01 December, 2008

Settling in on the Kona Side: Kahalu'u and Two-Step

We awoke to our not-spectacular breakfast of apples, papaya, pancake (singular) and single slice of bacon, plus weak Kona coffee at 7:30am, and then began our day. The plan was to head into Kailua-Kona town, check out the strip, and get some snorkeling gear for Denise (actually just fins, since we both had mask/snorkel but lacked fins). On the way into town, which is about a 10 mile drive, we saw a dive shop called "Kona Boys" and decided that we would go there, since it was on the way, and could potentially make it possible for us to snorkel at Kahulu'u Beach Park, which is at the south end of the main part of Kona. The gear at Kona Boys was a little bit on the expensive side, as I guess snorkeling gear tends to be at dive shops. But they staff were helpful, and we got what we needed.

We made our way into Kona, and were surprised to find that at 9:30am on a Saturday, there was still on-street parking directly across from Kahalu'u Beach Park, which is supposed to be one of the better snorkeling locations on the island. I guess either this is not high tourist season, or 9:30am is early, or maybe people are going to other places. I began the trip with my usual paranoia about theft, wanting us to make sure that absolutely nothing of value was remotely visible in the vehicle, and that nothing of value was taken with us down to the beach where it could be stolen while we are in the water.

I should interrupt this story to let you know that Denise just called me outside behind our B & B so that I could look at the creature that she discovered in the tree (the image below is not our photo, but I may replace it with ours, if I am motivated when we return).

That is a Jackson's chameleon, which is apparently the only species of chameleon in Hawaii, and was brought here from either Kenya or Tanzania in 1972. It seems that Hawaii has a long history of things being introduced here that probably don't belong (including white people). Some of these things have been more destructive than others (such as the mongoose).

Back to my story.

So, our first snorkeling experience at Kahalu'u was pretty good. There was definitely a lot to see, and the water was shallow enough that you could see things up close to you. On the way to snorkeling, we realized that we'd forgotten to purchase any sunscreen, so (out of laziness) we decided to walk to the resort (our last resort) next door, the Outrigger Keahou Resort. This, we knew, would cost us a ridiculous amount of money, and it did. Then, walking back from the resort, we encountered the first example of Denise's worst nightmare.

Again, this is not my photo, though we've got one that I'll probably post later. This is an orb weaver spider, which I guess is common enough that sometimes they're simply called a garden spider. The size of the one we saw was probably about 3 inches on the diagonal from extended left rear legs to right front legs. Apparently they're very interesting creatures with some remarkable behaviors, which you can read about here.

I knew that Denise was afraid of spiders, and I knew that this fear was extreme, but when we turned a corner, and she nearly walked into the web of this thing, the reaction could only be described as being similar to what you'd expect someone to do if they walked into their bathroom, and found their loved one stabbed to death in the bathtub. It was a pretty strong reaction!

We managed to survive the spider encounter (and even to come back the next day to the very same spot, with the intention of photographing the spider - and it was still there!) and made it over to snorkel. The first day of snorkeling was not spectacular, technologically, for either of us, because we were having troubles with leaking masks and fogging masks. This can really make snorkeling less fun. But we did the best we could, and the views were good enough to make it worth dealing with all of the challenges with the gear.

Later in the day, we went to another snorkeling area called "Two-Step" located at Honauna'u, which is about 6 miles south of us. This is supposed to be one of the absolute top snorkeling locations, but we both found it to be not as good as Kahalu'u, because it is almost uniformly much deeper water (mostly greater than 10 feet) and this means that you really are not swimming with the fish. You're swimming above the fish. I have a theory that maybe books and guides are pushing this location on people because it is an ecologically more protected site, whereas the shallow easy-to-access sites are likely to get destroyed by overuse.

The combination of gear problems and deeper water made Two-Step not that remarkable for us.

Between the morning and afternoon snorkeling, we'd gone into Kona town, and had THE BEST COFFEE WE HAVE EVER HAD at what appears to be a chain called Hula Bean Coffee. We had decent sandwiches there, and a vanilla latte that was so good, we expect to keep going there every single day.

If Seattle coffee makes the rest of the coffee in the USA look like brown water, then Kona coffee makes Seattle coffee look like brown water. The difference is really that striking.

I will write more about coffee and more about Kona town later, but now I want to go and snorkel before the sun comes up too high in the sky.

I'll just sum up Day one by saying that we had dinner at the Manago Hotel, which is famous for their pork chops, and we both got the pork chops, and they were good!

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