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by Donnie MacGowan

Donnie MacGowan Snorkeling at Kahalu'u Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Donnie MacGowan Snorkeling at Kahalu'u Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Whether you visit the Big Island for a few days, a couple weeks or a few months, you want to make the most of your time in Paradise.  With such a wide variety of natural and commercial attractions, it is natural for the visitor to get a little overwhelmed in the “Option Overload” and not be able to make a balanced and informed decision on what they want to do and how best to spend their time.

Bart Hunt Filming Fish at Kahalu'u Beach: Photo By Donnie MacGowan

Bart Hunt Filming Fish at Kahalu'u Beach: Photo By Donnie MacGowan

Even choosing activities you want to participate in…do you want to snorkel, hike, go on a whale watching tour?  We always recommend people do three basic things when they come to Hawaii: get in the air, go to a luau and get in the water.  By getting in the air you get a glimpse of how magnificent our island home is, it is the best way to watch the volcano erupt and it allows you to sort of “scout” the island to see where you might want to spend more time.  By going to a luau you get an introduction to Hawaiian culture and cuisine–you get a taste of what it means to live in Hawaii.  And by getting in the water you experience the magic wonder of our reefs and colorful fish, the calm and renewal from floating in our warm, turquoise waters and the thrill of exploring something new, different and a little wild.  We highly recommend you go snorkeling on your visit…but where do you go?  Do you want a snorkel beach for beginners, or a place that;s challenging to experience? Are you going simply to get in the water and see the fish or do you want a beach that’s also alive with fun people?  Are you looking for an experience that away from crowds, secluded and empty or one that’s exciting, but perhaps a little more tame?  Do you want to snorkel near your resort or one that’s at the end of a day of delicious wandering?

Liz Maus Snorkeling at Hounaunau Bay, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Liz Maus Snorkeling at Hounaunau Bay, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Ranked in order, with the best on top, are our picks of the best snorkeling spots on the Island of Hawaii.  We’ve tried to strike a balance in ranking these places since each is a gem in its own right, we’ve had to leave off many that are equally fine for their own reasons and of course, recommending some means that their popularity will increase and hence, they will become more crowded.  This list at least provides an excellent starting point for deciding where you want to spend you beach time.  When you arrive we ask that you treat these special places, and the people who live near them, with care, respect and aloha.

Two-Step Beach at Hounaunau Bay Has Some of the Finest Snorkeling in the World: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Two-Step Beach at Hounaunau Bay Has Some of the Finest Snorkeling in the World: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Two-Step Beach at Hounaunau Bay: Class Triple-A waters, stuffed with a wide variety of brilliant tropical fish, set in a calm and protected bay, and frequently visited by dolphins, this snorkeling area near the grounds of one of the most important Hawai’ian archeological sites is perhaps the most popular and one of the three top places to snorkel on the island.  It earns the top spot because of it’s easy accessibility.

Kealakekua Bay and Captain Cook Monument from Napo'opo'o: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kealakekua Bay and Captain Cook Monument from Napo'opo'o: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kealakekua Bay: Whether you hike or boat to Captain Cook Monument, or enter the bay to snorkel at the end of the road in Napo’opo’o, there is no place on earth that has better snorkeling or more fish than Kealakekua Bay.  Frequented by both dolphin and whale, protected, Class Triple A waters and a setting unmatched in beauty anywhere, this the premiere place for kayak-to-snorkel adventures on the island.  Arguably, this bay and the Hawaiian settlements that surround it, experienced the most momentous and important historical events yet to unfold in the human history of the state of Hawaii.

Kahalu'u Beach, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kahalu'u Beach, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kahalu’u Beach: Referred to by many visitors as “Snorkel Beach” Kahalu’u is centrally located along Ali’i Drive in Kailua Kona.  The welcoming waters are protected by a seawall and are amazingly warm, shallow and crystalline turquoise.  The safety and ease of conditions here, many resident turtles and abundant colorful fish and the great facilities make this a perfect place to learn to snorkel, or for the tried and true veteran to “get wet and meet the fish”.

