For the love of all things Hawaiian. How can you people sleep when I have so much to tell you?! What a day. What. A. Day.
First thing first: The
attacknid. Well ok, it was just a spider – but this thing was big. The day started with a cup of Kona coffee and a minor heart attach when I looked up at the vanity light fixture in my bathroom to see a ginormous spider, about the size of a golf ball. Freeze. Don’t turn your back on the Pacific, and DON’T turn your back on this sucker. I back away and wander around the ohana (word for family apartment that is part of a bigger house, that’s where I am) looking for a solution. I return to the bathroom with a tupperware container but not the stuff to use it. I put the tupperware on the bathroom counter, you know, just in case the spider decides to hop into it and pull the lid on. I retreat and decide to let this guy have the run of the place, at least for now.
830: Out the door to meet Karlyn at her house for our 30 minute trip south to Kealakekua Bay, also known as Captain Cook Bay, for what I hope will be a great swim. We chit chat along the way, talking story, as the Hawaiian’s say. Arrive at Manini Beach to meet Aimée, Robin, and Robin’s son Peter. Including Karlyn, these folks are the fastest 4 swimmers I’ve ever been in the water with. I grab some fins.
Entry to Kealakekua Bay from Manini Beach, The speed team – Robin, Aimée, Karlyn and Peter
Kealakeku Bay is a long, narrow bay we enter from a point on the south side, and the typical swim is either straight across or to circumnavigate around to a monument on the far point to the north. We did a combination, crossing the middle of the bay and following the dramatic cliff face to the monument. Along the wall is spectacular reef, thriving and pulsing with fish. I’m having trouble concentrating on technique because I am looking around trying to take it all in. The group is inching ever further ahead of me but I just can’t rush. In a kind gesture, 17 year old Peter asks me if I’d like to draft off of him. That’s sweet kid, but I’m not sure i can swim fast enough to even take advantage of your wake. C’mon, he says, and slows it waaaaay down for me. I reach back to my senior thesis on schooling principles in teleost fishes and slip into perfect draft position close to Peter’s right knee. I feel the pull and my speed increases a bit. We proceed along the cliff face like this for a while until either i gave out or Peter got bored and he gradually pulled ahead again and took his speed vortex with him. No matter, I was grateful for the ride. Thanks Peter!
As we approached the monument, we turned into a little grotto to our right filled with the most exquisite coral reef and rock formations. Archways above and below water, completely covered in reef – vibrant, teeming, totally alive. We snorkeled around a bit and Karlyn and I took pictures till our fellow swimmers got too cold and we moved on to the monument. Robin and I swam up on two of the largest reef squid I have ever seen, who conveniently crossed in front of a magnificent school of yellow tang as I was shooting a little video. Color everywhere.
Checking out the grotto near the Captain Cook monument, huge reef squid, colorful school of yellow tang
We climbed out onto the black lava rock of the monument to warm up a bit. I just couldn’t stop talking about how much I loved this swim. Sat a spell and jumped back in – the water felt brisk after sunning ourselves, and made a fast dash straight across the bay. My champion swimming companions opened it up and cruised across as I muddled along through the deep and bottomless blue. I’ve heard about dolphins in this bay and I tried with all my powers of persuasion to summon them, but not today. No worries, I zoned out and focused on the crossing. By the time I reached our starting point the gang was dry and lounging. I was elated with this 2.4 mile swim – it had it all. Dramatic scenery, vibrant reef creatures and clear, deep blue. This is a swim not to be missed when we bring you here.
We jumped back in so I could do some swimmer pics (at last!) and then relaxed in the sun. Karlyn and I discussed what a possible excursion day to this part of the island might look like for SwimVacationers – early drive to Kealakekua, swim, relax on beach, tour coffee plantation, lunch at a fantastic cafe with sweeping view, short walk through Place of Refuge National Park, afternoon swim at the next spot south called Two Steps (named for the terraced lava you cross to get into the crystal clear Pacific). On the drive home we’d stop for gelato (yes, I vetted this place for you, you’re welcome) and be home in time for cocktails and dinner. Who’s in?
Happy me. Karlyn and Aimée swim for my camera.
Karlyn and I drove home through the lush highlands of the south passing coffee shacks and old theaters and other vintage buildings in this most authentic stretch of the Big Island’s belt road. Home by 2, I ran into the ohana for a quick change before heading up north to Puako. As I parked in the drive thoughts of my new roommate (remember? The big spider in the bathroom?) loomed large. Aha! The elusive DuG! The owner of the home who lives upstairs! This is the first I’ve seen him. Introduce myself and sweetly inquire if he might be able to take a look at my spider problem.
DuG: Is it hairy?
DuG: Is it kind of yellowish?
DuG: Oh that’s a Cane Spider. They are great because they eat lots of other bugs. It won’t bite you.
Me: Oh. Okay (not really). Huh. (beat) Um, does it jump?
Me: Does it jump? The cane spider. Does it jump?
DuG: Yeah, they do jump.
Me: No. No. I can’t, No. Please. You have to help me get rid of it. I cannot live with a giant jumping spider. Please!
