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.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Lea's Visit to Oahu: Day 1

  My sister is in town for a visit so I am pulling out all the stops on an adventure filled exploration of Oahu to show her my new island home. She has already been to the big island and visited me on Maui twice so she knew to arrive ready for adventure. Our first day started out at the lookout on the rim of Punchbowl Crater. From the top of the military memorial cemetery here you can look down and have a great view of Honolulu from the airport to Diamond Head. From this serene spot we headed down into the hustle and bustle of Honolulu.

  We drove through Waikiki, behind Diamond Head and past the mansions of the Kahala district before arriving at the famous Kahala Hotel. A few weeks earlier my mom discovered dolphins and sea turtles here swimming in the lagoon which the hotel surrounds. Lea and I happened to be there during one of their dolphin experience shows so we sat and watched the bottlenose dolphins show off just how intelligent they can be. The surroundings of the hotel are very picturesque and the stormy clouds coming in from the east helped make the scene even more dramatic although it did look like we may face some rain ahead.

   Before turning the southeast corner of the island we took a few small side roads to an unmarked coastal access trail leading down to the infamous cliff jump spot known as spitting caves. The constant wind ripping through this area over the years has carved away pancake-like layers into the rocky cliffs. Massive mansions line the top of the cliffs overlooking the wild Pacific Ocean.

After turning the corner towards the east coast we could drive by Makapu'u without stopping at the incredible overlook high upon the cliff. The winds were unusually high here as you can see in the picture with Lea trying to fight to move forward. But once we were down onto the longest beach of Oahu, Waimanalo Beach, the winds were slack again and Lea enjoyed seeing her footprints stand alone on the deserted secret beach.

Bishop Museum, est: 1889

The Planetarium at the Bishop Museum
   After a great lunch stop at Buzz's in Kailua, we attempted the Lanikai Pillbox hike but a sudden squall of rain sent us running in off the beach and back to the car before we could get started up the ridgeline. We decided to head back to the protected south shore and check out the Bishop Museum, which had been on my to-do list forever.
  It was lucky we had a good chunk of the afternoon to explore the museum because there is a lot to see. From visually stunning planetarium shows, to reenacting melting lava, to displays of native and introduced animals kept us captivated until the museum staff quietly reminded us of it getting near closing time.
Collection of Beetles
Butterflies of the World
I guess I will have to head back another time to finish reading all the information that is on display here. We both knew we would sleep well after a big first day like this!

One of the rooms filled with 3 stories of information in the Bishop Museum

Monday, November 17, 2014

Snorkel Oahu: Electric Beach

Turtle Sunburst

On a beautiful sunny morning with slight offshore winds Heidi and I decided to go on a critter hunt at one of our favorite reefs off the west side of Oahu. We used Electric beach as our entry point and hung a left once out in the clear water. We came across some big schools of surgeon fish and tangs which contrasted nicely with the stark white sand.
Heidi searching for interesting animals

Heidi and her turtle
   It had been awhile since Heidi and I had been free diving so we both needed to re-hone our breath holding skills. My short breath holds were evident when we came across our first turtle. But the more I dove the longer I was able to stay down. One turtle surfaced right next to me but for the most part the turtles were chomping away along the bottom eating up the algae.

Hawaiian Day Octopus
  It is always great hanging with turtles but I get even more amped swimming with octopus, especially if they are too big to find easy hiding places. This Hawaiian day octopus was huge, one of the biggest I have seen. It was constantly on the move but I hung with it for a good long while and managed to snap a few pictures. We got to this spot a little late to look for dolphins (they are there early in the morning most days), and we didn't hear any early humpback whales singing nearby (I should see my first of the winter any day now), but it was still a huge success with clear water and great wildlife!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Pipeline Going Off

 The last four days were spent surfing some of the best waves in the world, all right here at home on the North shore of Oahu. Ben flew over from Maui and joined on the surf mini vacation. We explored a lot from the northeast all the way to the secluded west coast beaches to find the best conditions for surf.
Ben and Jonathan surfed Makaha for the first time ever, then we found a new wave at Maili Point. It was pretty amazing to find such a nice, fast left amongst all the rights on Oahu's west shore.
   But the real sparks were from the famous North shore waves. We stopped to look at pipeline and it was pretty flawless. The crowd was pretty intense as was the current on the inside. Jamie O'Brien and others were making the wave look much easier than it actually is. After watching a couple of surfers going over the falls into that shallow inside section we decided to move further down the beach to massive triple overhead waves at Sunset. At the end of the four days our arms and shoulders were tired and sore. Now its back to work for both of us.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Shipwreck Scuba Dive on the YO-257

Hanging on in the current
  Built in the 1940's, the YO-257 saw action in several different war campaigns across the Pacific. After surviving WWII, Vietnam, and Korea, it was lent to the Coast Guard as a transport ship. The YO came to its final resting place 100ft down off the shore of Waikiki in 1989 after being intentionally sunk to create an artificial reef by the Atlantis submarine company.

  Heidi and I headed out early morning on the Kilikina dive boat with Hawaiian Diving Adventures to explore the YO wreck ourselves. It is a pretty deep dive bottoming out around 100ft so we would only have 20minutes or so. We were greeted with beautiful ocean conditions with clear water and no wind with beautiful sunshine above.
   Looking down into the water one other thing was clear, there was a current, and strong one at that.

Divemaster Erica and orange cup corals
  The boat was equipped for the current with lines running down the side to hole onto. It was difficult to carry my big camera and hold on but I managed. The large Japanese group of divers got in the water first however so we patiently waited as they slowly descended down the line towards the shipwreck below. I finally became a little impatient and let go of the line to kick down to the wreck to start taking pictures.

Heidi gliding above the wreck of the YO-257

Wreckage of the YO-257
   The wreck itself was covered in hard and soft coral of many different colors. Schools of fish hovered in and around the hulking wreckage. I have explored many shipwrecks, some have been hard to visualize what the original ship looked like but the YO-257 is still in great shape.

The elusive dragon moray
  After this beautiful deep dive we headed back towards shore to do a second dive on horseshoe reef. It started off a bit murky, again being behind a couple of groups of divers. They found some sleeping turtles and white tip reef sharks but kicked up so much sand I didn't even bother taking pictures. The big finds of the dive came towards the end and were quite surprising. Heidi spotted a reticulated butterflyfish which is the first one we have seen on this island. Then I was shocked when our dive master pointed out a very hard to find dragon moray eel! As I swam in for a closer look I thought I might be seeing double, because there was another dragon moray only a few feet from the first! Heidi and I are already looking forward to our next dive with these guys.