There is so much to see and do on the Big Island but with only two and half days, I had to make the most of them. I decided to take a volcano tour and go scuba diving with the manta rays, two experiences I could only get on the Big Island. First, I’ll tell you about the diving in Kona….a must do!! Or if you are not a diver, you can usually go out as a snorkeler on the dive boat and just stay above the water, but still see many of the magnificent sea life including the manta rays. I decided to go diving with KonaHonu Divers and I couldn’t have picked a better dive operation. I went with them because in addition to the single manta dive that they had in the evenings, they made it a two’fer and did a reef dive at the same spot prior to the manta dive. It’s amazing what a few hours can do to bring out other creatures of the sea.
KonaHonu’s dive shop is in town and easy to get to by rental car or SpeediShuttle. Since we were only there for two days, we opted for the SpeediShuttle, which is the easy, no hassle way to get around the island. We made the mistake and didn’t reserve the shuttle upon arrival, so we had to take a cab to the resort which is more expensive than the shuttle, so definitely make your reservation before flying into Kona. Once there, I made a reservation to take me to the dive shop as well as back to the airport. I really liked the drivers for Speedishuttle. Not only did you get a ride, but also a very informative tour about the people and the island. Making the reservation was easy, as there is a SpeediShuttle desk inside the Hilton, or you can do on their website.
Once I was at the dive shop, everything was made so easy. My dive gear was already on the boat, so all I had to do was fill out the waiver and be on my way. I usually bring my wetsuit and fins with me, but this time decided to travel light. The service on board the boat was impeccable and I felt spoiled compared to some of my other dives in the past. Everything was set up with your name label on it. They came around to make sure everything was good with your integrated weights…that’s right…integrated, so no weight belts!! The crew on my boat was John, Jason and Jack and they were so diligent in giving us a briefing of the site we were going to dive both before the first and the second dive. You can tell they are very thorough in their safety checks while also running a top notch operation and making sure everyone has a great time. They explained the creatures we would see and when it came time to talk Mantas, Jason talked all about how long they’ve been there, how they reproduce, the various ones we’d see, etc. In between dives, they fed us sandwiches, animal crackers and chips…more than your typical oranges and cookies!
The manta ray dive has been written up as one of the best in the world and I can certainly see why. When I tell you this is an experience you don’t want to miss, you definitely don’t want to miss this! With all my diving over these past few years, I had never seen a manta ray, let alone one so close. It was basically a light show underwater full with 13 mantas swimming up and over our heads. Everyone had a flashlight and as the mantas were attracted to our light, they would come right to us as if they were going to eat us with their big but harmless mouths, and then swim right over us, almost in a choreographed fashion with the other manta rays. I couldn’t believe how beautiful and large these creatures were. One can just sit there and watch the show they put on for a 45 minute dive. After the dive was complete, the crew took care of all of your equipment, so all we had to do was put on our clothes and watch the video the professional videographer took underwater. They really made the dive so effortless and enjoyable. I can now see why one of the couples on our trip has been diving with them several times. If I were to go back, there’s no question, they would be my dive operator of choice.
One of the main reasons I chose to visit the Big Island was for the volcano that keeps on erupting. I figured this was a site you would only see in Hawaii, so it was a must do. What I didn’t realize was that there was a company that would take all of the guesswork out of hiking the volcano. One that would pick us up at your hotel, provide an extremely informative tour on the ride there, and choose only the best spots to stop throughout the day. Hawaii Forest and Trail was started by Rob Pacheco who saw there was a void in Hawaii tourism…the ecotourism aspect of Hawaii. So he started Hawaii Forest and Trail, a full service company that provides a variety of tours to view the volcano and the amazing astrology one can see on a clear night. We chose the Twilight Volcano Tour, as we were hoping to see the lava lit up at night. The trip began with a pickup in their van which has a capacity to sit twelve, but we were a more intimate group of six, which really made for a personal tour experience. Ethan was our guide for the day and from beginning until end, he made sure we were comfortable and safe. He was always monitoring our happiness from the temperature of the van, to how much we enjoyed the lunch and dinner that came with the tour, and each stop we made along the way. We first traveled between two of the world’s largest mountains, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on Saddle Road. Along the way, Ethan pointed out some of the rare plants and trees of the world and explained the science of the volcano and how it forms new land. On the way into Hilo, we stopped at Mauna Kea State Park and the Kaumana Cave, which was probably one of the coolest part of the trip. We trekked through the lava tube and saw first hand the various types of lava that once flowed through the tube and settled into different textures depending on how quickly it cooled. While walking through the tube, we could feel the ground water drip through the lava. Next on the trip was the summit of Kilauea inside Hawaii Volcanos National Park. Since there is so much to see and do inside the park, it’s really nice to have a guide show you the best spots and take you there in a methodical fashion so you can get the most out of your day. On our tour, we visited the sulfur banks, steam vents, a pit crater which is only accessible if you’re with Hawaii Forest and Trail along the Chain of Craters Road, hiked a lava field, and before our dinner, drove down the coast and took in the awe inspiring view of the coastline and ocean from a lava bench. This is a truly romantic spot and would make for a great place to propose above the arches! After a healthy, delicious dinner in the park, we drove back up around 3000 feet and paid a visit to Jaggar Museum and saw the awesome site of the Halemaumau Crater, which contains hidden molten rock that glows after dark. It was a magnificent sight to see. After our full day of exploration, Ethan got us home safely while most of us dozed off on the two hour drive back. It was a wonderful day and I’m so glad we chose to take the tour with Hawaii Forest and Trail. They took all the planning out of the equation and left us with a day filled with magnificent memories and new knowledge. This trip gave new meaning to the volcanoes I used to make with baking soda in grade school!