Hookena Beach in South Kona Is a Fabulous Beach Plunked Down in the Middle of Real Old Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Hookena Beach in South Kona Is a Fabulous Beach Plunked Down in the Middle of Real Old Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Ho’okena Beach: Ho’okena Beach is a  fabulously beautiful beach park well off the beaten path, plunked down in the honest-to-gosh old Hawaiian village of Ho’okena. This beach has an amazing array of underwater topography populated by perhaps the greatest variety of reef fish n the island;  recently rebuilt, this park has fine facilities including a refreshment stand as well as snorkel and kayak rentals.  Ho’okena is a true snorkeler’s mecca.

Long, Lonely and Wholly Wonderful Makalawena Beach in Kekahai State Park: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Long, Lonely and Wholly Wonderful Makalawena Beach in Kekahai State Park: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Makalawena Beach: Perhaps the loveliest wilderness beach in Polynesia, Makalawena is the perfect sand crescent, beach backed by palms and iron wood trees with morning-glory-draped sand dunes.  A easy mile hike in from Kekaha Kai State Park keeps this beach uncrowded. Snorkeling here is better than perfect.  Simply drive to Kekaha Kai State Park and walk the well-marked trail north to the beach.

Bradford MacGowan Photographs a school of Humuhumuele'ele at Kahalu'u Beach: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Bradford MacGowan Photographs a school of Humuhumuele'ele at Kahalu'u Beach: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Before we leave the topic of Best Snorkeling Beaches on the Island of Hawaii, we’d like to impress upon you the need to be proactive in keeping these places special and how to make your experience the best it can be. The open ocean is not your resort pool and deserves immense respect from you–the ocean is the strongest natural force on earth. Never snorkel alone, never turn you back on the ocean. Drink lots and lots of water; no, drink even more. Never snorkel after having consumed alcohol. Ask the lifeguard about conditions, chat with people coming out of the water about what they liked best and what conditions are like.

Bradford MacGowan Snorkeling at Pu'u Honua O Hounaunau: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Bradford MacGowan Snorkeling at Pu'u Honua O Hounaunau: Photo by Donald MacGowan

.Gary Burton and his daughter snorkel at Hounaunau Bay: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Gary Burton and his daughter snorkel at Hounaunau Bay: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Please wear a hat and t-shirt to protect yourself from sunburn while in the water–never apply sunscreen just before entering the water,wait until you are done snorkeling and have rinsed off–sun-cream kills the coral and poisons the water.  When in the water, do not stand directly upon the coral to rest, do not touch the coral or the fish; never feed the fish or other marine animals.  Do not touch, approach, chase or harass the sea turtles, dolphins or whales–it’s not only dangerous, it’s illegal and will earn you a hefty fine.  Always obey posted warnings and the lifeguard; do not swim in windy conditions (dangerous) or murky water (sharks); be aware of currents and rip tides.

Amanda Maus Snorkeling at Kahalu'u Beach: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Amanda Maus Snorkeling at Kahalu'u Beach: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Get out before you feel tired, get out before you feel sunburned, get out before you get thirsty; get out before the wind comes up or the sun goes down; get out before you feel ready–you are more tired than you think.  Rinse yourself and your gear off after snorkeling and remember to apply sun-cream liberally and often–you are getting more sun than you think. Always pack out everything you brought with you and dispose of your litter (and that stuff the ignorant slob over there left, as well) appropriately.  These beaches get an enormous amount of pressure, try to leave Paradise a little nicer than you found it.

Laurie Maus Using a Boogie Board as a Floatie: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Laurie Maus Using a Boogie Board as a Floatie: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

And for heaven’s sake, plunk-down ten bucks for a disposable underwater camera; in fact, buy two.  I promise you will kick yourself from now until you return to Hawaii if you don’t!  You will want to show the folks back home your snorkel adventures, which seem to always be the most memorable of any trip to Paradise. Trust me, any money you spend on disposable underwater cameras will be the best return on investment of any part of your Hawaii vacation.

