Stefan's divetravel site

Dive trip reports from rec.scuba.locations

Here I have saved good messages from rec.scuba.locations and rec.scuba.

The posts on this page are all written in the middle of 1998

From: Matt Thompson <>
Subject: Re: Where to go after Palau
Date: Sat, 09 May 1998 01:23:35 -0800

My wife and are also booked on the SunDancer II in Palau (this July) and were looking for somewhere else to spend some time.

Our first choice was actually to do Midway for 4-5 days (out of Honolulu) - best shark diving in the Pacific (or so they are saying). This didn't work into our schedule (the plane only goes on Wed. and Sun.) so instead we are spending 4 days in Kauai (just to relax) and then spending the week on the SunDancer (after taking 1.5 days to get to Palau). Afterwards, we are going on to Pohnpei for 4 days (2 days of diving).

I was in Pohnpei 15 years ago (as a teenager with my dad) and the diving was pretty nice - good walls and some pelagics (sharks and rays). We really want to go visit Nan Madol (ancient stone "city" with waterways for streets). It sits just off the southeast coast of Pohnpei...

The most popular destination for add-ons is defintely Yap (with the Mantas). It's both easy to do from Palau (the plane from Guam to Palau stops in Yap pretty frequently)... we just wanted to try something a little more off the beaten track...

- Matt Thompson

From: (Jeff Seplowitz)
Subject: Fiji Aggressor follow up 8/23 thru 8/20
Date: Tue, 30 Sep 1997 02:12:29 GMT

I visited the new Fiji Aggressor in it's second week of operation. I must say that the staff and service met up to the high standards that the Aggressor Fleet is known for. Most dives were from the high speed 30 Ft catamaran chase boat which was raised and lowered into the water. The ease of getting in and out of this boat was ridiculous. I can't imagine diving being any easier.

Most dives were drift dives and the chase boat would pick up divers as they surfaced. The dive sites were phenomenal, especially E-6. On one of the days, we were brought to Motoriki, a primitive island community and participated in a Kava ceremony.

I highly recommend this trip.

From: "Harun Rahman" <>
Subject: Re: Info wanted on Sipadan Island
Date: Tue, 24 Feb 1998 23:19:31 +0800

The best place to stay in my book is Pulau Sipadan Resort or PSR, they have the best rooms and great food. Look for Jason, if he is still there. He can show you thingss most divemasters have a hard time looking for. Also try Kapalai which is about 30 minutes away, great for macro stuff.

While I'm on the subject, I just came back from Pasir Resort, on Pandanan Island(North of Sipadan), its new and it offers some of the best diving in the area without the crowds of Sipadan. I filmed mandarin fish mating there, it was great !!! email me for more details.


From: (Mike Sheppard)
Subject: Cozumel Trip Report ( A little Long)

Trip Report Feb 8- 15
(I'm finishing this during NBC's killer special on the Giant Squid)

First the dives.

As usual great diving in Cozumel. Two trips ago, I was getting scared,all the dive traffic on some of my favorite reefs was much TOO hectic. I have seen paradise reef go from a dive spot to an oil stain underneath cruise ships. The fear that the other reefs will go the same way is always there. This trip encouraged me. The reefs were in great shape and saw no signs of extra damage, since last year..
Just before I left for Coz there was a report that a cruise ship broke loose from it's moorings. A poster wrote that the cruise ship blew silt all over the town and scored the bottom with it's props. Additionally, it supposedly │wrecked▓ the plane wreck in front of La Ceiba . I saw no signs of any of this. I even dove around the pier and saw no bottom damage. A note here. The plane wreck has ALWAYS been just a wing and little else. I've got picture of it from 10 years ago that shows it little more than the wing section. Gilbert got the fuselage and a lot of paradise reef 10 years ago.

Here's some dive highlights

Palancar Break A big sea turtle wanted to play. Kept following our group and having fun. Got many good 'tortuga' pics. Jorge, our DM from Blue bubbles, found two big nurse sharks doing the 'sleeping thing' in caves.

Shallow dive at Tormentos. Have you been there lately? another reef that seems to be in better shape than I've seen in recent years. Had a great critter dive there. 5 huge lobsters in various locations, 2 big crabs, saw some great juvenile drums.

Punta Sur (the devils throat). Always one of my favorites. Down to 135 and then up thru the throat! You get a real reborn feeling coming out of the caverns, into the deep blue!

A guy from Houston had a lot of trouble and had to abort. He got in late Monday nite and tried to be ready for out 7:30 AM dive departure. His wegtht belt fell off him and had to be replace. He had on an old wet suit that greatly restricted his swimming and the combination made him blow off the dive. He was a poster child for the │always do a check-out dive first▓.

On the surface interval, the whole boat saw a turtle hyperventilate and then dive. One breath, two breaths, three breaths, and then the big dive for 45 min - one hour! It was neat, I've never seen that before.
Paso Del Cedral. This was my day, two of my favorites in the same day. Saw huge lobsters, monster crabs and much beauty.

Night Dive in front of La Ceiba. Squids were happening, even got a couple good shots. Dive light flooded at the end and had to end a little early.

Unscheduled day dive in front of La Ceiba There was a Seahorse in front of La Ceiba. What a score! A real beauty, looked just like a knight on a chessboard. A real │live dive group from NY found it first and I glommed on to their discovery. It only hung out for a day and was a real 'find'.

Santa Rosa Wall. My first neat dive on Coz , so I always do it on the last day. Never disappoints, always thrilling and pretty. Got some National Geographic pictures of a ray.
Lodging (where I stayed, you stay where ya want)

Stayed at La Ceiba and 'the tree' has retaken her place as the first Lady of dive hotels. They spruced her up. Fixed the faulty door locks. Got some of the butt-heads out of the dive shop. Painted and redid some of the rooms. Cleaned the joint up. I like to stay in a nice place that has the best check-out and night dive spot on the Island in my front door. That's La Ceiba.


La Choza fish en Papel is a tasty dish with a great sauce. La Choza is such a great place. Prima Pasta has great food, kinda pricey for Mexico, but excellent.

La Mission is now 3 places. And it has suffered as a result. No more 6 dollar fish dinners or 10 dollar lobster dinners, they've gotten spread too thin. Will go back when it's one place again.

