I enjoy pretty much everything there is that has to do with the outdoors. Some of my most peaceful moments have been while walking through the forest, sitting on a beach, or boating (minus the loud engine). Accordingly I have a great respect for nature and enjoy learning about the plants and wildlife therein. My plan is to continue that learning process and hopefully enhance it by sharing what I learn. I intend for this blog to serve many purposes, but in the immediate future it will be a place for me, and hopefully others, to share ideas about reducing our individual impact on this planet, protecting wild spaces, and in general just to comment on the things we enjoy most in the great outdoors. I welcome all opinions as otherwise you cannot consider every aspect of a subject. However, I would ask that every opinion be expressed in a respectful way and considered with an open mind. Often there is no single right answer. Thanks.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Honolulu Day 4: Snorkel Tour

Today was awesome! The only unfortunate part is that I am sporting one hell of a sunburn on various parts of my body, mostly on the the left side.  I will be cold toweling and aloe vera-ing for the remainder of our stay.  It was foolish on my part so all I will say is reapply sunscreen liberally while you are on a boat because even in Hawaii you will be cold between snorkel locations and might want to sit in the sun to keep warm.

We got picked up a block from our hotel at 9:30 this morning by Ko Olina Ocean Adventures.  Our driver was a super friendly guy named Ben and he drove us to a marina in Ko Olina where we got aboard our boat around 10:30.  I think we arrived back at the marina at around 3:00pm but the time flew by.  It was the quickest four hours plus I have spent in awhile.

We went North up the coast and our first snorkel stop was in view of this building, which I believe is a power plant.

We were hoping to see some turtles here but, in the end, were equally happy to swim with the fish.  The variety was as you would expect snorkeling here.  I have snorkeled near Kauai and Maui but the most recent trip was over 6 years ago and I was not bored.  I love the variety of colours and sizes and how curious they are when you initially get in.  At first I looked around and really did not see many, then looked down and realized they were under me.  I did have an underwater disposable camera and did take some pictures but, let's be honest, the likelihood of me getting those pictures up here once I get home are slim.

The view back to Ko Olina.

I am not sure which town this is but we will be doing a drive up this coast tomorrow so hopefully I will figure it out.

We spent a lot of time heading up the coast looking for dolphins but they were elusive today.  We saw a small group of bottle nosed dolphins at first but they cleared the area before too long and we lost track of them.  I should also say that the rules here seem to be similar to Victoria in that the boat engines need to be turned down and finally turned off when you are near marine mammals.  There are also some stringent rules surrounding the green sea turtles and we were cautioned to avoid pursuing them or touching them unless we had $10,000 to spare.  We saw several of them swimming at the surface as we made our way up the coast and while initially curious they were quick to dive under if we stared for too long.

I was able to catch a picture of this one right before it dove under.  Apparently the males have longer tails and the females have shorter tails.  I believe one of our guides said that this one was a male.

Eventually we did come across a pod of Hawaiian Spinner dolphins.  These are smaller than the bottle nose dolphins and we were told that they they partially get their name from their spinning motion while they jump which helps them to dislodge unwanted beasties from their bodies.  There were adults and babies in this large group and watching them was amazing.  We were fortunate to see some acrobatics as well, but those were hard to get on camera.

The only leap that I managed to catch on camera.

When we got back to the marina we had a tasty lunch and then got driven back to our hotel.  I found myself wishing that we had taken the tour on the first day of our trip as Ben was an awesome tour guide.  He pointed out different areas during the drive from Honolulu to Ko Olina, recommended restaurants, kayak trips, and beaches to check out.  We found ourselves disappointed that we only had two days left because there was no way we would be able to fit in a quarter of what he suggested.  I would highly recommend this snorkel and sail tour.  Everyone we met was super friendly and even when we were being told what we could and could not do I never once felt like I was sitting through a lecture.

The pictures below were taken at a beach we stopped at during the course of today.  There were several green sea turtles swimming in the shallows and this one poked his head up to check us out.  There was also a monk seal resting on the sand and I took a ton of pictures of her.

Monk Seal

This seal was laying on the same beach where we saw the green sea turtles.  She was surrounded by a rope fence in order to keep people away from her.  There was also a woman on site affiliated with NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) who kept an eye on her and, probably more importantly, the people on the beach.  In addition to observer she filled the role of monk seal naturalist and explained a great many things including how they are tagged when they are pups (this one is a female named Pakua) but otherwise not touched or tagged unless they are in distress and treated medically. She directed me to the Hawaii Marine Mammal Alliance website for more information.

Apparently monk seals need this time out of the water to warm up which means, unlike the youtube videos of people helping a beached whale, do not pour water over them.  Monk Seals are endangered with a population of approximately 1100 in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Volunteers keep an eye out for the monk seals, set up these signs below with rope fencing to cordon off an area around the seal, then, in shifts, volunteers will stay and observe until the seal decides to move on.

