Sunday, December 28, 2014

Video: Underwater with Dolphins

This underwater adventure was one of the most magical underwater encounters I have had the opportunity to experience. In the past I have put up pictures from wild dolphins encounters around the Hawaiian Islands, but I've always wanted to capture the feeling on video. So this time I took my Canon 5d markII and drove out to a beach on the west coast called Electric Beach. I was pleased at the flat calm conditions of the ocean when I pulled up, and pleased even further when I saw the pod of dolphins! I had been skunked the last few times I had been here so I didn't waste any time in suiting up, grabbing my fins and mask, and practically running to the water.
   As I started swimming I realized that the dolphins were much further out than normal, but I was on a mission so I kicked hard. It didn't pay off. As I swam up to the four other snorkelers I saw the dolphins slowly cruising away from the group. I hoped that the pod would turn around and come back but I was a little afraid that they may have all woken up and were headed offshore to deeper hunting grounds.
  I waited. And waited. But to no avail. After bobbing up and down like a cork, straining to look for the dolphins for about ten minutes I slowly started to kick back in shore. Maybe I could still get some sea turtle pictures on the way in. But then I heard it. A high pitched squeak that could have only come from a dolphin. I turned around and there they were, heading back to where I had just been waiting. Even though I was about halfway back to shore at this point I turned around and swam back out into the deep blue. And this time it paid off, in a big way.

  Enjoy the video, listen for the squeaks, and see just how playful, intelligent, and nurturing these animals can be.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sailing a Tallship Around the Hawaiian Islands

Marimed Foundation   
    The blog has been quiet this last week because I have been out at sea sailing around the islands of Oahu, Moloka'i, Lana'i, Koho'olawe, and Maui aboard the tallship Makani Olu. The Makani Olu (Gracious Wind) is owned and operated by Marimed Foundation, a non-profit organization involved with sail training since 1988. The 96-foot, three-masted staysail schooner, retrofitted for sail training in Hawaiian waters, is the central component of a model experiential education and treatment program for at-risk adolescents built around ocean voyaging.
   The Makani Olu is a 96', three masted schooner. Different groups ranging from elder hostel to private parties can set sail aboard the Makani Olu. This trip was a bit different. Marimed runs a house for troubled boys and occasionally brings them out aboard the Makani Olu as a character and team building endeavor. These boys, 14 through 17, face difficult emotional and educational challenges and require something more structured and restrictive than school or home-based services, but do not need to be hospitalized or incarcerated. This program specializes in adolescent males with conduct disorders and those dually diagnosed with chemical dependency. There were chaperons (youth counselors), as well as a therapist on board.
    I was first mate for this voyage and it was to be one of my toughest voyages yet, at least mentally. I have always been surrounded by very eager, excited, and enthusiastic people on these voyages in the past. I figured my enthusiasm would wear off on the boys, especially those in my watch. But even after a week at sea, sailing around the Hawaiian islands, snorkeling with sea turtles, watching the bioluminescence at night, and setting sails in small craft advisory conditions didn't break through to the kids in my watch. However, some boys really started to come around. One in particular was very outspoken about how he didn't want to come in the beginning and had a complete reversal, loving it at the end! Except for some broken heads that would not be fixed, despite our best efforts, the boat performed admirably and brought everyone safely back to Oahu.

Kaneohe Bay
Makani Olu at the end of the pier

The boys playing football on the sandbar

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Photographing and Swimming with Dolphins

  Narrowing down what to do on a day off here in Oahu can be a daunting task. There are waterfall hikes, beautiful beaches, historical sites, rainforest, volcanic craters, delicious food, tropical drinks, and of course, the ocean. Surfing, scuba diving, and underwater photography are what really make Hawaii such a special place to live. Almost every day of the year you can head out into the ocean and do any of these three things. If there are big waves in the north you can scuba in the south, if there are high winds in the east I'll head west. On this day I chose to head west and look for the pod of spinner dolphins that often hangs out just off the coast near electric beach.

  At first I thought I was out of luck. The conditions were overcast and grey, but flat calm. I could see the dolphins were there and a few snorkelers with them. I hustled to get ready and kicked hard to get out to where the dolphins were. Just as I got to the group of snorkelers the dolphins cruised away. The four snorkelers were talking about what a playful group of dolphins they had been. I thought how funny that would be if I just missed the dolphins by thirty seconds. I saw the dolphins cruising back our way but much farther out. I knew I couldn't reach them on this pass so I settled into wait for them to turn around and head back toward me. I waited, and waited, and waited...Pretty soon the dolphins were out of sight, and I could no longer hear their loud squeels underwater. They were gone. Blast.

  But as you can tell with all the pictures, my waiting paid off. As I was kicking back in after kicking myself for not getting there earlier, I heard a dolphin underwater. They must be getting close again! I lifted my head and sure enough, they were right back where I had been waiting. It was pretty far out but I decided to kick back out to see if I could get lucky and snap a few pictures. What came next was truly spectacular. I spent the next two hours with the dolphins, almost like one of the pod. And it was just me. There were baby dolphins, dolphins playing keep away with leaves and a plastic bag, and a very playful group of young males nipping and biting at each other.

  The dark overcast conditions made taking pictures a little tough but I had enough time to really zone in and get some close up shots. I really did feel like one of the pod. Enjoy the pictures and I hope you can relive some of my excitement. Anyone ready to buy your plane ticket now?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Palaces, Ruins, Temples, and Waterfalls with Lea

Ruins of Kamehameha III's Summer Palace
Lea soaking up nature
  There is so much to see here on the island of Oahu and I wanted to pack as much in as I could while my sister Lea was visiting. We explored the island north, south, east, and west. On this adventure day we explored some of Oahu's natural gems as well as some historical ones.