I had such a good meal at El Moro, I couldn't believe it. I love the cab ride back, saw many things that I will try in the future, local shops &stores, etc.

Costa Brava has moved. They are just south of and around the corner from Jeanie's Waffle house. They are │out of the way▓ and are kings of the two menus (one for Gringos one for locals). It's OK, just pay Gringo price.

It's amazing , but Jeanie's Waffle house is now my favorite place to eat. Definitely, the best breakfast on the Isla. The BLT, tomato juice and glass of milk I got for breakfast on Wednesday cured my hangover and made my day off a day off. These people can cook tasty dishes and do it right.

There's a couple places I didn't get to hit, and a couple that looked real good, but I didn't have the time.
Misc., Fun, observations and comments dept; Every now and then I see boycotts and bans suggested against the new Cruise ship pier (or piers). Well, everybody relax. Because there is another pier being built right downtown and it is being worked on 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week. As long as those 2000 passenger ships come in, no boycott a dive group can put together will stop construction of cruise ship piers.

The cruise ships are now more plentiful and are disgorging a 'dumber and coarser' generation of 'pod people'. I had my encounter with 'boat people from the Pod' early in the trip. Downtown, I saw a couple with an obnoxious teenager arguing on the sidewalk. Essentially, they were blocking my way to get a beer. That, of course, is a mortal sin. I was forced to deal with them. This unmannered teen was bleating that they had to get back to the ship, so he could go snorkeling. The kid and the parents were frantic, in a stage of hysteria. In order to remove them from my way, I asked them if they wanted to go snorkeling? 'Yes '!, they squealed.

Well, look around you. There's no need to go back to any boat. There are several snorkel operations right on this street and the dock they leave from is right there behind you. Think of that boat as a giant taxi, taking you from island to island. You don't need it for every activity.

Without thanking me, or acknowledging the information in any way, the little group thundered off to a snorkel tour place. They barged into some people who were front of the place and began to rant at the shop proprietors. So everybody was happy. They got more sidewalks to block and people to bother and I got my beer. There are no pod people in town on Saturday and Sunday until the late afternoon. The ships all head back to hell Friday night or something. I had several other 'Pod' adventures that were equally disgusting, but it is entertainment of a sort.

Always go to the festival in town on Sunday night. It is a real Mexican experience and hearkens to a simpler time when fun was real and not electronic.

There were more festivals this week and all my Coz pals told me to come back next year during the BIG fiesta, for Fat Tuesday. I may, but Sunday night is plenty for me. I like to bring unusual candies from the states (this year it was 'gummy worms') and give Œem to little kids that have neat costumes, are having fun, or look like they like candy. These kids are so appreciative of sweets, it ain't funny. It's also a great way to bond with the locals. I love to see that Mayan smile.

Go to the Fuji film developer in a cubby hole a few doors west of the Meson San Miguel right on the square.. The cubby hole is land marked by 'Fat Tuesdays', a tourist trap bar on the square. I got all my dive pics expertly developed in 1 hour (Mayan time). It was cheaper than my regular place right here in the states.

I noticed many people in town who did not dive. Coz is becoming known a destination resort location and many are now coming for the local charm and warm weather of Coz. This may be a good trend. Money for the Mexican's and rest for the reefs?

Gringo Joints from hell Hard Rock Cafe, Planet Hollywood, Hog's Breath Saloon, Fat Tuesday's. Pod people love Œem.

Tourist trap that still makes it. When you get as meat craving around the end of the week, get the ribs at Carlos & Charlies. It's still a jive place and the Pod squad hang out, but it's still a good place.

I've seen it posted before, but go to the Museum. Every time I go there I learn a lot. Like this time I learned that Abe Lincoln almost bought Cozumel, but got distracted during the Civil War and didn't do it. Or that Lindbergh landed in Coz on the way home from France from his big flight. They always add neat things to the exhibit and it's a nifty little museo.

Well that's enough, the show's over and guess what, they didn't find a Giant Squid.

Subject: Hawaii Trip Report (LONG)
Date: Sun, 07 Dec 1997 10:21:41 GMT

Vacation & Dive trip report, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii 11/22/97 to 11/29/97 copyright 1997 by Larry Charlot

Saturday 11/22

We arrive at Kona International Airport at 14:00, get our baggage and rental car, and head for town. Lynn’s suitcase was accidentally routed to the wrong island, and finally arrives at 21:30. A customer service rep from Aloha Airlines delivered the suitcase to us, so we didn’t have to drive out to the airport again to pick it up. We have reserved a 1-bedroom condo at the Kona Reef complex, located on the south side of Kailua on Alii Drive, about 1/2 mile from the center of town. Our unit turns out to be on the ground floor, facing into the center court and pool area. The complex is right on the water, and the shore is only 100 feet or so from our patio. The “beach” is mostly lava, typical of the Big Island; but there is a 30 foot wide, palm shaded grass strip running the full length of the property between the buildings and the ocean. This serves in place of sand for lounging and is a great place to watch the famous Hawaii sunsets. The condo has a 6 foot deep swimming pool with the typical chaise lounges and deck chairs, plus a jacuzzi hot tub and two large masonry barbecue grills. I’m not sure if these were charcoal or propane as we didn’t get around to trying them out. The thermostat for the hot tub has been set to 104║F, too hot for my taste, but Lynn soaks in it for a while.

Our condo is on the small side, about 450 square feet, with one bedroom, kitchenette, living room, pantry closet, linen closet, and bathroom. It’s pretty nicely equipped for a rental, with a compact washer and dryer in the linen closet, a dishwasher, fridge, blender, plenty of dishes, cookware, utensils, and flatware, and even an iron and ironing board. Unfortunately, there’s no microwave oven (how did we ever live without this now-ubiquitous kitchen appliance?). The living room has a 4-place dinette table, sofa-bed couch, 19” color TV with cable (but no premium channels), telephone, and a couple of chairs and barstools for the kitchen counter. The telephone can be used to make local calls to anywhere on the Big Island with no per-call charges. Calls to other islands or the mainland are long distance.