Of all the photos I took this is one of my favourites.  It is not the best view of her but she had just finished plowing her head into the sand like an ostrich and then popped out and wriggled forward.  I enjoyed watching her shift positions and make herself comfortable like we would in our own bed.

Sunburn aside this was a fantastic day and one I will remember for a long time.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Honolulu, Day 3: Diamond Head & Kuli'ou'ou Ridge Trail

We were far more successful in getting out of bed this morning, set an alarm and everything.  We actually made it out of the hotel before 9:00 am.  However, this was not early enough to avoid a full parking lot at Diamond Head, even if it was a Tuesday.  At about 9:15, on the drive up, there were a lot of people parking at the bottom and walking the road up to the crater.  The $5.00 parking charge was fine by us so we drove up and used their "waiting" line.  After you pay at the gate there is a line up you can join off to the right until a parking space frees up.  A woman was standing on a step ladder/stool watching for departing vehicles and directing cars in the line to the first open space.  The estimated wait time when we paid was about 20 minutes but I would be surprised if we waited more than 10.

I would have to describe this visit as more pilgrimage than hike.  The early part of the walk is on a reasonably wide sidewalk so you have some room to maneuver around people and stick to your own pace. But, before too long, you are forced to follow along in a single file behind a string of people.  Think steadily moving rush hour traffic with no better options.  The history of the site is interesting and according to the information pamphlet the set up has been roughly the same since 1908.  A series of switchbacks and stairs ultimately leads you to the old Fire Control Station.

Due to the immense number of people it was difficult to stop and take pictures.  I would have been interrupting the already slowish progression up the inside of the crater.  After the switchbacks you head up 74 stairs (I did not count - the information pamphlet says so) into a 225 foot tunnel after which you head up another 99 stairs to three sets of spiral stairs.  The final set of spiral stairs is closed so you head into the observation station and can peer out of the slits in the structure.  Then you half step, half crawl out of the observation area onto a walkway.  I can tell you that having a backpack on your back made coming out more difficult.  It required a lot more use of those muscles used in a squat exercise which are not my top choice.

The tunnel, which was supposed to be lit, was not and at 225 feet with a curve it is long enough to be pitch black.  On the way up you are walking on the right and can hold the hand rail, plus enough other people had their cell phone lights on.  On the way down you are walking next to a rough tunnel wall with no hand holds and I could not see a damn thing.  My husband turned on his cell phone light so we could make it through without slamming into the wall, tripping over our feet, or walking into the people in front of us. The spiral stairs were not quite as dark but challenging in their own right.  Again, according to the pamphlet, these are supposed to be lit but I guess it added a sense of adventure to the pilgrimage.  I am glad we did this hike in the morning as it was already quite warm and we were shaded for much of the switchbacks.  The views from the top, both outside and inside the crater, are well worth it.

I have inserted a few pictures from Diamond Head below.  We spent about an hour and half here although you could spend longer reading the interpretive signs, having a picnic lunch, etc. Following these pictures I will go on with the second hike of the day which was much less busy, more challenging, and had much more natural beauty.  A better place for a picnic lunch in my opinion.

The Fire Control Station built 1908-1910. It was camouflaged with rubble embedded in concrete.

Looking into the crater from the top. Centre of back wall is the tunnel we drove in through.

Looking West to Honolulu and beyond from the top lookout.

The set of 99 stairs

About 15 minutes away from the madness that is Diamond Head we started a hike called the Kuli'ou'ou Ridge Trail.  Another recommendation from my friend that was spot on.  We started the trail at about 11:00, made it to the picnic shelter about 45 minutes later where we had a break and ate some lunch.  About 25 minutes more took us to the top where we had the rest of our lunch while enjoying incredible views.  It took us about an hour and fifteen minutes to get back to the car from the top with a few stops for me to take pictures.  Round trip the hike is almost 6.5km (4 miles) and you go up and come down the same way.  I tend to prefer loop trails so you are not seeing the same scenery in and out but I cannot complain about this one.

We did see other hikers but they were few and well spaced out.  Some looked as if this was a standard routine for them but most were checking the trail out for the first time.  Without exception everyone we spoke to said they loved the hike and it was worth the effort.  I took a lot of pictures on this hike so I will start putting them in and elaborate as I go.

The trail head at the end of a residential cul-de-sac. In the distance you can see a couple of signs.  You keep right at these although the Open Hunting sign gave us a second thought at first.  I presume open season on jungle animals rather than tourists.

Roots and rocks are typical of the first couple of switchbacks.  After a few back and forths the majority is hard packed dirt overlaid with a lot of pine needles in some areas.

The first open view point on the way up.

This picture and the next give you a sense of the thickness of the pine needles covering the ground.  The second picture almost gives the impression of a sandy beach.

This part of the hike was neat.  You walk through trees only like these for quite some time and then after this open space all of a sudden nature flicks a switch and there are only the type of trees you see in the picture below.

