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Puna coast and Kona coast snorkeling

Today was a day of snorkeling at Kahalu’u Beach Park, but we got up early for a run along the Kalapana coast and I took the opportunity to grab a few images this morning. The introductory image above is a hibiscus, the Hawaii state flower that was just growing by the side of the road. They’re everywhere here along the Kalapana coast as well as ubiquitous civil defense stations to notify coastal dwellers of impending tsunami waves.

The place where we are staying, Ramashala is just across the street from this amazingly beautiful coastline. Just off shore from this coast, the humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) were migrating, and at night when the surf was down, you could lie in bed and hear them calling with grunts and barks as well as blasts of air through their blow holes. There is also a small beach, Kahena beach about 200 meters down the road where you can swim, often with dolphins. But watch out for higher surf as it is a young beach that was just recently formed by a lava flow in 1955 and has all of the dangers of a young beach as well as a fairly substantial rip current in high surf. An earthquake in 1975 dropped the beach 3 additional feet, so it is a bit rugged, but once you get down, you are greeted by a wonderful black sand beach. Careful though, because Kahena beach is one of the beaches that people like to sunbathe nude on which is great if that’s your thing, but can be surprising if you are not expecting it.

We were looking more for a protected snorkeling spot with coral, so after our morning run and photography, we drove around to Kona where we stopped at Kahalu’u Beach Park. This is actually a pretty nice place to snorkel with an ancient breakwater that protects the area when the surf is up. Unfortunately, it is also fairly popular with the tourist hoards that stay along the Kona coast. The frustrating thing about this is that when there are lots of people in the area, you get all sorts of protocol/courtesy violations as people will swim right across or even into you as most of them are snorkeling for the first time in their lives. Many of them also apparently have no concept of protecting the coral as they will walk all over it destroying the living coral polyps on top of the coral heads. Despite this, the coral seems to survive OK, with some areas in the higher traffic areas close to the beach showing up worse for wear. However, if you get away from this area and snorkel out to the more open part of the bay, the coral is in much better shape and the number of fish increases in size and number. We saw beautiful palenose parrotfish (Scarus psittacus), spotted boxfish (Ostracion meleagris), many species of wrasse including belted wrasse (Stethojulis balteata), christmas wrasse (Thalassoma trilobatum), bird wrasse (Gomphosus varius), saddle wrasse (Thalassoma duperrey), and one of the coolest wrasses I’ve ever seen, the dragon wrasse (Novaculichthys taeniourus). We also saw a puffer fish (Canthigaster janthinoptera) as well as clown fish (Amphiprion percula), trumpet fish (Aulostomus maculatus), lavender tang (Acanthurus nigrofuscus), black triggerfish (Melichthys niger), manybar goatfish (Parupeneus multifasciatus), orangeband surgeonfish (Acanthurus olivaceus),  eye-striped surgeonfish (Acanthurus dussumieri), moorish idol (Zanclus cornutus), threadfin butterflyfish (Chaetodon auriga), raccoon butterflyfish (Chaetodon lunula),  scribbled filefish (Aluterus scriptus) and the rectangular triggerfish (Rhinecanthus rectangulus) which is the Hawaiian state fish and goes by the name of “Humuhumu-nukunuku-a-pua’a”.

We were also overtaken by an entire group of green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) that swam around and below us which was a wonderful experience. If you simply hang out and don’t chase them (it’s illegal), they will come to you and simply ignore you while they snack on the algae on the bottom allowing you to get a good look and be a part of their world for a while.

Snorkeling advice:
To enable a good snorkeling experience for novices, I like to encourage that they wear a full body thin neoprene wetsuit, even in warmer waters. This allows a number of conveniences that also make the novice more comfortable and causes less damage to the reef environment. For those who might not have much body fat, the neoprene wetsuit provides a degree of buoyancy that allows the novice to “float” above coral without too much kicking and arm motion. This keeps the novice off the bottom and prevents damage to the coral as well as reduces their movements that might scare off fish and turtles, not to mention skittish mammals. Also, even though Hawaiian waters are relatively warm for the mid-Pacific ocean, if you are out in the water for a couple of hours or more, the 70-71 degree F water will sap your core body temperature without a wetsuit. A 3mm wetsuit is ideal for Hawaiian waters. Finally, a wetsuit provides a degree of protection from the sun to prevent sunburn, protects against the occasional jellyfish that could really hurt if you run into the wrong species and protects your knees and such from entry and exit on sharp rocks and hidden sea urchins that could poke their way into your skin ending up with very painful and infected wounds.

Tomorrow is Volcano National Park where I hope to get some spectacular photography done. It is a place that I could easily spend a couple of weeks, but this trip we are limited to one day, so it will be an early morning.

Categories: Travel.

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2 Responses

  1. I know this is an old post but thought I’d add my thanks -nice pictures (especially the turtle – one of my daughter’s first words) – anyway I will link to this page if you don’t mind as I liked your snorkelling advice – protection of coral is a good example of a less obvious reason to wear a wetsuit.

  2. Thanks Bob. It was a great trip and we hope to get back before too long.

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