The bedroom has a queen size bed (a little softer than we like, but tolerable for one week), a bureau dresser with 6 drawers, a ceiling fan, and two night stands. There is only one light fixture in the bedroom -- a table lamp -- and for the entire week I feel like I am stumbling around in a dimly lit cave. This room really needs a ceiling light fixture. The window is frosted glass, since it opens right on the courtyard walkway, and it lets in very little useful light. The condo is 4 stories with the upper walkways blocking most of the natural light to the courtyard. There is a powerful wall mount air conditioner in the living room that is aimed at the hallway, so it does pretty good at keeping the entire condo cool.

After checking in and getting our luggage into the room, we went shopping for groceries. Kailua is a pretty fair sized town, with a Walmart, K-Mart, Safeway, many restaurants of all kinds imaginable, and at least half a dozen dive shops. Food prices will give you a bit of sticker shock, with staples like bread, milk, eggs, canned goods, and some produce items costing nearly double what Safeway here in Sacramento charges for the same items. The cheapest regular gasoline in and around Kailua is $1.79 to $1.82 per gallon. Over on the Hilo side of the island, gas is about 10 cents cheaper. Driving distance for a full circle of the island is about 250 miles if you bypass the northern district (Kohala). Add about 50 miles if you decide to include Kohala. Since we anticipated at least 3 days of diving and two days of touring, we upgraded our rental car to a Chevy Astro 8-passenger van. This worked pretty good for hauling gear and people, and got 17-21 mpg. It was loaded with full tilt and cruise control, power everything including driver’s seat, and only cost $100 more for the week than the basic Geo Metro. When we went shore diving on Thursday, the flat rear floor and big rear bumper of the Astro turned out to be ideal for setting up, donning, and breaking down our scuba gear, just like the tailgate of a pickup truck.

Sunday 11/23

We went for a drive down the coast to visit our friends who live south of Kailua, did some shopping, and sightseeing. I was feeling a little under the weather, and still tired from the long flight, so I didn’t feel like doing much of anything except resting.

Monday 11/24

We spent most of today on a full island tour, departing north from Kailua to circle Hawai’i in a “clockwise” direction viewed from above. I seem to remember reading somewhere that the Big Island of Hawai’i has more land area than all of the other main islands (Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Lanai, and Kauai), combined. Driving around the island in a car, or cruising along the coast on a dive boat, you can easily believe it. The two big volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, each over 13,000 feet above sea level, are so far inland from the coast highway that you often can’t really see the summits, especially when they’re shrouded in cloud. The island is roughly triangular in shape and has a coastline of about 428 km (about 266 mi), total area 10,443 sq. km (4028 sq. mi).

The highway north from Kailua crosses a virtual desert of dark, dry lava flows. This part of the island receives little rainfall, and the sparse vegetation makes this obvious. Of course, it’s this lack of rainfall that makes Kailua-Kona the favored tourist area. Our first stop is Hapuna Beach at mile marker 69 on the coast highway. This is a really nice white sand beach, part of a regular state park, and it has all of the usual amenities for Hawaii public beach parks; rest rooms, fresh water showers, picnic tables, and ample parking. The coast of the Big Island is mostly very rugged, rough lava, with only a few soft sand beaches; Wapuna is said to be the best of these.

Continuing north and east, we leave the coast a few miles from Hapuna and head inland across the southern boundary of the Kohala district. Kohala is the oldest part of the island, and is the birthplace of King Kamehameha I, who unified all of the major Hawaiian islands under one government for the first time in 1810. After several miles, we come to Waimea, home of the 35,000 acre Parker Ranch, largest cattle operation in Hawaii, and at one time the largest cattle ranch in the US under private ownership. Waimea is near the top of a high volcanic ridge that separates the windward and leeward sides of the island, and this gives the town a much higher annual rainfall than the coastal plain to the northwest. This moisture makes the surrounding hills lush and verdant, and the trees include extensive stands of eucalyptus. The terrain and the vegetation here reminds me strongly of parts of Sonoma County, California between the Coast and Petaluma.

Past Waimea, we eventually reach the Pacific Ocean a few miles south of the Waipi’o Valley. We bypassed Waipi’o this time, but Lynn and I saw it on our last visit. This valley is surrounded by very steep cliffs on all sides except the ocean, and getting in and out requires a 4-wheel-drive vehicle and nerves of steel on the 25% gradient, one lane access road. Waipi’o has been the site of catastrophic tsunamis, with terrible loss of life in the past, and remains sparsely populated today. Seismic activity from Hawaii’s active volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Kilauea, occasionally causes huge underwater landslides offshore that can create large tsunamis. The configuration of the Waipi’o Valley can funnel and concentrate an incoming tsunami, raising it’s crest to many times the height that the wave would have on impact with open shoreline. The valley is agricultural, with taro being a primary crop.

We are now on the “rainy” side of Hawai’i, heading south towards Hilo, largest city on the island and second largest in the State of Hawaii, with about 40,000 population. Along the way, we stop at Akaka Falls State Park, in the middle of a lush tropical rain forest. Ferns and bamboo rule here, and the river foams yellow-brown over the lip of the 450’ waterfall. Passing through Hilo, we make a stop for gasoline, and head off to the southeast on Highway 11 towards Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. It is late in the day and raining when we arrive at the park visitor center, with only about 2 hours of daylight left, so we have to leave most of the sightseeing for next Friday’s planned all-day visit. This visitor center is somewhat on the small side, compared with other National Parks, and the auditorium is closed for remodeling, so after a few minutes, we head over to Volcano House to get a look at Kilauea Caldera. The area is pretty well shrouded with mist, so not much can be seen of the caldera today, but from previous visits I know it is about 2.5 miles across and the encircling cliffs are about 300 feet high. A century ago, this caldera was much deeper and was nearly filled with a huge, seething lake of red hot lava. It must have been an awesome sight, indeed.