   The ruins of Kamehameha III's summer palace are located down an unsigned trail through a bamboo forest up in Nuuanu Valley. Unless someone told you how to get there you would probably never stumble upon it. There is a sign next to the doorway telling a brief history of the ruins, but that is it. There is no active preservation going on, although the fact that the location is hidden may be protection enough. I imagine one day this will be a tourist destination with lines and entry fees, but for now it is our own hidden jewel.

Windy Pali Lookout

Heidi, Me, Lea, and Ryan at Manoa Waterfall
   We continued up to the windy overlook on top of the Pali cliffs. This is where defenders of Oahu made their final stand against the invading army of Kamehameha. Many of the defenders ended up being forced off the cliff or possibly jumped to avoid capture. Either way their bodies were discovered years later when the new highway tunnel was under construction. Gnarly ironwood trees show the power of the ever present winds in their twisty trunks, and wild chickens seem to mock the feral cats that all hang around for free handouts.

Byodo-In Temple
   Our next stop was at the Buddhist temple called Byodo-In. This temple is one of my all time favorite places for landscape pictures. The red color of the temple contrast with the massive green cliffs which provide the background. A reflection pool in front is filled with bright orange koi fish. And if you venture up to the meditation gazebo you will be surrounded by wild ginger with total silence except for the irregular gonging of the massive bell.

Beautiful day at the temple
Serene Scene at the Temple

Wild action at Laie Point
   Laie Point was our next stop. Here we saw massive waves crashing into an ancient lava flow that extends out into the ocean. With a little searching you can find a plaque here that tells about the legend of a massive water dragon who terrorized all who entered his domain until a Hawaiian hero fought and killed the dragon, slicing his body into five pieces. The five pieces can still be seen today as the five offshore islands, including one with a giant hole in it. We call this the serpent's eye.

Iolani Palace
  Our last stop after heading back to the south side was a trip back in time to the era of kings and queens by visiting the Iolani Palace. Located next to downtown Honolulu on King St, the palace is in fact the only palace complete with throne room in the United States. An interesting audio tour educated us about each room, the most moving of which had to be the room in which the last queen, Liliuokalani, was imprisoned after the overthrow of the monarchy in 1893.

The only throne room in the United States

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Exploring Kualoa Ranch, Oahu

Lea Ready to Roll
  On my circle island tours I drive past the huge Kualoa Ranch all the time, yet I have never ventured deeper into the ranch itself. There are several tours that allow you access to the ranch lands varying from movie location bus tours, to ATV tours, to horseback rides, and jungle vehicle tours. I knew that Lea is always on the lookout for famous movie locations so we jumped into the remodeled school bus for an hour long tour through Kualoa and Ka'awa Valley, or as I like to call it 'Jurassic Valley.'

Sugar Mill Ruins
WWII Bunker
  On the way to the movie locations we passed the ruins of the old sugar mill, hearing the story of how the 9 year old son of the plantation manager slipped and fell into one of the boiling vats of syrup back in the 1860's. We passed WWII pillboxes and a massive bunker that housed some rapid fire guns that could have aided in the defense of the Kaneohe Marine Corps Base.

ATV exploring

On the Set of Jurassic Park
  Back into Ka'awa Valley the scenery from so many movies unfurled around us. Perhaps the most famous scene filmed here was in Jurassic Park where Dr. Grant and the two kids are running away from a herd of dinosaurs and have to hide behind a big log. Well, the log is still there and we just had to jump out and get our picture taken next to it. As we were checking out scene an ATV tour buzzed by. It looked like it could also be a pretty fun way to explore the valley. The sides of the valley converged off in the distance at a mighty peak, which just so happens to be the same peak that "Mighty Joe Young" was found in the movie.
   We passed by old delapadated sets from Bruce Willis's 'Tears of the Sun', Windtalkers, Pearl Harbor, Lost, and Godzilla. On the way back down we had amazing views out over the Pacific and past Chinaman's Hat into Kaneohe Bay. Just then a horseback ride emerged out of the trees to pass in front of the picturesque offshore island. I can definitely see why this place was one of the most revered sacred places of old Oahu.
Chinaman's Hat

Horseback Riding in Hawaii

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Summitting Diamond Head with Lea

  Diamond Head Crater looms just behind the bustling tourist district of Waikiki here on Oahu. The tallest part of the crater rim is only 762' above sea level but the hike up can make it seem much higher. The trail winds up from the bottom of the crater floor about 8/10ths of a mile to the summit. Lea and I headed out early in the morning to tackle this hike before the hot sun made it even more difficult.

   We were pretty lucky, it was a cold morning and lots of clouds kept it overcast almost the whole way. The clouds also made the landscape pictures even more dramatic. We had a few photo stops on the way up but for the most part Lea and I trekked up with no problem. I made sure to take Lea up the extreme path to the top; 99 stairs straight up, a spiral staircase through the bowels of an old military bunker, a squeeze out of the bunker, and a loop up to the very top. The view was amazing!

  From the top we could see Koko Crater on the southeast coast all the way to the Waianai Volcano on the west coast. The whole south shore was laid out in front of us. The only thing we didn't see were whales! I haven't seen my first whale yet this winter but I expect any day now I'll catch a glimpse of the first humpback whale arriving from Alaska.

  I thought I would throw in a couple of funny sign pictures here at the end. The first is me heading beyond the end of the trail to another bunker on the crater rim. The other is Lea reenacting the falling rocks sign that you see occasionally on the trail.