Bart Hunt Snorkeling at Kahalu'u Bay: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Bart Hunt Snorkeling at Kahalu'u Bay: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

For more information of traveling to Hawaii in general or exploring the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com .  Information about the author can be found here.

Monk seal at Honl's Beach near Kailua Kona: PHoto by Donald B. MacGowan

Monk seal at Honl's Beach near Kailua Kona: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

All media copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan.

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By Donnie MacGowan

Coming to my island for a vacation? There are three things I always recommend the first-time visitor do. First, go on an air tour. Secondly–go to a luau. Finally, I advise people of every age to get in the water and go snorkeling. The “one-one-one, experiencing the world through the fishes’ eyes” magic of swimming in those bath-warm lagoons surrounded by clouds of tropical fish is an amazing, restful and restorative pursuit-you will find your mind going back to that experience over and over through the years much more so than many of your other travel experiences. Part I of this series discuses Snorkeling Gear; Part II of this series discusses Snorkeling Technique and Part III covers Snorkeling Etiquette; Part IV of the series covers Snorkeling Safety and Part V discusses Big Island Snorkel Spots and Part VI discusses Wilderness Snorkeling on the Big Island.

Let’s Chat About Snorkeling, Part V: Hawaii’s Best Snorkeling Beaches

Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Liz Maus Snorkeling at Honaunau: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hawaii’s varied landscape and dynamic shoreline provides for an amazing array of snorkeling experiences, from broad, sandy beaches with placid and inviting turquoise water to broken glass-sharp cliffs where the swimmer leaps into surgey dark water. Everywhere I’ve snorkeled on Hawaii, from lazily paddling in calm waters at Kahalu’u to rappelling into the wild surf and open ocean currents at Pau’ekolu, the snorkeling is wonderful, beautiful, exhilarating. But many of the best places to snorkel are difficult or scary for the beginning snorkeler, some could be lethal. Here’s a list of the crown jewel snorkeling spots that are easy for the beginner, tantalizingly fascinating for the experienced.

Westside Beaches:

Hapuna Beach (turn off Highway 19 at mile marker 69): Always rated in the Top 10 of American beaches, Hapuna Beach is long, wide and phenomenally sandy. The center of the beach is tailor-made for wave play and boogie boarding, the north and south coves are quieter, better for snorkeling or gentle floating. Although most of the shore is relatively free of currents, only experienced snorkelers who are strong swimmers will want to snorkel around the south end of Hapuna, past a sea arch and to the reef and cove of Beach 69—a long, but rewarding swim with some of the most incredible underwater vistas available to the snorkeler in the word.

Anaeho’omalu Beach (turn off Highway 19 at mile marker 76): The most photographed sunset view on the Island of Hawai’i, Anaeho’omalu Bay is the icon of what most visitors envision Hawai’i to be like before they get here. Although the water tends toward being cloudy, this is an excellent beach for beginning snorkelers.

Kekahakai State Park, Kua Bay (turn off Highway 19, between mile markers 88 and 89): Kua Bay has a lovely white sand beach and full facilities although there is no shade to speak of. Swimming and boogie boarding in the crystalline waters is primo, though strong currents and large waves call for respect, here; if the surf is up, don’t go in. Also, sometime in winter, the surf removes the sand to offshore, leaving a rocky shelf that is less fun to frolic on than the sandy beach.

Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Bart Hunt Snorkeling at Kahalu'u Bay: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kahalu’u Beach (in Kailua Kona, along Ali’i Drive, between mile markers 4.5 and 5): This is the premiere snorkeling beach of the Island of Hawai’i; protected from the open sea by a jetty, the reef is also protected against commercial aquarium fishing. Thus, the snorkeling is in calm, shallow water. Also, there is an abundance of fish of an enormous variety…perhaps the best display on the island. Numerous freshwater springs and shallow water bathers make the near-shore snorkeling unpleasantly cloudy, but about 50 feet offshore the water turns crystal clear and the display of coral is nothing short of amazing. There is a fair current north out of the bay and along the coast. Incredible archeological sites abound in this area and make a fine after-snorkel exploration on foot; ask for details at the concierge desk at the adjacent Keauhou Beach Resort.