Darkness will soon be upon us, and home is almost 3 hours driving time from here. The distance is only about 100 miles, but about 1/3 of that is along stretches of highway dotted with small villages and reduced speed limits of 25, 35, or 45 mph. In fact, the “Southernmost Shopping Center in the United States” is located along this section of the highway (it’s a small supermarket with a couple of other small retail businesses next door). I realize that there is no way we can get home before the dive shop closes, so I call and make my dive boat reservation from a pay phone at the park visitor center. After leaving Park Headquarters, we cross the ridge and are back in the rain shadow of Kilauea and Mauna Loa. This is the Ka’u Desert, as rugged a piece of wasteland as exists anywhere on earth, I guess. The land does get at least some annual rainfall, as it is not really barren like the Mojave or Death Valley. The vegetation here is a little withered and stunted looking, but at least there are trees and bushes. We finally get back to our condo about 20:30.

Tuesday, 11/25

At last, my fist day of diving! Lynn drives me over to the shop, Kona Coast Divers, a few minutes past 07:30, and I find the front counter buzzing with activity as Julie Robinson gets arriving clients checked in. Julie is the shop’s owner, along with her husband Jim. A few minutes after 08:00, we load up and drive over to Honohokau Marina, which is north of town on the way to the airport, where our boat for today is berthed. KCD owns and operates two dive boats, and today we are on the larger one, a 38’ aluminum monohull with twin diesels called “Diver II”. The other boat, a smaller single engine craft of about 28’, is kept at the small boat harbor right in downtown Kailua. The “big boat” is much faster, and can carry about twice as many divers as the smaller boat, so it will be used for today’s trip, which is planned for Red Hill Lava Tube and the Kona Cathedral. These sites are next door to each other, and are located in South Kona about 30 minutes boat ride from the Marina. We have about 16 clients and 4 crew aboard, which is about 3/4 of the boats’ capacity, judging by the number of unoccupied tank holders.

Dive #188, Red Hill Lava Tube, Kona, Hawaii
Entry/Exit: Boat,  Water Temp: 78║F,  Vis: 100’+
Max Depth: 60’,  ABT: 47m,  SS: 5min,  TABT: 112h55m
In 0933 Dn 0934 Up 1023 Out 1031

Red Hill is actually named for an above-water feature; a sheer lava cliff about 75’ high, right at the water’s edge, tinted bright red by a heavy concentration of iron oxide in the rock. Underwater, the primary “draw” for divers is a remnant of lava tube, about 80’ long and varying in width from about 20’ down to a tight squeeze. The roof has been penetrated in a couple of spots, so there is some natural light, but not much marine life that I noticed. The walls of the tube do not appear to have been heavily colonized by coral and other encrusting organisms, so perhaps this tube has not been in existence very long. After exploring the tube, which takes 7 or 8 minutes, the dive turns into the standard guided tour, with the DM pointing out various unusual critters. The site is near shore in relatively shallow water, and the boat is anchored less than 200’ from the cliff face. The dive was nice but not remarkable. The lava tube was actually a little disappointing, and I won’t go out of my way to visit this site again, at least not in the near future.

Dive #189, Kona Cathedral, Kona, Hawaii
Entry/Exit: Boat,  Water Temp: 78║F,  Vis: 100’+
Max Depth: 48’,  ABT: 54m,  SS: 6min,  TABT: 113h49m
In 1126 Dn 1127 Up 1223 Out 1230

This site is less than 1/2 mile to the south of Red Hill, and it takes the crew only a few minutes to move and re-anchor the boat. We lounge around for an hour, eat lunch and then gear up again. The boat crew does all of the equipment handling. The procedure is for the client divers to sit down on the transom facing aft, put on fins and mask, and wait for the boat crew to bring your scuba pack. It is placed on the deck behind you, and the crew turns on your air and helps you get the pack on and buckled up if you need help. The process couldn’t be made simpler or easier, and I felt completely pampered. From here, the water is just a giant stride off the swim platform, then buddy up and descend.

This site is immediately more interesting than the last one. The “cathedral” is another lava tube, much larger than Red Hill’s , more like a cavern. There are more skylights here, more fish, and more growth on the walls and ceiling. The floor slopes up gradually from about 25’ depth at the western entrance, to about 18’ at the eastern exit. After exiting the lava tube, again we have a guided tour, and my favorable impression of this site is reinforced. The terrain is just the way I like a dive site to be, with lots of big boulders, canyons, and ridges, with hundreds of nooks and crannies for the resident critters to live in. All in all, this is a very nice boat dive, and the shallow depth gives us plenty of bottom time.

It takes about 30 minutes to get back to the marina, load up the shop van, and head home. I take an afternoon snooze and early dinner, then it’s back to the shop at 1645 to get ready for a night dive featuring (we hope) Manta rays!

Dive #190, Kona Surf Resort, Kona, Hawaii
Entry/Exit: Boat,  Water Temp: 78║F,  Vis: 100’+
Max Depth: 26’,  ABT: 61m,  SS: 3min,  TABT: 114h50m
In 1845 Dn 1845 Up 1946 Out 1948

This dive site is a small bay or cove, at the southern end of Alii Drive, and is the location of the Kona Surf Resort. The hotel has several floodlights up on the roof that are aimed down into the water to attract plankton, which is what the Manta rays eat. In addition to these lights, the dive boat crew plants a cluster of 3 underwater spotlights, aimed up into the water column, to which the divers add the beams of their dive lights. If we are lucky, the resulting plankton swarm will attract a Manta or two after a few minutes. The underwater lights are placed on top of a 4’ x 6’ boulder with a relatively flat top, then the divers cluster around the boulder in a circle with their lights aimed up. After a few minutes, there is a noticeable increase in the number of tiny, squiggley things dancing in the light beams, and we wait for a Manta to show up.

Alas, it is not to be, at least not tonight. After 30 minutes, all we have managed to attract is a small school of pink and orange goatfish that greedily vacuum up the plankton swarming on the lenses of our dive lights. If you hold your hand near the edge of the light, the fish’s lips will brush your skin, an odd sensation, but they don’t seem to have teeth for biting, and their long “whiskers” seem to indicate they are bottom feeders, eating whatever small invertebrates they can find. The group breaks up at this point, and the dive becomes a standard “u/w tour” night dive for the last 30 minutes of the planned bottom time. At the end of an hour, the divemaster retrieves our underwater spotlights, which signals the end of the dive, and we head for the strobe-marked and weighted downline for a safety stop. The ride back to the marina, which is usually a beautiful starlight cruise along the Kona coast, is dampened tonight by a light fog or haze, which dulls the shore lights.

