The Bulls on the Big Island
Saturday 7th April 2018
We arrived on the Big Island and after a palaver sorting out a hire car (book one in advance people) we headed off for our accommodation, intriguingly called "the Jungalow"!
We chose to stay in a little town called Volcano mainly because where we had wanted to stay (in Kona) was completely full and also because we wanted to visit the Volcano National Park which was close by.
A couple we met in Fiji had told us that on the big island there's half where it rains all the time and half where it hardly rains. Turns out we were in the rainy half hence the "jungly" name of our accommodation, we were in what felt like a rainforest!
It was a bit chilly and damp but fantastic to bei in a space where the girls had their own bedrooms, I had a fully functioning kitchen and laundry and there was Netflix on the tv! We had a few days here and it quickly became our little home.
We headed out to explore the Volcano National Park in the rain and walked through a lava tunnel - incredible to learn about their formation - and discover that Hawaii is essentially all built on volcanic lands that didn't exist until eruptions formed the ground.
We went up to the top where you can usually see the volcano activity because of the steam but it was so cloudy and misty and rainy we couldn't see anything.
We enjoyed the (very busy) museum discovering different types of lava and also made our way down the Chain of Craters road to the Holei sea arch - a natural formation that will one day be eroded by the battering seas. It was still pouring so we dashed in and out of the car to see sights and take pictures before dodging the puddles to get back in.
We were freezing. I'm not going to lie. So cold and so damp, such a change from the heat and humidity we had grown acclimatised to on our travels. It was about 15 degrees in Volcano and we were really struggling with the cold.
With the rain easing off we went back up into the National Park (US National Park tickets are valid for a week for a very reasonable amount!) and were amazed to see the orange glow of the volcano clearly visible. You could even hear some hissing and popping from our great distance as this volcano is constantly active and has been for many years. It was beautiful to see.
We booked a day trip out in Kona to go whale watching and after the two hour drive we were astonished to discover the sunny half of the island where the temperature was at least ten degrees warmer and the beaches were packed!
On the way we stopped in to see the Captain James Cook monument, sadly we could only see it from a distance as it's inaccessible from the point where you can view it. The only way is to do a boat or kayak tour which were too long for us or too costly. We could have hiked down but we were running out of days so sadly we made the decision to view it from afar. It was interesting to see it as Kitty had completed a project in year 1 about Captain James Cook and his demise at the hands of natives on Hawaii. She was rather cross that we couldn't get any closer to see it though!
We boarded the whale watching boat and were lucky enough to come across two humpback whales making their way across the ocean. There are strict rules about what whale watching boats can and can't do so we kept our distance hoping to see where they would pop up next.
We also saw a Hammerhead shark swimming about close to the boat whilst tracking the whales. It was a great experience and Darcy was just so excited to see whales in the wild. We would have loved to have seen a breach of course but these whales were happy just swimming along. Darcy got to ask some questions and took great pleasure in using the binoculars to watch them. Her dreams of becoming a marine biologist strengthened by this outing I'm sure.
On the way back to shore we came across a large pod of spinner dolphins who darted and dashed through the water alongside us. One particular dolphin took to swimming on its back slapping its tail at us as it swam upside down at great speed! It was so brilliant to watch and we loved it, we will never get tired of seeing dolphins in the wild. We noticed that the weather seemed to be deteriorating. The sea had been incredibly calm as we left, completely still and we could see for miles. As we came back into the harbour it was much choppier and the skies were clouding over. We were glad to have gone out when we did as for the first time on a boat - none of the Bulls were sick!!!
The only downside to being in Volcano was the fact that so much of what we wanted to do (and our flight out) was in Kona so the next day we again made the two hour journey back to visit one of the beaches and then go out on another boating adventure, this time to hopefully see manta rays.
We stopped en route at this amazing bakery and if you're ever in the area, we highly recommend stopping at the Punalu'u bakery for amazing donut type creations! It definitely made the journey easier with these sugary snacks!
