Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2016: A Year in Review

  Here we are at the end of another incredible year. It has been filled with big travels, adventures, guiding, meet ups with family in foreign countries, and cool wildlife encounters above and below the water. Click through the different links for a look back at different posts and highlights from all the adventures. All the best pictures can be found at

   The year started out for me running exclusive guiding trips aboard the Safari Explorer in the Hawaiian Islands. The second half of January provided some ample off time for an incredible scuba diving trip to Indonesia with Heidi. We spent some quality time muck diving around the shipwreck of the UST Liberty in Tulamben on the island of Bali and out on Nusa Lembongan, a small island just off the coast. I was overjoyed to be joined by Ed and Jamie all the way from Savannah. Then Heidi and I flew a couple of islands east to catch a liveaboard dive boat called 'Amalia' for a weeklong underwater photo adventure in the Komodo Islands.

   After another stint in Hawaii during the peak of whale season, including a whale shark, Heidi and I flew back east for a road trip from Savannah to Miami. We had the privilege of swimming with  and photographing manatees down in the Crystal River, and eating at Cafe Versailles in Miami with Nate and Kelly. Plus we finally got to dive the Blue Heron Bridge which has become famous for its muck diving and weird creatures. Add a little shark dive into the mix out of Jupiter, FL and of course some family and friends time back in good ol' Savannah.

   April meant it was time to head back out for my second season with UnCruise in Alaska. I was expedition leader onboard the Wilderness Explorer for weeklong trips between Ketchikan, Juneau, and Sitka. So I pretty much had the entire Inside Passage as my playground. We went to towering glaciers, saw bears, humpback, and for the first time ever I saw hunting orca. I noticed these orca appear out of nowhere as we were watching humpbacks in Frederick Sound. We followed them for awhile but they had long dive times. Then I noticed a small pod of dalls porpoises swimming into the area. All at once the orca stealthily appeared in and around the pod of porpoises. They zeroed in on one porpoise and then proceeded to chase it, coral it, and let the young orca play train with it. It was amazing to see this kind of rare wildlife moment unfold in front of us.
Orca flipping a Dall's Porpoise

  My first off rotation included a two week exploration of central Alaska, including Anchorage, Denali, Seward, and Homer. I was shocked at the number of moose we saw, and the vastness of Alaska. We did get to see the mountain at Denali, although the typical rainy weather was pretty consistent. We stayed inside a greenhouse in Homer, came face to face with a moose, and walked on a glacier in Seward. The train to Denali was another great experience. I especially liked the very back of our train car which had a half door that you could stick your body out of to get a beautiful view and some fun pictures.

Trip Gallery Link
   The next chance I had to travel came at the same time my mom was heading up to Nova Scotia on her happy retirement trip. I flew in from Alaska and joined her for some big tides in the Bay of Fundy, eating mussels in Prince Edward Island, and going out to see plays. We did get to meet up with my shark mentor, Janet Stalker, who showed us a little of her homeland of Nova Scotia as well. We had good luck whale watching for North Atlantic Humpback Whales but missed the Atlantic Puffins. Always leave something for next time. I flew over to Montreal to spend some time with Heidi and her family including a return visit to Tadoussac for some beluga and minke whale encounters and more great seafood.

   After finishing out the season in Alaska I met Heidi in the Seattle airport and we flew on Emirates Airlines all the way to Johannesburg, South Africa. We had six weeks to play with so we flew out to Reunion Island for some diving and hiking. The island turned out to be very similar to Hawaii, even having an active volcano. Then we put some kilometers behind us as we picked up a rental car in Cape Town and drove Cape to Cairo, including shark cage diving, cold water nudibranch scuba diving, surfing J-Bay, the Wild Coast, tropical diving in Sodwana, sulphur springs, and finishing off with a week camping in Kruger National Park. Fun sightings included mating lions, tons of rhinos, lion cubs, and the mythical sable antelope. I also got to meet up with my dad in Kruger Park to catch up around the camp fire late into the night. We realized that we had perhaps spent more time together in Africa over the last decade than anywhere else.
Shark Pictures from Around the World

Billowing smoke where lava meets ocean
  From Africa I flew over the North Pole to Seattle, then back to Savannah to switch out gear for the Hawaii season and to help my mom clean up the yard after the hurricane downed trees all over, and then on out to Hawaii to meet the Safari Explorer. I got see knock out the Big 3 adventures on the Big Island quickly before the season started and the slipped back into the expedition leader life. It is a great crew this season and a real pleasure being in Hawaii. But the travels weren't done yet.

