the Big Island

Last weekend I had an incredible mini-vacation to the island of Hawaii, also known as the Big Island.  For my birthday celebration, I met up with my parents and a fellow Hollings scholar conducting her NOAA internship on Oahu.  Boy, did we jam pack that weekend, and it was incredible.  Day one, I left Maui at about 7 am, and arrived on the Big Island and dropped off our luggage at the hotel.  We drove down the street in downtown Kona where we grabbed a delicious breakfast. Some delicious acai bowls, to die for.  Next, we headed down the road to the “city of refuge” a historical Hawaiian site next to an incredible snorkeling bay.  Holy hell the water was crystal clear, and I have never seen coral so alive in my life.  It was teaming with life, it was the best snorkeling I have done in quite some time.  Well…I don’t know how it compares to Turks and Caicos, the coral was different but equally as vibrant and the visibility was amazing.  Alex and I dove and explored coral caverns, taking photos with turtles and other sea creatures.  We were out pretty deep in the bay when Alex came over to me and asked if she heard anything odd.  I put my ears underwater and immediately recognized the playful sounds of dolphins!  We didn’t see any around us but headed into the deeper waters to investigate.  Looking into the darkness below us was a little creepy, as it was just ominous with a few huge jellyfish dispersed in the water column.  That is when I saw 5 dark shadows below me. Was it sharks trying to eat me or dolphins just playing, that was the first thought that darted into my head. Low and behold there were dolphins literally spinning out of the water 50 meters away from us.  We were pretty far from any other snorkelers at this point, but decided that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and might as well take a closer look.  For what seemed like 20 minutes from our initial decision to seek out the dolphins, we finally got a closer look.  Before I knew it, they dove back into the depths and disappeared.  Alex and I were giddy with joy, and squealing with excitement. We were kicking back towards shore on our back (as to not freak ourselves out my looking down) when we noticed about 12 dolphins coming back our way.  I stuck my face underwater and I kid you not, about 50 dolphins were swimming right underneath us.  They stayed and played in the area for about 15 minutes!  Coming so close that we could easily touch them.  It was a moment of pure bliss and amazement.  It was so cool!! After the dolphins dove back down, we headed back to land to share our excitement with my parents, who were thrilled we got to see dolphins!  Next, we headed to a coffee plantation where we sampled some Kona coffee, and headed to dinner before a scheduled night dive.  We grabbed some L&L and headed down to the harbor of which our tour left from.  That evening was chaotic but in my opinion, an unforgettable night filled with the majestic manta rays.  Alex and I dove, and my parents snorkeled.  The water was unfortunately choppy, so keith got a lil (ok a lot) sea sick.  But hey I had a blast from way under the sea, where the swell is felt a lot less.  We saw about 12 huge manta rays, each 7-15 feet in wingspan.  Ah they were incredible, and came so close they touched my head!  They are attracted to the tiny plankton which are attracted to the lights we had underwater.  So they come to this spot to feed everynight as they know they have a predictable meal.  Wow it was so cool!

The next day we got up, keith was unfortunately sick, so me Alex and my mom walked into Kona for breakfast.  We had a beautiful oceanfront view, and a delish meal.  We eventually headed back to the hotel where we packed up lunch for the day and headed to the volcanoes!  On our way, we stopped at this picturesque black sand beach where we had our lunch. We also stopped at this famous sweet bread store, where we sampled some taro and guava flavored bread which was to die for.  Eventually, we got to the volcano national park where we did a quick tour of the visitor center, watch an educational movie, and then headed to the  crater.  It was the first time  I had seen it “active’ ok, so maybe technically it wasn’t active, but there was smoke which made it look very cool!

Next, we headed to a lava tube, which was so cool.  It was so lush, with plants growing down the sides and it is just very hard to put into words how incredible it is to walk through a lava tube.  But trust me, if you ever have the opportunity to explore a lava tube, I say take it.  Next stop was the sulfur vents, which was smoke escaping the earth and was super cool to see.  Smelled more like ramen than sulfur…yum noodles.  After a sizable car ride (with incredible views of old lava flows contrasting against the bright blue sea) we hit the end of the road where we had an incredible view of a lava arch.  The last stop on this fun-filled day was a small hike that lead to ancient Hawaiian petroglyphs.  It awes me that these carvings were discovered out in the middle of a lava field.  It was such a cool sight to experience, I am seriously so blessed to be able to have these opportunities.  Dinner was at a hotel that over looked the crater, and naturally our luck was high and we got a seat overlooking the crater.  What a wonderful way to end our 4th of July festivities.  Getting to see the glow of lava from the crater once the sun set was WAY cooler than any fireworks I have ever seen.  Boy, life is good.

Sunday was spent making our way towards Hilo.  On our way, we soaked in some spectacular views, lush scenery, waterfalls, valleys, just it was a very Hawaiian and beautiful day. Lunch was at a very cool waterfall that lead to the ocean, the water was crystal clear and the surroundings were lush.  I couldn’t think of a better place to picnic.  Once we reached Hilo we took a pitstop at the big Island Cookie Company, where we had many samples.  Finally, we met up with my cousin Lane, his wife leah, and Kenna, their adorable daughter.  We walked around the farm and enjoyed the scenery, it was a lot different than the built up areas of maui and oahu that I am used to.  After a lond drive home, we ended the night at the Big Island Brewery for dinner, yummy pizza and salad.  After such a long day we were exhausted, unwound in the hot tub, than went right to bed.

Monday was our last day on the island, so we packed up our luggage and headed to the beach for some snorkeling and sunbathing.  After a morning in the sun, we grabbed some delicious acai bowls in Kona, and then headed towards the airport.  Unfortunately, my flight home was kind of a mess and was cancelled so I ended up going to Oahu before flying to Maui, but it all turned out alright and it was such an incredible trip!

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