This is the condition of the trail that is typical for the bit that comes after the picnic shelter.  Just FYI this is not a picnic shelter typical of some British Columbia provincial park.  This is an old, partly broken, grafitti covered shelter with two large, beaten up picnic tables underneath.

I love the flowers I find when I am out hiking.  I have no idea what these are called but the purple one above reminded me of heliotrope and the bottom one reminded me of an orchid.  Both were beautiful and were found after we came above the tree line.  Nature flicked another switch and we went from forest to a shrub and fern covered hilltop with flowers lining the trail.  The colours were much brighter and of course the sight lines opened up so the views were awesome.

That is Diamond Head in the distance.

This is looking at Koko Head (nearest the water) and Koko Crater (inland).  Both of these were formed the same way as Diamond Head.

Above the tree line.  Most of this section of trail is comprised of stairs.  They are of differing heights and some have holes behind them so it is hard to get a rhythm going on the way up or down.

Looking farther North.  We drove this section of coast on our road trip the day before.  A much different perspective from up here!

Looking straight out from the top.

So there you have it.  The weather was perfect for these hikes as it was cloudy but warm for most of the day.  Being under the trees for the majority of this hike means that you would likely avoid a sunburn anyway but without the clouds it would have been much hotter.  As it was I sweat through my shirt on the way up so got a little chilly at the top and was glad to have my sweater.  By the time we headed down I was thoroughly blow dried.  I would definitely recommend this hike.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Honolulu Day 2: Road Trip!

We had grand intentions of getting out of bed early on Monday and heading first thing to Diamond Head and setting out for our road trip after that.  Two things happened.  First, we got stuck into a TV show on Sunday night (we don't have cable at home) so we were up late and slept in.  This is supposed to be a vacation after all.  Second, we did not actually make the correct turns to drive by Diamond Head anyways.  So...let the road trip begin.

We left the hotel at around 10:00 am and headed east.  It was busy!  Every scenic pull out along the highway and every small (and large) beach parking lot including Hanauma Bay were full.  There were a few suggested stops in the Oahu Revealed book that were just not going to happen this morning.  I will point out now, although we did not figure it out until we were near the North Shore, that it was Martin Luther King Jr. Day which likely accounted for the ridiculous traffic on a Monday.

We drove into Kailua intending to check out one of the recommended beaches but although we drove along the road nearest the ocean there were houses all the way along and most roads down to the beach indicated "private".  Rather than try and go back and forth looking for the public beach access we carried on.  The first place we actually got out of the car was near Waikane.  From here we had a view towards Mokoli'i Island (Chinaman's Hat) and a beautiful, sandy beach that I believe is part of Kualoa Beach Park.

Looking towards Mokoli'i Island and Kualoa Beach

We then carried on until we reached Kualoa Beach Park where, mercifully, there was a lot of available parking. It was neat to see the "Chinaman's Hat" much closer and from a different angle.  According to the Oahu Revealed book you can swim or kayak over to the island and wander around for as long as you like. Shoes needed. We were not up for that kind of adventure so sat here for a while, had a snack, and then got back in the car and kept going.

Mokoli'i Island from Kualoa Beach

Unfortunately,  most other places we would have liked to have stopped had the same problem - no parking. We missed several of the places suggested in the guide book but eventually made our way to Waimea.  We arrived up here around 1:00 pm, stopped for some sandwiches from the local Food Land and then backtracked a bit until we got close to where we figured the "Banzai Pipeline" was.  This section of beach is known for its big waves during the winter and it was impressive.  No swimming signs and warnings of the currents are posted all along the beach.  That does not stop the surfers, however, and there were plenty. We also saw some people getting into the water with snorkel gear and harpoons.  It reminded me of a much warmer version of the beaches in Tofino. We stayed for a while watching the waves and the surfers of varying abilities.

Looking East

Looking West. Back towards where we parked.

While we were there I could not resist taking a picture of these little guys with their butts up in the air.  I looked at my bird book and I am going to guess that they are Sanderlings but, if anyone knows better, feel free to let me know!

After this beach it was back in the car through Hale'iwa, where we heard someone casually cursing all the tourists, and then onto Hwy 99 heading South.  We pulled over at the top of a hill where there was a wide shoulder so I could look back towards the ocean.  It was a great view and, unfortunately, this picture does not do it justice.  I was just happy to get one without a car in it.  Traffic everywhere was constant and backed up at times.

We drove by huge pineapple fields and the Dole Plantation where tourists are welcome to pull in and have a look around.  Apparently there is a maze and train ride geared towards kids but we were ready to head back and did not feel too ripped off by giving it a miss.  After the length of time it took us to get up to the North Shore we were surprised by how quickly we got back to the hotel. I think we were back up in our room by about 4:30 pm.  There are no other pictures that are worth sharing as the ones you take out of car windows never really turn out the way you hoped.

All in all it was a good day and we were glad that we took the time to see what these areas of Oahu looked like. Before we head home we are going to have a Road Trip Part 2 up the west side.