  My last big travel was a real blast and combined with a bit of work at the same time. I was sent on assignment down to Baja, Mexico by the UnCruise marketing department to gather photographs of their trip in the Sea of Cortez. As an added benefit I got a plus one so I took my mom. We enjoyed the perks of being a guests which were plentiful, including some amazing food, drinks, great activities like swimming with whales sharks and sea lions, and even a massage onboard. It was Heidi's last week working the trip so I got to see her in action and then spend some time diving, snorkeling, and surfing with her until I had to go back to Hawaii to wrap up the year working.

  I stayed busy this year and I hope you have enjoyed following along on the adventures. I took tens of thousands of pictures and had a few stand out. It looks like 2017 is going to be another busy year. I can only hope it will be up to par with this year. I have a few exciting things in the mix for this upcoming year so stay tuned.

-Dai Mar Tamarack

Saturday, December 24, 2016

First Humpback Calf of the Season in Hawaii

First Calf Sighting in Maui
  It is nearly Christmas here in the Hawaiian Islands and we have been seeing quite a few humpback whales already. Around this time last year I remembered writing a blog post about seeing our first baby humpback calf of the season so I was on the lookout as we cruised through the Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary waters off Maui. One of the passengers shouted out, ‘thar she blows, 11 o clock!”, and sure enough a whale exhalation hung above the water like a little cloud for a few second before dissipating.  Everyone looked on in anticipation to see what the whale would do next.

Mom pushing baby
  Then it happened, another puff cloud but this time a second, smaller, exhalation was noticeable. I radioed up to the bridge to see if my other guide had noticed and she had. We both waited and watched until we saw the same thing again, and then we made the call over the ships loudspeakers, we had our first baby whale of the season!

Mom's Tail
Baby Tail
 These humpbacks are here in Hawaiian waters for two reason, having babies and making babies. It is always amazing to see a brand new addition to this species. The size difference is considerable between mother and calf, so to put it in perspective I remind the guests that this calf is about the size of a small pickup truck. We continue to watch as the calf playfully lays across mom’s head and let her carry him around for a bit before sliding off again. It goes to show just how massive mom really is. To get a really good size reference then check out my chance underwater encounter a few years back with a mom and a calf here

 Humpback whales are one of my favorite whale species to encounter. They are surface active and so acrobatic in their behaviors. The bond between the mother and new born baby calf is something we as humans can relate to. And witnessing one of the biggest animals the world has ever seen is always awe inspiring. I've compiled all my best humpback whale pictures here in large format high resolution.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

On Assignment in the Sea of Cortez

   The blog has been quiet for the last week because I have been traveling on assignment well outside of WiFi zones aboard UnCruise's Safari Endeavor in Baja, Mexico. I spent seven days aboard the luxury small ship with 37 other passengers documenting and photographing the amazing places, wildlife, and connections along the way.

   With countless scenic coves, half moon bays, sandy beaches, and deserted islands the landscape screams for adventure travel. The life aboard the Safari Endeavor made adventure seem like luxury as the hikes and snorkels were spaced out with gourmet food, fine wine, and complementary massage. The fact that the crew to guest ratio was nearly 1:1 also made for a fabulous feeling of being well taken care of.

   Luckily the weather cooperated, some key wildlife showed up, and the sunsets that I had been hearing so much about did not disappoint. More pictures and stories will emerge but lets just say it was a successful and productive immersion into the idyllic Sea of Cortez. 

Friday, November 25, 2016

Where to Swim with Sea Turtles in Hawaii

Sea Turtle in the Sun Rays at Mala Pier
Turtle over the wreckage
Turtle Pictures
   It feels good to be back in Hawaiian waters. I am back for another season as Expedition Leader aboard the Safari Explorer with UnCruise Adventures. On the week long cruises we kayak, snorkel, hike, and explore the islands of Molokai, Lanai, Maui, and Hawaii. As expedition leader it is part of my job to figure out the best places to take the guests to based on weather, wildlife, wind, visibility, and a host of other intricacies that play a factor. Something I always try to do is to find a good turtle snorkel spot to show off some of most charismatic sea life to our visitors.

Clouds Above
Flying through the sky
  We have a chance to encounter sea turtles at any of our snorkel spots, however Maui seems to be the hotbed for green sea turtles. The wreckage of the old Mala Pier and the vast coral reef at Olowalu are two of my favorite spots for almost guaranteed turtle sightings.

  The pictures here are from one snorkel at Mala pier, while the video was taken at Olowalu. Even though it has been raining lately and the water was a bit murkier than normal it still looked like this! So if you are coming out to Maui, put this one your list. And if you can't get enough of sea turtles then you can find high detail large format sea turtle pictures for sale here:

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Getting to the Lava, Big Island, Hawaii

   How to see the Lava Ocean Entry on the Big Island of Hawaii

   One of the best nature spectacles on Earth has just gotten a lot easier to see. Checking the USGS Kilauea Volcano eruption update page show the lava is still entering the ocean. This is something worth seeing. It used to be difficult, and at times illegal, to make your way out across the fresh lava fields to see the active flow cascading over the cliff into the sea. I went two years ago in March, and had to sneak out past the county guards who were there to make sure only those that went out with a tour group gained access (check out that story here). Now it is a whole different story.