Wednesday, 11/26

Dive #191, Fish Rock, Kailua, Hawaii
Entry/Exit: Boat,  Water Temp: 78║F,  Vis: 100’+
Multi-Level dive: 60’/14min + 40’/46min
ABT: 60m,  SS: 4min,  TABT: 115h50m
In 0852 Dn 0854 Up 0954 Out 1001

Today we are on the smaller (and slower) of the shop’s two boats, since the distance to the site isn’t very far. Dive procedures on this boat are the same as on the larger boat. Fish Rock is another near-shore site, and it is a nice one, like Kona Cathedral but without the cavern. The main feature of this site is that it shelves off steeply to deep water, so that dive teams and photographers can plan almost any desired depth from 15’ down to 100’+ within a few yards of the mooring. The deep water here also attracts pelagic species to come in pretty close, and the divemaster said that sightings of large manta rays, whale sharks, and whales are not unknown. This is a leisurely u/w tour, exploring the nooks and crannies, and just enjoying the relaxation of a warm water dive in zero current and excellent visibility. I didn’t see anything extraordinary, but it was still a nice dive.

Dive #192, Kaloko Arches, Kailua, Hawaii
Entry/Exit: Boat,  Water Temp: 78║F,  Vis: 100’+
Max Depth: 50’,  ABT: 40m,  SS: 4min,  TABT: 116h30m
In 1105 Dn 1109 Up 1149 Out 1158

This site is a few minutes north of Fish Rock, and as soon as we tie up to the mooring, it becomes obvious that we are in for a Cozumel-style “rip-roaring-current” dive. The 20’ safety stop line, with a 15 pound lead weight on the end, is hanging at least 20 degrees off of vertical as the 2 knot+ current whips past. During the surface interval and lunch break, there is some debate as to whether we should move to a different site, but the clients decide to give it a try anyway, on the promise of this being a better than average location. During the break, one of the clients drops off for a little swim to cool off, and is almost swept away. Trying to swim against this current with full scuba gear will be questionable at best. This is well proven a little later, when the dive teams drop off the stern, and find it almost impossible to make their way to the bow. Ming the divemaster wants everyone to go down the mooring cable, as the first two pairs of divers (including myself) were swept far astern on a direct descent and have to make up a long distance up-current along the bottom to get back to the mooring to meet the main group. It takes almost 15 minutes for everyone to descend and regroup, and the first 4 divers down have expended nearly 1/4 of their air supply, but eventually we all form up on the divemaster and follow him.

This site is supposed to have 5 or 6 natural swim-throughs and arches, but we only make it to two of them, due to the necessity of keeping in a close group in the heavy current, so that everyone can find and ascend the mooring cable. The terrain is good here, with plenty of small hills and valleys, but it would be easy to get lost, so sticking with the divemaster is mandatory. The workload on everyone is so high, fighting the current, that one client has run low on air after only 20 minutes, and the Ming has to take her back to the boat, then return to our group. It ‘s not even very deep here, only 25 to 35 feet, yet my own air consumption after 25 minutes is making me think about heading for the boat myself. We return to the mooring, which is in 45’ deep water, as my computer hits 40 minutes elapsed time, and my SPG is below 500psi. This makes it fairly urgent to begin ascent, as I prefer to have at least 300 psi at the surface. I start on up, holding the cable with both hands in a death grip and “walking up” hand-over-hand at about 25fpm.

The current is ripping past, making our exhaust bubbles stream out almost horizontal, and tugging at my mask in a most disconcerting way, as if it is trying to pull the mask completely off of my face. The only other dive I’ve done in this much current was #51, during an October 1993 vacation to Maui, where we dove on a sunken 45’ sailboat (the “Tofuda”) 1/3 mile offshore from Ka’anapali. That wreck was lying in 100’ of water, and the 12 minute ascent and safety stop up the dive boat’s anchor cable was like trying to hold on in a minor hurricane. I finally get back in the boat with maybe 250 psi left in my tank, the closest I’ve ever cut it in 195 dives in the last 5 years. Lest anyone think I am complaining that this was a “bad dive”, please understand that I don’t mean to imply that I didn’t enjoy it. If diving was always the same, it would soon get boring, and I’d quit doing it! Let me also emphasize that the divemasters, Jeff and Ming, gave a more comprehensive than usual briefing, covering emergency procedures, and what to do if swept away from the boat. It’s for situations like this that I carry a “storm” brand whistle on all dives. Too bad I didn’t have a 30cf pony bottle as well...

Dive #193, Kona Surf Resort, Kona, Hawaii
Entry/Exit: Boat,  Water Temp: 78║F,  Vis: 100’+
Max Depth: 35’,  ABT: 64m,  SS: 3min,  TABT: 117h34m
In 1850 Dn 1850 Up 1954 Out 1959

Here we are back at the Kona Surf (or is it Kona Sands? I’m not positive), for one more attempt to attract a Manta ray or two. It’s the same location and procedure as before, except that we were given a 50% price discount on the charter for having been skunked last night. Tonight there are seven dive boats in the cove, so hopefully there will be a big enough swarm of tasty plankton to bring in at least one small manta. After 15 minutes or so, we begin to get discouraged and start resigning ourselves to another disappointment, when one of our divemasters rushes up, signals “follow me”, and we are off to one of the neighboring dive boat groups. There’s a manta ray, sure enough, swooping back and forth, doing barrel rolls and loop-the-loops over the heads of the divers, and almost brushing their snorkels! For those of you who haven’t seen one, even on a TV program, let me say that these creatures are incredibly graceful, dancing a slow, silent, undulating ballet back and forth across the circle of divers, while the clouds of exhaust bubbles sparkle like a shower of diamonds in the dive lights. Tonight’s manta is about 6’ across the wing tips, dark gray on top, and white with dark speckles and irregular stripes on the bottom, and a distinctive “W” shaped marking in the middle of it’s belly. If you ever have the opportunity, do this dive! But please sit quietly, and watch or take pictures, but DON’T touch or chase after the manta. They are completely harmless, docile plankton feeders, but aggressive actions by divers will frighten them away, and then future divers won’t be able to enjoy them.