After an excellent lunch on the harbour we headed over to what we expected to be a deserted quiet little beach. But it was packed! We couldn't for the life of us work out why it was busy, it wasn't a particularly fabulous beach, it wasn't very big, it was quite rocky getting in and out the sea and they couldn't all be killing time waiting for manta ray diving like us could they?
Then we realised. What made this beach a jackpot? Sea turtles! This beach is a resting spot for green turtles and sure enough a huge turtle made her way out of the sea before resting her weary head down and napping on the sand.
The signs advise you to stay at least 20 metres away so we perched ourselves down and just watched. It was so peaceful and so relaxing just watching this huge turtle take a rest. I could have sat there for hours and Darcy was practically beside herself with happiness.
Then to our surprise another one came out the sea - a much smaller juvenile not far away from the larger one, also taking a rest. It was just brilliant. But alas the time was marching on and we had to be at the boat for the diving.
When we booked this trip it hadn't sold many tickets and we were worried they may cancel it due to not making the minimum numbers so we were surprised when the captain said we had a full boat. It turned out that the darkening skies we had noticed on our way back from whale watching had developed into a full blown storm and that most of the people on our boat had in fact been out the night before when the storm hit. With lightning striking all around them and rough seas it sounded like a terrifying experience! Having not made it in to the water they were all rebooked to dive tonight. We were so glad that we had not experienced that and it seems like the storm took everyone by surprise. The captain said even his house was flooded.
We headed out to a bay just metres from the shoreline where the airport at Kona is. And then we waited. And waited. Our boat crew doesn't advise getting in the water until they know the rays are around as it's cold and harder to wait in the water than it is on the boat. The manta rays can all be identified by distinguishing marks on them, each individual and known so well the captain can name them. If however, you spot one that isn't listed, you get to name it so there are some manta rays with odd names out there!
The manta ray boats all use a similar device to conduct this tour. And there were a lot of manta ray boats. Around 15-20 all in the same area, and that's why we got out early, to get ourselves a good spot. While we waited the crew gave us some manta facts, for example, they don't have the stings in their tails like other rays and we asked some questions, they explained how they constructed this surfboard device with a UV light on it which attracts the plankton that the manta rays eat.
It's only in this part of the world that the mantas display this type of behaviour where they perform barrel rolls to scoop up the plankton, looping up from the bottom to scoop up the plankton near the surface. Then it was time to get into the water. We all had our wetsuits on but the water was bracingly cold! With our teeth chattering and shivering we swam out in the dark and held on to the piping around the board looking down at the hundreds of fish that had gathered under the light. And we waited.
And then deep below we could make out the sweeping shape of a manta ray, it came up past us but not yet doing the barrel roll we were so excited to see. For kitty that was enough. She was just too cold so she headed in for the warm shower and to watch from the boat.
Just after that the barrel rolls started and it was so incredible. I could hear my own sounds of "ohhhhhhh wooowwwww" coming out the top of my snorkel as we watched these huge rays sweep past us, brushing our skin and so close to our faces. It was mesmerising watching them, seeing more than one swooping around low down then coming up into their roll. Darcy described it a like "watching ballroom dancing" which was such a good description of their elegance and grace as they moved so beautifully in the water.
We could have watched for so much longer but it was getting really cold and although we kept wanting just one more when they called us back in it was nice to get out the water. The warm freshwater hose in the boat was the just the most wonderful sensation after the cold sea.
We headed back to the harbour and enjoyed the most delicious cookies cooked by Peyton, one of the crew. It had been incredible, I really wasn't all that enthused about diving with manta rays but it has been one of the best experiences of the whole trip. It's so different and so dramatic to watch, the contrast of the dark and their white undersides, the way they move, it's something I'd definitely recommend to anyone visiting Hawaii.
We made the long drive back in the dark to Volcano, knowing we had to be up early to pack up and head back to Kona once again for our flight out of Hawaii to the mainland States and our American road trip could begin!