Manta Rays, Dolphins And An Active Volcano On The Big Island

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It was my first time on the Big Island, as Rob and I did not hit this island on our honeymoon (remember, we flew to Hawaii for free on Delta back then).  This island definitely looked different from the other islands from where we were in Kailua-Kona.  There were gorgeous beaches and resorts on one side of the main highway along the coast and on the other, lava fields from old volcano eruptions that seemed to stretch forever.  To me, looking out over the lava fields looked like another planet.  It was very cool!
Marriott Hotels
Recall that I booked us our room on Marriott Rewards points at the at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa.  When we checked in, we got upgraded to a cabana, which was a very nice size for the 5 of us.  Thanks Marriott!

After getting in late the night before, we had a lazy morning at the pool.  The kids definitely liked the pool better here than at the St. Regis on Kauai.  It was bigger, warmer and had a slide.

Image 263Later on in the day,we arrived for our waterfall helicopter tour with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters.  The launch site was literally a 5 minute drive from the hotel.  The flight was as scary and exhilarating as it was on my honeymoon when I did it back then on Kauai.  The kids loved it as well.  We got so close to so many waterfalls in the various canyons along the ocean.  It was gorgeous.
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We only did the 45 minute waterfall (non-volcano) tour because I felt the longer tour (up to 2 hours) could get boring for the kids, not to mention how much more $ it would be for 2 hours.   Also, I knew we would be hitting Volcanoes National Park via our tour coming up in a few days so I was good to skip the volcano from the air.

From our flight, we drove south.  We got ice cream and walked around the shops on Alii Drive, the main street of Kailua-Kona.  We planted ourselves on a ledge and watched a gorgeous sunset at the Kailua-Kona Pier.Image 142

From there we headed to Rays On The Bay for dinner.  The setting was gorgeous and the food good too.  The only downside was that I thought we would definitely get to see the “rays on the bay”.  But the restaurant does not turn the lights on in the bay, to attract the rays, till about 9pm.  That was way too late for us to stay and watch.  We still had a 40 minute drive back to our hotel.  Oh well, at least we still had our manta ray dive coming up the next night of our stay.

Image 176We spent The next morning on the beach. We did a four hour beach toy rental from a local beach hut at the Marriott beach. The beach toys we had access to with this package were stand-up paddle boards, kayaks, water bikes and boogie boards. We all had a lot of fun trying out all of the various equipment while also getting a workout. The water bike and SUP totally work your quads. We were all sore the next day. Our package also included a glass bottom boat ride. The ride was about 20 minutes in which we saw tons of fish and a turtle!

Image 175That night, we did the manta dive, a highlight of our trip. We were in the ocean IN THE DARK for about 45 minutes holding on to a surfboard/ladder contraption that shone lights into the ocean to attract manta rays. We ended up only seeing 2 (huge) manta rays but they gracefully swam under us a number of times. One was even doing flips under our board for a bit. Needless to say it was a very cool experience. For us just being in the ocean at night was an adventure in itself.

But here are a few negatives. The water is crowded. There are many companies that bring people out to the site via boat so there are many boats and floating contraptions in the water, all with lots of people. We used a company called Splashers booked by the Marriott concierge. Our friends used a different company and their dive site was further south in Kona and was less crowded. It’s likely better to do the dive there.  Second, there are tons of little fish that are flapping against the board and your hands the entire time. I was unnerved by this for 45 minutes. I never got used to it. Third, it is freezing when you come out of the water and need to take the boat (in our case a zephyr raft) back to shore. But despite all of this, we would do it again in a heartbeat!

DSC_1697Our amazing water adventures continued the next day. We went with our friends on a snorkel/swim with spinner dolphins adventure. We again used Splashers for this tour and were on the same zephyr raft. It was the perfect mode of transportation for daytime :-).

Early on in the trip we found the Dolphins, tons of them swimming together in a big group. Our captain raced ahead to get in front of the dolphins. We stopped. We sat on the edge of the raft with our snorkel gear and when the captain said jump, we did!  Under the water we were treated to one of most amazing things I have ever seen. We watched as the dolphins swam by UNDER THE WATER.  There were hundreds of them. It was an absolutely incredible thing to witness.

Image 4Our trip continued to Kealakekua Bay, where the Captain Cook Monument stands.  Here we were treated to the best snorkeling I have ever experienced.  There was a huge reef and thousands and thousands of beautiful fish and amazing coral.  We saw a few eels as well.  We all had such a great time snorkeling in the bay.Image 1

To top off our trip, upon leaving the bay, we were followed by a school of dolphins in our wake that were playing with the boat and doing tricks (we think for us 🙂 ).  We couldn’t turn our heads fast enough to watch all of the dolphins swimming around the boat and jumping and flipping in the air.  It was crazy!

The next day we set out on another adventure, we were doing a tour to Volcanoes National Park which was about a 3-4 hour drive away.  We were 10 in total so had a “private tour” as the tour usually holds 12 and we got lucky that no one else booked.  We made various stops a long the route at a coffee plantation, bakery, and black sand beach.

Image 27We finally hit the park that afternoon.  In the park, we stopped at the steam vents and got blown in the face with sulfur smelling steam.  It felt just like being in a steam room.  It was beyond cool (actually really hot).  We also did a mini hike and explored old lava tubes and caves.

Our tour came with dinner at a local winery Image 28because the kitchen at the volcano house in volcano national park was out of service.  We may have gotten lucky in this regard anyway.  It was cool to be at a local winery and tour the premises.  (Kids were bored but had fun “pretending” to drink wine.)

Image 5After dinner, as the sun was setting, we headed back into the park and to the Jaggar Museum & Overlook.  Here we witnessed the orange/red glow and sparks and smoke of the Kīlauea volcano that has been spewing lava since 1983.  This was one of the most unbelievable things I have ever witnessed.  It is something I will always remember especially since the people that live on the Big Island, live with the knowledge that the volcano can erupt at any moment.  I don’t know if I could live like that.

Our final morning on the Big Island, only Daniel and I went down to the beach and hopped on a vessel for a whale watching tour.  The boat was a good size and held about 30 of us.

It started slow in terms of whale sightings and I was starting to think we should have hung around the hotel for a lazy morning with the rest of my family.

But, our luck ultimately continued and Daniel and I ended up seeing about 10 whales and look at this picture I got of one jumping out of the water!  IMG_1423There was one time that I felt like I was in Jaws as I watched a whale head dead on to our boat and then swim under the boat.  We all raced to the other side as the whale emerged under the water.  Again, another amazing experience.  I wish Rob, Jessie and Mason had been there too.

Image 178Before our flight we had lunch at the Lava Lava Beach Club.  This ended up being our favorite meal  The setting and food were perfect for our final activity in Hawaii.  Thank you JB for recommending it to us.

Don’t forget, on the way home, we took advantage of the inflight offer for 50,000 HawaiianMiles.  I usually do not like to repeat destinations, but I can’t wait to go back to all the Hawaiian Islands.  There is still so much I want to do there!