About 15 minutes later, “W” swam off into the distance, and the group broke up to explore around some more. At 50 minutes elapsed time, I was back at our “campfire lights” thinking about packing it in and heading for the surface, when our winged friend came back! This time, there were only 6 or 7 divers in the immediate vicinity, so we had a much closer encounter, with “W” practically rubbing our heads and shoulders as he (or she?), swooped around and through us, scooping up the tiny wrigglies attracted by our lights. Regretfully, our planned bottom time was up, all too soon, and I had to head up the anchor line, watching this dance of divers and manta ray from the vantage point of my safety stop. The ride back to the marina this night was one of the best I’ve ever had on a dive boat, with everybody smiling. A really great, memorable dive.

Thursday, 11/27

Dive #194, Pu’uhonua o Honaunau (The Place of Refuge), Hawaii
Entry/Exit: Shore,  Water Temp: 78║F,  Vis: 100’+
Multi-Level dive: 60’/15min + 40’/34min
ABT: 49m,  SS: 3min,  TABT: 118h23m
In 1010 Dn 1017 Up 1106 Out 1115

Dive #195, Pu’uhonua o Honaunau (The Place of Refuge), Hawaii
Entry/Exit: Shore,  Water Temp: 78║F,  Vis: 100’+
Multi-Level dive: 60’/20min + 40’/38min
ABT: 58m,  SS: 4min,  TABT: 119h21m
In 1216 Dn 1221 Up 1324 Out 1330

This dive site is a small bay, facing west, and it is one of the best shore dive sites I’ve seen in any of the 3 Hawaiian islands I’ve visited. The location is off of Route 106, about 20 miles south of downtown Kailua. There is no parking lot near the usual entry/exit point, and street parking is limited, so it pays to get there as early in the day as possible as this is a popular site for both scuba and snorkeling. If you have one handy, bring a blanket or bed sheet, to stand on and keep dirt out of your gear, as most of the parking spaces are off of the pavement. The route from the street to the entry point is over a lava flow, about 50 yards across, but it’s not difficult to traverse if you are careful to avoid slippery areas in the low spots where water collects. There is a naturally worn ledge on the edge of the lava flow, right at water level. The easiest way to enter is to have your buddy hold your pack while you climb down, then put on your fins, mask, and weight belt, and sit on the ledge to don your BCD. Stand up, and kind of take a flat, shallow dive off of the ledge with your BCD fully inflated. It isn’t deep enough to take a vertical giant stride--you would hit bottom too hard and maybe sprain an ankle. To exit, approach the ledge and hand up your fins and camera or dive light (if you have them), to a buddy or bystander, then climb up onto the ledge. IMPORTANT: This ledge and the surrounding rocks are full of small urchins down in the nooks and crannies, and you MUST be careful where you put your hands! If you have to use a handhold to help yourself up, try to grab onto the rock well above waterline, where there are no urchins. Also, I recommend using regular fins with dive booties to protect your feet and toes, instead of the full-foot fins that don’t use booties.

Once in the water, you immediately notice that this is a really great shore dive site, with dense coral, and gently rolling terrain that gradually slopes down to the west and northwest, to the drop-off. I recommend starting your dive by swimming on the surface about 75 to 100 yards on a bearing of 310║, or until you can see the drop off below you, then descend direct to your planned maximum depth and work up the wall from there. One of the really nice features of this site is the wide variety of profiles you can plan here. Depths of well over 60’ are easily accessible from shore, maybe as much as 120’, so a three step multilevel dive can be planned for those divers using the Wheel or a dive computer. I planned for no more than 60’ since my buddy (my daughter Shanna) is under 18 with less than 25 total dives, but from that depth I could look down the wall and see dense bracket coral continuing down at least another 30 or 40 feet to a sandy bottom. The bottom profile is a wide shallow shelf running from shore in 8 to 10’ depth, a few hundred feet out to the edge of the drop off, the top of which is at 35’. The drop off is a 45║ slope that slants down to a deep sand bottom, depth uncertain but probably at least 100’. The steep slope is mostly covered with bracket coral, which looks like someone glued millions of dinner plates to the rock, sticking out horizontally. Above the drop off, in the shallower area near shore, the coral is completely different, mostly varieties of “stag horn” and “cauliflower” corals. The corals and rocks are full of small but deep nooks and crannies, making a dive light a useful accessory even in daylight. Photographers may want to set up extension tubes with framers for macro shots of small subjects on one dive, and a different lens for somewhat larger subjects on a second dive. The largest fish we saw were less than 12”, and the vast majority of photographic subjects were no more than 2 or three inches. We saw a few trumpet fish, and a couple of crown-of-thorns starfish. This cove is also known for marine turtles, and we surprised one coming over the top of a coral head. He bolted from underneath us, and was out of range of my camera before I could get a photo of him. This wraps up the diving for our vacation, as our last full day is tomorrow and we have planned a full day at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Friday, 11/28

We head south this time, to drive the shorter way to Volcano, and arrive mid-morning in another misty almost-rain. We stop in again at the Visitor Center, to let Shanna look around (she didn’t come the first time, as she was visiting a friend). After that, we stop at Volcano House to see if Kilauea Caldera is clear for a photo, but it’s again too cloudy. Next stop is Thurston Lava Tube, a short segment of which has been floored with concrete and a few electric lights installed. It’s pretty damp and drippy down there, as this part of the island is covered by a tropical rain forest, and a hooded rain jacket, umbrella, or hat is nice to have. This section of the lava tube is 6 to 10 feet in diameter and about 150’ long (more or less). The interesting thing about it is to contemplate that where you are walking was a rushing torrent of liquid magma, 2000║F, not very long ago. And that there is a virtual ocean of the stuff not much more than a a mile or two below your feet, under tremendous pressure, and the crust between you and that magma is thinner than the skin on an apple by comparison to the Earth.

