03 December, 2008

Snorkeling at Captain Cook, Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii

When I last wrote about the trip experiences, I'd raved about how great Kahalu'u Beach Park is. I'd said that it was far better than "Two-Step" at Honauna'u. And given the fact that one of the rangers had told us that Two-Step was "as good as, or better than Captain Cook", I had made the syllogism (of sorts) that if he says that A = B and that B > C, that if I thought C > B, I would also think C > A. If that makes any sense.

But I was wrong.

The snorkeling near Captain Cook Monument in Kealakekua Bay is, by far, the best snorkeling I have ever done in Hawaii, and possibly the best snorkeling I have done anywhere (that would include Belize), though I may be recalling incorrectly about Belize, since it was 10 years ago.

I had some doubts, because there is a bit of hype around Captain Cook. It is not trivial to get there. You need to either hike a nasty 2 miles down, and then back up a cliff, or you need to take a kayak across the bay, or you need to swim (which to me, seems the most insane, since it is at least a mile). We chose the kayak option, and in hindsight, I now know that this should not be seen as "something you have to do", but should be seen as "something you want to do", because it was definitely a major part of the experience.

The water of the bay is in shades of blue that seem like something out of a fairy tale. Because it is so warm, you don't mind getting wet and splashed by the waves as you cross (unlike waters of places like Seattle, or Boston). And the most amazing part of all is that the bay is populated by spinner dolphins. They said "you might see dolphins as you go across", which I thought was just more hype to get us to pay $50 to rent the kayak. But sure enough, halfway across, we saw two small groups of spinner dolphins, including a young one, leaping out of the water, spinning in the air, and splashing back down in front of us. It seemed clear that these dolphins did their jumping near us because they wanted to get a good look at us. It was really incredible.

When we arrived at the monument, there were a surprising number of snorkelers and kayaks, but it was not overly crowded (I'd say maybe 12-15 kayaks, in total, were there).

I am sure that there are a million places you can read about Captain Cook, and I want to try to say something here that you would not read somewhere else, so that you can have a good reason to think it's worth your time, money, and effort to come to this site. So here goes.

The thing about Captain Cook that makes it so incredible is that it is a large site, close to shore, with amazingly healthy and expansive coral covering the entire area. There are some shallows, where you're only an arm's depth above the coral (that's how I always gauge if I'm "okay" on depth is to outstretch my arm, and if my hand is still above the bottom, I probably am not in danger of being raked over the coral when the waves go back and forth). And then the coral wall gradually drops off in other areas to the 6-12 foot range. And then, just a tad further, there is a massive drop, down to the point that you cannot even see anything but blue expanse. Apparently, that's at least 90 feet according to some information I read. And the coral lines the bottom all the way down. The water is exceptionally clear, even though we've had pretty big waves and wind lately, so I guess it's highly protected from these factors. And there are some spots near the seaward side of the site, where there are waves breaking over rocks, which causes a few interesting things. First, in that area, you can get some very interesting currents pulling you back and forth. None of this seemed dangerous, and was actually rather fun. And second, you can seem some fish and fish behavior that is somewhat dependent on the highly oxygenated crashing waves - like schools of some type of scad fish, that like to go back and forth under the bubbly areas.

Did I say that there's a huge variety of coral types? And that it is mostly perfectly preserved?

I had said in an earlier blog that Kahalu'u had almost all of the types fish that we'd seen, but Captain Cook had a few more than that. The only fish that seemed to be somewhat scarce at Captain Cook, ironically, was the Picasso Triggerfish (Humuhumunukunukuapuaa), which is the Hawaiian State fish. I won't even list for you the many types, but our last count is that we are up to around 60 different species.

One of the coolest things we saw was a moray eel swimming freely, outside of its hole. They like to stay in their hole, and this one had left, and was wriggling its 3 foot long body through the water, along the bottom. We followed it for at least a couple of hundred feet, and were amazed to see it go back to the hole we'd seen it in earlier in the day - it was the same eel!

There's really no downside to Captain Cook. There does seem to be a wasp nest of some sort near one of the landing areas, but they were not aggressive, and responded favorably to "shoo-ing". If you go to Captain Cook, you will have seen just about the best snorkeling you can possibly see.

I'm going on and on here. So I'll stop. But suffice it to say that my assumptions that Captain Cook could not be that much better than anywhere else were entirely incorrect.

1 comment:

  1. dude, i just spent the last hour and a half reading your blog (well, the part you can see w/o clicking on anything), and now i wish i hadn't. it's just not right to read about the crystal clear, warm waters of hawaii while shivering in a stupid office with darkness descending outside at 4pm. post photos (NO SPIDERS, though) and find a shell for me! :)