Hawaii Trip, Day 5: Snorkeling around the Big Island

Today was our big day of snorkeling. There were a few beaches around the Kona area specifically recommended for snorkeling, so we first headed to Snorkel Bob’s, a little shop next to our hotel that rented snorkeling equipment, and rented some fins and floating devices to make it a little easier (we already bought some snorkeling goggles/tubes before the trip). We were ready to go! (photos from today are on Day 5 of the Hawaii Trip Gallery)

We then checked out a little market that was a few blocks away – tents showed off fresh flowers, fruits, clothes, and various trinkets. After checking out the tents, we hopped in our car and got on the highway, heading south to Honaunau bay. The “highway” could hardly be considered one in our minds – it was usually a normal-looking two lane road, the speed limit often dropped to 35 mph through towns (and never got over 55 mph), it usually had on-ramps as stop signs, and we had to stop multiple times for wild chickens and turkeys crossing the road. And often times giant trees loomed on either side of the road. It was a lot of fun to drive down and watch the beautiful landscape go by, from black lava flats to ocean to near jungle, interspersed with fruit stands and some very small towns.

After driving about 30 minutes, we found Honaunau bay, which is right next to the Place of Refuge (Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park), which we’d also wanted to check out. To get to the bay, instead of going directly to the historic park we pulled off the road a little early. The bay’s recommended for its good snorkeling. We were amused to see that $3 parking spots were available, but paying was completely on the honor system – a box by the dirt parking lot simply asked that people pay $3 for parking, but there was no attendant present. (We saw this again at other times during our stay on the Big Island.) After paying, we put on our snorkeling gear and got into the water, although this was a bit challenging because it was not a sandy beach – we had to find a safe entrance between the rocks (while wearing fins, which maybe wasn’t how we should have done it). But it was worth the effort – we again saw a lot of neat fish and corals, especially since it wasn’t a very busy area tourist-wise. We came to be very familiar with the convict tangs and yellow tangs that are common in the area. We even saw some neat puffer fish a couple times and other rarer fish.

After getting out of the water, we decided to walk the few blocks to the Place of Refuge in our soaking wet clothes (we both wore shorts/t-shirts over our bathing suits to keep us from getting too sun-burnt and scratched up by rocks while snorkeling). It really didn’t seem that out of place, and since the Place of Refuge park was mostly outdoors we got to dry off as we walked around in the ocean breeze. The Place of Refuge was, sadly, a bit underwhelming. The area was a stretch of land along the coast that was considered sacred for the natives – it was a place where royalty had lived and where people sought refuge from being killed/beaten. Basically, half of it was where the royalty was, and half was sacred ground where blood could not be spilled, so if someone was sentenced to death (which seemed to happen a lot, such as if someone didn’t perform a dance correctly or had their shadow overlap the king’s path) if they could make it to the Place of Refuge they’d be safe. Very few original structures remained – half of a temple had been reconstructed, two royal fish ponds were still there, and the original, super-thick walls of black lava rock were still mostly in tact, but very little else of the original structures were there. (The fish ponds were interesting – there was a salt water and a fresh water fish pond, and fish would be caught and “stored” there until the royalty wanted to eat them.) There was also a weaving demonstration going on, which was neat. And the gift shop was the only place we ever saw a nose flute for sale (an instrument made from bamboo that the natives had used in romantic endeavors by, yes, using their nose to play it). After visiting the Place of Refuge, we hopped in the car (with our clothes, still, unfortunately rather damp and salty – there was no shower at the beach) and continued down the highway for another hour to reach the Punaluu Beach Park.

The Punaluu Beach Park is known for its black sand and sea turtles, and sure enough we saw three sea turtles on the beach there. They were just chilling out on the sand, hardly moving at all. About 10 feet out from them wooden stakes had been put in the sand to mark how close people were allowed to get to the sea turtles, to give them some space. The turtles didn’t seem to mind all the people gathered around them. Andrew then eagerly put on his snorkeling gear and got in the water, after having spotted a sea turtle swimming in the waves near the shore. After he reported seeing some neat fish and corals, Teisha donned her snorkeling gear and joined him – we again saw a lot of neat corals and fish there, but didn’t actually ever see any sea turtles swimming in the water. Because the waves get rough and they advise people not to swim more than 100 feet out into the bay, we didn’t go out too far, but did enjoy snorkeling/swimming closer to the sandy shore. After showering off (and being very grateful for the simple outdoor shower!), we hopped back in the car and made the long drive back to Kona.

We settled on an easy dinner and ate at Bubba Gump Shrimp’s, a few blocks from our hotel. It’s a seafood chain restaurant, but was still fun to eat at, and we had an amazing outdoor view of the ocean as the sky grew darker.

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