Where did this come from!?
   Guards are still at the end of the road, where the far reaches of the lava flowed across the town and beautiful black sand beach of Kalapana in the early 1980's. But now the guards are there to help you park, point you to the bike rentals, and remind you to sunscreen up and take plenty of water. I had no idea what to expect when I showed up but this felt like an alternate reality. Could things have shifted 180°? Now in the parking lot were bicycles to rent for $20-$25, porter potties, and families selling cold drinks. Then I saw the reason behind the big changes...a road.

  Somehow they had built a road through the impossible. One of the guards explained to me that 2 years ago, shortly after I had snuck out past the guards, the flow changed directions and started heading towards Pohoa town. I remember seeing this on the news, but what I didn't hear about was the emergency road that was quickly being built from Kalapana to Chain of Craters road which comes down from Volcanoes National Park. Just in case the residents of Pahoa were cut off by an advancing lava flow they could use this new gravel road as an emergency escape route. This feat was accomplished through the worst terrain you could imagine, over 10 miles of uneven lava flows filled with cracks, crevices, and subterranean tunnels. But somehow they did it, and now that the lava is flowing back into the ocean you can ride a bike the 5 miles without even breaking a sweat...all while someone looks after your car.

 We were in such a good mood from the ease of things that we decided to hike the 10 mile round trip so we could go slow and take some pictures of all the changes. Because of the road access some Kalapana locals have returned and put up small, off the grid houses in the middle of the lava flow. I noticed most had imported soil in to build up a foundation, rather than try to jackhammer and bulldoze the lava itself. I noticed one residence along the way put up a mailbox with the address, "Hot Lava, Hawaii" on it. I think we are a little off the US Postal Service route here. A sign said, "Feel free to leave notes" near the mailbox. Whether these new plots carved out of recent lava flows are old residents moving back in or homesteaders looking to claim the newest available land in the world, I could not say. They must know that it is only a matter of time before the next flow comes back. They are a resilient bunch so only time will tell.

 A gate in the road signifies the entrance to National Park lands. This is about 2.5 miles in, and far in the distance a plume cloud is starting to come into focus. More porter potties line up here along with trash cans. People in Hawaii are wonderful about caring for the land and no trash was seen along the entire 5 mile trek.

  A faint line of smoke can be seen far up the hillside towards the source of all of this lava, the Pu'u O'o Vent, which has been continuously erupting since Jan. 3rd, 1983. But it is down to the coast where the road will take you which is were the real show is, the lava ocean entry.

An adventurous hiker in front of the smoke cloud
  Finally getting off the gravel road you turn left and head across the lava for about 200 meters to a cliff overlooking the ocean. Across a small bay with a newly formed black sand beach a massive, poisonous plume of smoke and gas churns and rises up. Luckily the NE trade winds are normal here which will take the poisonous acid cloud out to sea. You would not want to be downwind of this cloud. That is why I would suggest coming in from the Kalapana direction instead of the Chain of Craters way.

A small boat going in close
  From here you can find yourself a good place for pictures and videos, sit back, and enjoy the show. Once the sun starts setting the scene in front of you changes. More and more shiny black rocks start glowing orange and small explosions at the ocean entry light up the inside of the smoke cloud. Small sightseeing boats jet in for close looks but are all out by sunset time to make it back before dark. The helicopters are all packed away as well. So to enjoy the true show the hike, or now bike, is the way to go. If you are staying in Kona and don't have a rental car then an organized tour group like The Volcano Experience can get you over to see the show.

Large Format Eruption Pictures For Sale
   Once darkness truly settles in the glowing orange becomes intense, like no other color I have witnessed in nature. The churning cloud takes on a life of its own and the crashing waves seem to be in an eternal fight to push back the inevitable growth of the island. It is an amazing sight to witness new land being created right in front of you. But you never know how long this flow will last before changing directions again, going underground, or drying up all together. This could be the last ocean entry on Hawaii in our lifetime, but then again, it could continue for another thousand years. In either case, don't wait. If you can't get out to Hawaii now, then at least you have the video below. I fear it will only wet your appetite.

  Seeing the lava ocean entry and the Volcano National Park is one of the "Big 3" adventures that are unique and must do's if traveling to the Big Island of Hawaii. Find out what the other 2 are here and see if you can complete the Big 3 challenge!