Two-Step Beach (adjacent to Pu’u Honua O Honaunau National Historic Park on Highway 160): Some of the finest, protected snorkeling on the Island is located at Two-Step Beach. A wonderland of turtles, coral and fish, with frequent morning visits by dolphins, this snorkeling experience shouldn’t be missed. No swimming is allowed within the Park out of respect for its sacredness; however, Two-Step Beach offers a convenient place to enter Honaunau bay. One can enter the bay either by the boat ramp, or by stepping off the short cliff into the water from near the center edge of the lava beach, where two ledges serve as steps down into the ocean. Getting in is a simple matter of stepping down these steps, “1-2-OCEAN!”–to get out, reverse the process.

Ho’okena Beach (turn off Highway 11 near mile marker 102): Brilliant snorkeling, decent boogie boarding, passable shell collecting and wonderful camping—it’s a wonder the large and warm stretch of sand at Ho’okena Beach is not more popular with visitors. Frequented by dolphin, stuffed full of pelagic and reef fish and turtles and boasting crystal clear, warm and calm waters, Ho’okena is a must-visit beach for avid snorkelers.

Southside Beaches:

Punalu’u Beach (turn off Highway 11 between mile markers 55 and 56): A truly remarkable place of great peace, beauty and spiritual healing, Punalu’u’s black sand-lined coves and beaches are world-renowned. With dozens of endangered Hawai’ian Green Sea Turtles and superabundant abundant fish, this is a truly snorkeling experience–made unique because of the black sand bottom of the bay. Due to chilly waters, off-shore winds, strong currents and a fearsome rip, swimmers and snorkelers should use caution when swimming at Punalu’u, but it’s hard to resist getting in and swimming with all those turtles. There are abundant Hawaiian cultural sites in the park that are worth visiting.

Photo by Bradford T. MacGowan

Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle Basks in the Sun at Punalu'u Beach: Photo by Bradford T. MacGowan

Kehena Beach (on Highway 137 near mile marker 19): A quick scramble down the bank on a dirt path quickly brings you to the Kehena Black Sand Beach. Once on the beach the first thing that may strike you is that many of the locals who frequent this park have forgotten to put on proper beach attire…or any other attire whatsoever, for that matter. In the shade of palms and ironwood this wonderful beach is generally sunny even when the rest of Puna is rainy. Swimming here is great near-shore, but ocean currents are strong and dangerous not far from shore. The locals are friendly but frisky, so don’t leave valuables in your car.

Pohoiki Bay at Isaac Hale Beach Park (on Highway 137 between mile markers 11 and 12): A lovely black sand beach with an expert surf break, Isaac Hale Beach Park is one of the very few real beaches and boat ramps in Puna District; as such this park sees a lot of traffic. It is also the site of the best surfing and some of the wildest snorkeling and scuba diving in Puna.

A short path along the shoreline leads from the parking lot, past a house with abundant “No Trespassing” signs, just a few minutes stroll then turns about 20 yards into the jungle to a secluded, perfectly lovely, natural hot spring that is wonderful for soaking. Locals usually don’t bother with swimwear here; you shouldn’t feel required to, either.

Kapoho Tidepools (turn off Highway 137 and head east on Kapoho-Kai Road, left on Kaheka and right on Waiopae): Stuffed with abundant sea life, this sprawling basin of lava tidal pools is a remarkable treasure for snorkelers of all abilities from the starkly frightened to the seasoned veteran. Moorish idols, yellow tangs, various wrasses and eels, sea urchins and sea cucumbers abound and there are even some nice corals in the deeper pools. The largest pool is called “Wai Opae”, which means “fresh water shrimp”.

Keeping to the left of the main channel keeps one away from most of the ocean currents, which can be surprisingly strong, even in small channels, where ponds empty into the ocean. No real facilities exist here beyond the parking lot, so come prepared.