So DuG comes in and grabs a glass and catches jumpy the giant cane spider while I tremble in the corner. As he escorts the thing outside, he says Oh he’s just a baaaaaaaby!
Thanks, DuG. You saved me from a full on cardiac arrest when the thing would have undoubtedly jumped on me whilst brushing my teeth. Phew.
Shower (check for more spiders first), hydrate, jump into the car for the 60 minute trip north to Puako. I’m making the trip because I’d like to check out a few interesting beaches for swimming Karlyn has told me about and see some funky rentals I found on line. The drive is like crossing the face of Mars – endless expansive lava fields, tufted with clumps of golden grasses. To the right looms Mauna Kea, topped with cloud, to the left, the lava slopes to the brilliant blue sea. I cannot believe the contrast of this terrain with the green highlands i traversed just this morning. This island is so magnificent. I stopped along the highway to get out for a few pictures. Hot, brisk, wind. Nothing but lava. If it weren’t for other cars flying by, it would be a little unnerving to stand here. It feels like science fiction. As I continue up the highway I see the occasional cyclist training for IronMan. I cannot imagine crossing this stretch alone on a bike. Wait, who’s that? Yellow jersey, black and yellow helmet, I’d heard he was here but could it be? Yes. I slow as I pass and sure enough, it’s Lance Armstrong. I saw Lance Armstrong! So cool. Dude had a long way to go to get to the turn around in Hawi…I can’t imagine the thoughts in his head right now.
Lava fields from Mauna Kea.
I turn left at Puako. Drive a barren lava road to a metal gate where a property manager meets me. This can’t possibly be the way to the large beach rental she’s about to show me. It looks like I’m headed to Area 51. Sure enough, we continue along in the dusty heat and arrive at a structure that looks like something in Architectural Digest. Boxy and spare, this place is designed perfectly by its architect owners with a large modern kitchen, living and dining area wide open to a small lush lawn in back. Beyond that is a small gate to funky and beautiful Beach 69. This place is 20 steps to the Pacific. A deck extends from the main part of the house with 5 simple screened bedrooms, three indoor / out door bathrooms, and a path to a small ohana in the same style. Everything is rustic but chic – concrete floors with stainless steel fixtures. It’s not rough, it’s just enough, and blends seamlessly with the contrasty surrounds. We could have up to ten guests in the house and two or three guides in the ohana. I’m in love with this place. I find myself imagining an amazing week here with our guests, slightly removed from the charming chaos of Kona, in this totally unique dwelling. But what about my amazing morning swim? Kealakekua is nearly 90 minutes from here. I decide I’ll have to come back to swim some of this area’s beaches later in the week.
Lava fields sloping to the sea. Beatiful, old Hawaiian style beach house rental, Remote and unique Beach 69 – back yard of rental.
I’d arranged to meet a swimmer who lives up north for dinner. Carol Jean Bradburn is waiting for me in front of Cafe Pesto with a plumeria flower tucked behind one ear. I love Hawaii. She’s a little quirky, but I like her right away. We talk over a fantastic dinner and she describes to me how people are called to this island. She moved here 16 years ago. She’s left and returned 3 times. It’s clear she’s drunk on this island’s offerings. I’m starting to get a little buzzed myself. I’m starting to wonder how I could possibly not live here.
I describe to Carol Jean how this morning I was in love with South Kona, entranced by my morning swim, but now I’ve been romanced by the scene here in the north – the amazing beach house on funky remote Beach 69. I ask her about the swimming here. It’s pretty good, she tells me, but the best swimming in the world is down there – Kealakekua, Place of Refuge, Ho’okena. You can’t beat it.
Conflict. Internal flip flops. Darn you Hawaii and your amazingness from south to north and back again! Now I don’t know what to think. These two areas have a totally different vibe, both intoxicating, 60 miles apart. I’m dying to talk through the thoughts and decisions spinning in my head with Hopper but YOU’RE ALL ASLEEP!!!!
Carol Jean and I make a plan to swim Hapuna Beach (just a few mile north of Puako) on Thursday morning, which will give me a chance to visit some other beaches up there and hopefully formulate a complete picture of what a trip based in the north would be like as opposed to a trip in the south. Drive home in the empty darkness, no lights in the lava fields, mind blurring with the images of the day, trying to come up with a way for SwimVacation to have it all.
Maybe our trip is 10 days? 5 days in Kona and 5 days in Puako….?
Stumble into bed and start editing the day’s photographs. I’m struck by the diversity I see before my eyes. There is some sort of magic pull here. And moving along the western coast of Hawaii is like something out of a dream – rapidly changing surroundings, tropical morphing to moonscape opening to deserted wild beach – something for everyone. As I drift to sleep I’m lost in a swirl of blue, green and black.
It’s Monday morning now and I have a surf lesson in an hour and a half. Not a bad way to start a new week. As I look around this ohana I see that my stuff is everywhere. Wow, I’ve really moved in. It looks like home. It feels like home.
Hawaii, what are you doing to me?