Continuing around Summit Drive, which is an 11-mile long road that circles Kilauea Caldera, we come to the turn off for Chain of Craters drive. Whatever else you do, leave time for this side trip if you visit the Big Island! This road will take through the heart of Madame Pele’s realm, and some of the remotest, and most scenic, areas of south eastern Hawai’i. The road winds it way 3500’ in elevation over a 20 mile route down to the coast from Kilauea Caldera, and crosses vast lava flows, many of which are less than 20 years old. Along the way, there are several pullouts that lead to pit craters and scenic overlooks, and wide expanses of lava and pyroclastic flows, both recent and ancient. There is a pavilion with some picnic tables a few miles down from the summit, that is the most awesome picnic site I saw anywhere on this trip.

Hawai’i’s lava comes in two main forms, called a’a’ and pahoehoe. Pahoehoe is formed when very hot, low viscosity lava with a lot of entrained gas is erupted, and as it cools it forms a relatively smooth surface crust, often with a ropy or wavy texture. This material is a surprisingly low density, foamy pumice of black silica full of gas bubbles, often so weekly consolidated that it’s easy to pull apart with your bare hands. A’a’, on the other hand, is formed when somewhat cooler, more viscous lava with lower gas content flows, continually forming crust and then breaking through, then re-crusting etc. etc. This action makes for an incredibly rough, jagged surface, impossible to walk on with bare feet, and almost certain to cause serious injury if you fall on it. Imagine falling on a pile of broken glass, mixed with razor blades and a ton or two of scrap sheet metal thrown in for good measure, and you will have an idea of how harsh this stuff is. It’s almost painful to just hold a chunk of it in your bare hands. I can’t even imagine how the native Hawaiians dealt with it, without modern heavy duty rubber soled shoes; probably they just avoided it and looked for other routes to get where they were traveling. A’a’ seems denser and a little lighter in color than pahoehoe, and looks like a badly plowed field full of dirt clods, but make no mistake: this is solid rock, not soil. For those of you with an interest in geology, Hawaii’s lavas are basaltic in composition, approximately 50% silica (silicon dioxide), 25% Iron oxide, 12% Aluminum oxide, with lesser amounts of manganese, magnesium, and lots of other minerals. Unfortunately, the aluminum and iron is too dispersed (not concentrated enough), in other minerals to be commercially valuable.

At the bottom of the mountain, the road meets the Pacific Ocean and stops literally at the edge of a lava flow; you can see the strip of burned asphalt where the lava flowed over the pavement in a 1995 eruption. There is a ranger booth here, with a bulletin board that it behooves you to read before venturing farther on foot. From this point, the site of the currently active lava flow is 4.5 miles east along the coast, about an 8 hour round-trip walk, over a unmarked, unpatrolled series of lava flows with no water, no food, no shelter, and an ever-present risk of landslides within 500 yards of the shoreline. In 1993, a 27 acre piece of this beach zone suddenly fell into the sea without warning, killing one hiker and injuring several others. By walking about 250 yards east from the ranger post, you come to a slight rise with a pretty good view of the enormous steam cloud rising from the sea, where every day about 500,000 cubic yards of lava is pouring into the water. To put this into perspective, two days worth of this lava flow equals the amount of concrete used in the construction of Hoover Dam (the largest concrete structure in the world), and it’s weight would be somewhere around 1 million tons, guessing an average weight of a ton per cubic yard for this relatively light density Hawaiian lava. Portland cement concrete, as used in the construction of most bridges, dams, and building foundations, weighs about 4300 pounds pounds per cubic yard, and this lava is a lot less dense than concrete.

The steam cloud is deceptive to look at. There are no trees, no houses, no phone poles, nothing man made to use in judging the scale of the scene. At first, I thought it was no more than a mile away, as it seemed to be coming from the vicinity of a headland about that distance away along the coast. Then, I asked one of the rangers, and was astonished when he said “four and a half miles, more or less”. This steam cloud is HUGE, it must reach hundreds of feet up into the sky, and trail off downwind for two or three miles! Another hazard to hikers on the lava field is the steam cloud itself. If the wind shifts to the east or southeast, it blows the steam back onto the shore, instead of out to see. The steam is full of nasty chemicals like hydrochloric and sulfuric acid, microscopic silica particles that can cause silicosis of the lungs, and possibly hazardous concentrations of carbon dioxide and other volcanic gasses boiling out of the lava as it cools under water.

We spent about an hour down at the end of the road, then headed back up to Summit Rim Drive at about 15:30. Once back up the hill, our last two planned stops were the Steam Field and the Jagger Museum. The steam field is a region where rain water is percolating down into fissures in the caldera, where it encounters very hot rock layers heated by the underlying magma chamber. The water vapor then shoots back up to the surface through steam vents, flavoring the air with the typical rotten-egg aroma of sulfur compounds typical to many volcanoes. This is the site of Halema`uma`u Crater, the most recent to have an active lava eruption in the summit caldera, and believed by the native Hawaiians to be the home of Madame Pele herself. Sunset overtook us here, by which time it was 17:00 and too late for the Jagger Museum, which closes at that hour. We watched the sun sink below the shoulder of Mauna Loa to the northwest, and spent a few minutes observing and photographing a pair of Nene (an endangered goose, native to Hawaii), that were wandering around in the parking lot and approaching every car with people in it, absolutely begging for a handout. In the event that a National Park Service ranger reads this, please rest assured, we know it is not only illegal to feed the Nene, but is really not in their best interest, so we refrained (although we would have loved to give them something, as there were so darned cute!).

This pretty much wraps up the vacation. Saturday morning we packed up and went out to breakfast, turned in the rental car, and flew home. The only notable event being that our Aloha Airlines flight experienced some kind of cabin pressurization problem, grounding the aircraft and making us an hour late for check in to our connecting flight home from Honolulu.

I will conclude with a few comments and recommendations for anyone who is contemplating a trip to Hawaii. DISCLAIMER: The following comments are from my personal observations, and they are offered strictly as friendly advice to other divers planning similar vacations in Hawaii. They should not be construed as “advertising” for any particular retail business. I work for the California State Department of Transportation (CalTrans), and am not employed by, or connected with any business mentioned here, except as a tourist.

1. Accommodations: There are lots of hotels and condos on the Kona side of the island to choose from. If you have a group of 4 or 5 people, a 1 bedroom condo is probably more economical than two hotel rooms. For a single couple, a hotel room may be cheaper, but if you want to have your own kitchen, there might be smaller “studio” condos that would be price competitive with a hotel room. Any travel agent could check this for you. Our package for 7 nights, including the Kona Reef condo, the Chevy Astro rental van, and SunTrips airfare, was about $685 per person. With a condo, you can eat most of your meals “in” and save some time and money, otherwise there are plenty of restaurants around town.

