Over the past few weeks my wife and I traveled to the Hawaiian islands and dove off Hawaii (Kona Region), Maui, and Lanai. The trip began on the Big Island, and during my stay there I dove with Kona Diving Company. I researched this portion of my trip extensively online, and I read nothing but positive feedback from other divers so I booked 7 dives with them. While diving off the boat, the Hale Kai (Hawaiian for "home on the sea") I did a two tank morning dive, a three tank long range trip, and a two tank manta ray night dive. Each and every dive with this group was great, the crew was very knowledgeable about each of the sites we dove, and pretty much if they mentioned in the dive briefing "keep a eye out for_____" there was a good chance of seeing it. I highly recommend both the three tank long range trip and the manta ray night dive. The three tank long range trip goes to the southern portion of the Kona region (not dove by many other operators) and the reefs are in pristine condition because of that. This trip was pretty much tailored for me. I was the only photographer in the group that day, and since Kerry the owner knew what I wanted to see/photograph in Hawaii, she picked sites which gave me the best possibility of achieving that goal. High on that list was photographing a frogfish (a creature that had eluded me thus far) and on the final dive of that long range trip, we dove a site called "Amphitheater", the dive guide Dave pointed out a gorgeous yellow frogfish on the underside of a reef plateau.
Kerry the owner each morning baked the boat chocolate, coconut, macadamia nut brownies (yes, they were good) as well as had three different types of wraps, trail mix, fresh fruit, hot water for soup and tea, and a variety of beverages...all included in the dive. Kerry, also an exceptional critter spotter, showed me a beautiful day octopus just before doing our safety stop...she was aware I loved seeing octopi, and she searched me out in order to show it to me. The captain was also very clued into the needs/desires of the guests. On the long range trip, he was the first to spot my wife turning a little "green" and he helped her out and made her feel very comfortable about the whole situation ("Go for distance and style"). He even gave her his wife’s sea bands trying to help her out.
The manta ray night dive has become a bit of a tourist attraction in Kona, but Kona Diving Company were very intent on making the experience as over the top as they could. They employ a strategy to ensure that when their divers are in the water, the mantas are in a good viewing area as well as make sure they’re the last group out of the water. This plan enables their divers to enjoy more of those "close encounters"...nothing like looking down the mouth of a 16 foot manta ray. I highly recommend the dive crew of Kona Diving Company for any of your diving needs if diving in the Kona area.
After a week on the big island, we were off to Maui and more Hawaiian diving. I booked my diving with Lahaina Divers in the quaint town of Lahaina. I did little research about diving in Maui as it was a last minute change of plans, pretty much I saw them in the Sport Diver publication, and since their offered rates were comparable to what was paid in Kona, I booked with them. I planned on doing a three day package with them, day one was a two tank Molokini back wall charter, day two was a two tank afternoon reef dive on Maui, and day three was a two tank charter to Lanai. Two things I can say about this operation is that they dive safe and that they are organized. For the back wall of Molokini dive they required all divers to use dive computers and safety sausages. The captain took roll before the vessel left the harbor and after each dive to make sure each diver was accounted for. Organization wise, they divided the boat into four color zones, and each zone was numbered 1-6. Upon boarding, you were given a color and a number and that was your gear set-up station for the day (I kind of liked that actually). My first day of diving started out rough, as I was told I couldn’t dive Molokini because I canceled the day before. What happened was they called me the day before the dive, told me my wife couldn’t dive the back wall because she didn’t have the needed dives (25) to be allowed to dive there. So, after talking it over with my wife, she was okay with sitting out that dive so I could dive there...so I canceled her dive during one phone call, then called back 4 minutes later and make sure they understood I would still be diving that day. Needless to say, I showed up to the shop and was immediately told the boat was full and I could either dive on their other boat going out to Lanai, or I could drive back to my hotel...not the options I wanted since that was the ONLY day they were doing the Molokini back wall. After being pretty frustrated, the manager (I think he could read my face thinking he might loose me for the rest of the trip) called up another dive master and asked if she could be at the boat immediately. Impressively, she made it there quite quickly (and was a very personable leader I might add). As far as the dive itself, after all the hype of the manta night dive (which lived up to the hype) the Molokini back wall was also wrote about as a "must dive" site...I have to say though that for me, the dive was a flop. The sharks, rays, dolphins...all big stuff was absent from the dive. I took two pictures on that dive (literally), one was of an octopus barely visible under a coral head, and the other was a shot of coral with the water as a background...that was it. Now maybe I just hit it on an off day, but other divers shared my feeling of "that was it?" The second dive on the edge of the inner portion was better, decent coral growth and much more marine life there, but in my opinion, if I could have eliminated a dive from the trip, it would have been that one. The second day my dive got canceled due to lack of people (my wife and I were the only ones signed up for the trip), so instead, I rented four tanks and did two shore dives. First site I chose was right off the beach of my resort (the Aston Ka’anapali Shores) and the second was at the Mala Pier. The Ka’anapali shore dive had good coral and good marine life. I found two nudibranch on this dive that I saw no where else...and of course I had my camera in the wrong mode so I couldn’t take a single picture the whole dive (had it in playback mode). The Mala Pier was a neat shore dive. Easy entry and navigation (diving a partially submerged/wrecked pier from a storm during the early 90’s). I highly recommend thick soled boots though as the rocks were loaded with rock boring urchins. The site had great coral growth and great marine life. We saw 3 green sea turtles, two large puffers, a free swimming white mouth moray eel, and a few interesting invertebrates. We went there hoping to see a large white tipped reef shark which has made the pier her home as well as the numerous frogfish that live in the area (I heard reports of five being sighted there on one dive). We were skunked by those guys as well, but the other creatures provided enough photographic subjects to keep me busy under there.
My last day of boat diving was off the island of Lanai. On our way out there we saw a large pod of spinner dolphins, and it was a sign that it was going to be one of those great diving days. We dove two sites off the coast of Lanai; Cathedrals 1 and No Name. Cathedrals was an incredible dive, there was the famed swim through cathedral (which was bigger than I imaged, our group of six fit in there quite comfortably for a few minutes of exploration) and then there was the surrounding reef area which was beautiful. After being shot out of the cannon (you’ll have to dive there for that to make sense), we were greeted by a large school of raccoon butterfly fish, followed by a hawksbill sea turtle (which are apparently quite rare in the Hawaiian islands), and then to the finally, a huge school of Chevron barracuda swam right over our group...probably 100 strong or so right before our safety stop. It was a special dive to say the least. And No Name was equally pretty; of all sites we dove in Hawaiian waters, this one had loads of invertebrate action, nudibranch, flatworms, octopi...one of the few places I saw colonies of sponges forming. Lanai was pristine Hawaiian diving, a great way to end my diving in Hawaii. So if on Maui, make sure to schedule a set or two of boat dives to Lanai. The next day Lahaina Divers were off to Molokai, after diving the reefs of Lanai, it was tempting to do another round of diving before my Sunday 10:50 am flight, but there was altitude land based activities to do, so that will be for another trip...something to look forward to.