Eastside Beaches:

Richardson Beach Park (Take Kalaniana’ole Street 3.6 miles east from the intersection of Highways 19 and 11 in Hilo): The almost universal experience of visitors to Hawai’i is that, although it is certainly beautiful and unique, no matter what pre-conceptions a traveler may bring about Hawai’i, their experience is a bit different to what they expected. Richardson Beach Park, with its towering palms, fresh water pools, delightful surf, secluded and calm tidepools and general ambience of tropical paradise, is almost certainly very close to what most visitors expect from Hawai’i—hence it popularity. The snorkeling here along the small black sand beach is the best of the Hilo area.

Frequented by dolphins and sea turtles, the near-shore water is a little cold when getting in, due to fresh water springs, but soon warms-up a few dozen yards from shore. The currents and surf can occasionally be tricky here, so heads-up, pay attention to advice from the lifeguards.

Be sure to watch for Part VI which talks about snorkeling the wilderness beaches of the Island of Hawaii.

A short video discussing many of these topics can be found here.

For more information about visiting and touring Hawaii in general, and exploring the fabulous snorkeling on the Big Island in particular, visit http://www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com. For information about the author, go here.

All media copoyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan

What Do I Take When I Go To Hawaii?

The MacGowan Family Deplanes in Sunny Hawaii; You Want To BE sure You Have Everything You Need to Enjoy Your Vacation, but Not So Much You Have To Haul a Pile of Luggage: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The MacGowan Family Deplanes in Sunny Hawaii; You Want To Be sure You Have Everything You Need to Enjoy Your Vacation, but Not So Much You Have To Haul a Pile of Luggage: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Packing Your Bags for Hawaii: With airlines charging for a second–or even for the first–piece of luggage, and strict “50 pounds each” weight limits being enforced, the thrifty traveler is wise to plan ahead carefully, to avoid racking-up expensive fees. I used to travel by the motto “Don’t check baggage unless you can afford to lose it; if you can afford to loose it, why did you bring it?”; thus I never traveled with anything more than carry-on. While it is always good to travel lightly, with the advent of stringent new carry-on limits and my advancing age (and concomitant increasing desire to travel in comfort) I have learned to travel with only one piece of checked baggage plus carry-on. The key is packing intelligently so you can pack less.

MacGowan Family and Luggage for 3 for a Fourteen Day Trip to Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

MacGowan Family and Luggage for 3 for a Fourteen Day Trip to Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Be Smart About Your Carry On Baggage: Most airlines allow you to bring one carry-on bag and a personal item such as a purse or a lap-top. I push this a little by bringing a carry-on bag plus my lap-top in a computer pack which also has room for one video camera, my SLR Camera and an emergency change of clothes (in case all my other luggage is lost). Usually they let me get away with this. Because I trust neither baggage handlers nor TSA inspectors and my luggage has been lost more times than I remember, I pack my other cameras and more of my clothes in my other carry on bag so they don’t have to be checked. In this bag I also carry a quart of water and some snacks.

You’ll want at least one book to read on the flight; your tickets, reservation confirmations, travelers checks, list of phone numbers, spare glasses (contacts and solution) and medications should be put in a water-proof bag in the carry-on bag you intend to hold most tightly to.

Remember that more books, extra batteries, memory cards, video tape or film, masks-fins-snorkels, insect repellent, sun cream, beach towels–all the extra hoopla one might want on a Hawaii vacation–can be purchased at WalMart or Costco on-island as cheaply as the mainland. If you do pack film, and it is in your carry-on, be sure to protect it against x-rays.

