied up. While she did this we all donned our wetsuits and dive gear for our first dive. When I dropped down I knew it would not be quite as good as last time. The surge could be felt 40ft down and you could watch the fish getting pushed back and forth by it. The sand was also stirred up which caused a decrease in visibility. But we made the rounds and still managed to spot garden eels, a purple leaf scorpionfish, and a couple of eager manta rays arriving a bit early for the feast.

like a scene from Star Wars
 After an hour of waiting on the boat and enjoying some delicious snacks we filled our wetsuits up with warm water and jumped back in for the big finale, the manta ray night dive! Underwater lights had already been placed in a circle which attracts the plankton which in turn attracts the manta rays. The rays have learned that the most plankton will be in the light beams so they open their huge mouths and glide in and out of the lights, feeding. Sometimes we could see 6 or 7 rays at a time until one would come so close overhead that our vision would be totally blocked. I saw Heidi get bumped in the head by a manta several times. It is amazing how agile and graceful they are and even being bumped by a 12ft manta is still a harmless touch.

Underwater photo shoot

Looking into the maw of the huge ray
 I had been waiting to go back to Kona for this dive to try my hand at picture taking again. It is one of the most difficult scenarios for photography. It is dark, underwater, the mantas never stop moving, the lights are sporadic, and there is tons of plankton and suspended sediment in the water column. I tried my best with several different settings to capture the moment and this is what I came up with. I was quite happy.

For prints for sale from this dive visit