2. Car rental: There are several agencies to choose from, and the prices are all about the same, with one significant difference we could see: some agencies charge extra if more than one person will be driving the car. We had Alamo this time, and their fee per extra driver was $3.75 per day. The last time we were in Hawaii, I think we had a Hertz car, and extra drivers were $5.00/day. Avis doesn’t charge extra, at least they didn’t in 1995, when we last had one of their cars.

2. Diving Cost: Charter boat diving costs between $75 and $95 for the standard two-tank morning dive. Three-tank dives run $125 to $150, and most of these go to the more remote parts of the island’s west coast. Some of the three-tank packages are actually two afternoon dives and a night dive. Night manta dives cost about $60 and several shops offer them. KCD supplies you with a dive light if you don’t have your own, but you do have to have your own dive beacon or buy a chem light. Shore diving: Tank rental for standard AL 80’s was $7.00/day, slightly less for steel 72’s. Nitrox is available from Kona Coast Divers in either NOAA I (32% O2) for $8.00 or NOAA II (36% O2) for $9.00. I’m not sure if this is the total price, or is an additional cost on top of the $7.00 tank rental. KCD has a membrane system and 17,000 cubic foot storage bank for Nitrox right on-site. Nitrox may be available from other dive shops, but I didn’t see any ads indicating this. My daughter doesn’t own her own gear, so we had to rent her a BCD, weight belt, and regulator, plus two tanks, for the Thursday shore dives; this cost $37.50. My “package”, consisting of two days of morning two-tank boat dives, two Manta ray night dives, and two tanks for shore diving, came to about $240. We also bought a 30 minute videotape of my manta dive from the shop videographer, this cost $41.50.

3. Dive shop recommendation: I did all my diving with Kona Coast Divers on both of my trips to the Big Island, and found their service to be up to my expectations, and prices on the low end for Kailua-Kona area dive shops. They have been in business for a very long time, something like 20 years. The shop is an authorized retailer for ScubaPro BCD’s and regulators, and I also saw Uwatec Aladin computers. The divemasters seem to be competent, and certainly polite, friendly, and helpful to the clients. One of them, named Jeff, looks a lot like Kurt Russell in “Captain Ron” (only without the eye patch), but despite his slightly piratical look, he was a good divemaster, and gave a consistent, comprehensive pre-dive briefing. I also dove with Bob and Ming, both also as good divemasters as I’ve seen anywhere. These guys did more of the grunt work than any boat crew I’ve been with in Cozumel, Maui, Oahu, or Monterey, CA.

KCD’s two boats are all-aluminum, seem to be well-maintained, and are nicely designed for easy entry and recovery of divers. Both boats had DAN Oxygen and first aid kits, rinse buckets for cameras, a fresh water shower in the stern, sunshade over the mid-section, and an ice chest for clients to put snacks and beverages in. My only downcheck is that the drinking water supply maybe should have been larger. If it had been really hot weather, or the boat filled to capacity, I don’t think there would have been enough water in the jug for everyone for a two-tank trip. On the two night dives I did, the water jug did not appear to have been refilled from the morning dives, all of the ice was gone and the water was a warm trickle with not much pressure behind it.

4. Restaurants: We only ate dinner one night at a restaurant this trip, a pasta and pizza place called Basil’s, right on the waterfront in the middle of town. This place is on the plain side, no fancy frills, and the food is pretty good, and prices are low (for Hawaii). A plate of spaghetti and garlic bread runs $6.75 to $8.00, and many different pizza sizes and types are available for prices about like Round Table or Pizza Hut. My spaghetti noodles were undercooked, although I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and say that this may have been a one-time error and not the usual practice. We ate at Basil’s three nights on our 1996 trip and the food was fine. There is a Denny’s in town--we had our last breakfast there before driving to the airport--and all the usual fast-food places. That’s about all I can report for restaurants, maybe next time we will scout around a little more.

5. Shore activities: There is a lot to do here when not diving, as the island is very large and well-populated. High-society night life is not so spectacular as in Honolulu, which has nearly a million residents, if not more, but if you like sightseeing and natural beauty, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park can easily fill several days, or even weeks, worth of non-diving days. There are some good golf courses on the Big Island, but my impression (as a non-golfer), is that Maui is more or less the epicenter of golf in Hawaii. Other “typical” Hawaiian activities like Luaus, parasailing, fixed-wing and helicopter air tours and snorkeling are also available in abundance. Compared to Cozumel, Hawaii is a much better choice for a couple or group of mixed divers and non-divers, as there is much more to do outside of scuba diving.

6. Overall impression of the quality of diving on this trip: Compared to Cozumel (the only other warm water diving I’ve done), Hawaii has a much smaller diversity of marine life. There is not nearly so much blazing color, and a noticeable absence of the sea fans, sponges, and gorgonians that are so noticeable on any Cozumel reef. However, there is a different kind of drama here, expressed in the rugged underwater landscape shaped by flowing lava less than a million years old, and in some areas, a lot younger than that! The tropical fish of Hawaii are just as colorful as Cozumel’s, if not quite as large and abundant as their Mexican cousins. Compared to the other Hawaiian Islands, and I have made dives on Maui and Oahu, the Big Island is every bit as good, if not better. The shore dives I detailed earlier in this document, at Pu’uhonua o Honaunau, are by a large margin the best Hawaiian shore dives I have had, and far more interesting than any Cozumel shore dive site I’ve seen. Boat diving was very nice, as good as Lanai Cathedral or Makaha Gardens on Oahu, with somewhat better visibility and less current (except dive number #192 at Koloko-I’m still tired from that one!).

So, “Aloha” and “Mahalo” (hank you) for taking the time to plow through this report. I hope some of you will find it entertaining if not enlightening, or helpful in planning a vacation of your own. Stay safe and enjoy our underwater world.

Larry Charlot  <>
Sacramento, CA

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Last modified: November 14:th, 1998
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