Checked Luggage; First, Plan for Your Activities: Know your itinerary and pack only what you need; resist the temptation to toss in all those extra unnecessary wardrobe items.  You may be planning on some particular activities in Hawaii requiring specific gear or clothing–it is best to think this through thoroughly.  Many people intend to save money by bringing their own snorkeling gear. This is false economy if it causes you to pay for additional luggage. Buying snorkel gear on island is fairly inexpensive and renting is faster, easier and even cheaper. The same can be said of renting diving gear and golf clubs. Activities such as hiking and horseback riding require a fairly specific wardrobe, but if you plan correctly, you only have to bring your hiking/riding boots and an extra pair of suitable pants and shirt. If you plan on visiting the mountain summits, remember that they can be quite cold–even snowy or rainy–so plan and pack an appropriate wardrobe, accordingly. If you bring boots, I advise wearing them (and all your other bulky clothing) on the plane to save room and weight in your bags. As for photography gear or musical instruments–any expensive or delicate equipment for that matter–my philosophy is to never turn loose with it. Never check your cameras, your guitar, your laptop, etc–it’s a recipe for theft, loss or destruction.  A humorous, but true, video by Dave Carroll and the Sons of Maxwell about this can be found here.

You Need More Suntan Lotion Than You Think...Put it on Before You Go Out in the Sun and Keep Putting It On Throughout The Day.  Likewise, Drink More Water Than You Think You Need...Drink Before You Get Thirsty, When You Get Thirsty and Drink Again After You've Just Had Some Water.  No, Drink Some More--I'm Serious: Photo By Donnie MacGowan

You Need More Suntan Lotion Than You Think...Put it on Before You Go Out in the Sun and Keep Putting It On Throughout The Day. Likewise, Drink More Water Than You Think You Need...Drink Before You Get Thirsty, When You Get Thirsty and Drink Again After You've Just Had Some Water. No, Drink Some More--I'm Serious: Photo By Donnie MacGowan

Next, Plan for the Weather: Being tropical, temperatures at sea level in Hawaii vary only by about 10 degrees between day and night and throughout the year. It’s hot during the day, plan a cool wardrobe. The windward side is generally rainy and the “up-country” towns (mountains) frequently can experience afternoon showers. Evenings, particularly up-country, are delightfully cool as there is generally an evening or “down-mountain” breeze. With forethought, your wardrobe can cover all these situations without being bulky, heavy or ornate. Remember to pack layers of clothing for warmth, rather than one or two bulky coats and sweaters-this allows for maximum adaptability and a certain amount of built-in variability to your wardrobe. This also means that if an emergency hotel-room laundry session is required, with many light layers of clothing your laundry will dry much more quickly.

Don't Forget Some Lightweight Raingear: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Don't Forget Some Lightweight Raingear: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Finally, Specifics: Be efficient–coordinate around a basic, neutral color so everything you bring matches everything else. Black or khaki are the traditional traveler’s choices. Dark colors show dirt less than light colors, and this can be a saving grace where doing laundry is impractical. Choose clothes for lightness, packability and washability.  Remember that suits in Hawaii are unnecessary; even Circuit Court judges wear Aloha Shirts under their robes here. A nice shirt, generally an Aloha Shirt, and a pair of khakis are the wardrobe of choice at the finer restaurants and nightclubs–everywhere else, it’s shorts and sandals. I would advise a basic wardrobe consisting of a polo-style shirt and a couple Aloha Shirts, one pair of long khakis and three pair of shorts, a swimsuit, a couple tank tops or t-shirts, a sunhat and a light jacket for evenings; that’s all you really need to cover most bases. Women may want to toss in a light sundress or skirt. Sandals are all you’ll need or want in the way of footwear (your feet will be HOT)–you may want to toss in a pair of running shoes for exercise or hiking. Unless you are attending a formal event such as a wedding, don’t worry about dressing up or you will not only find yourself carting far too much luggage, but awkwardly overdressed as well.

Be thoughtful about your wardrobe and activities: for instance, you may wish to think about bringing two swimsuits–you will be amazed how pleasant being in the water is in the hot tropics.  Whether you are just cooling off in the pool or snorkeling with the turtles and fish, you’ll probably want to swim everyday. Swimsuits rarely dry overnight and it’s a lot more pleasant to get into a warm, dry suit than a wet, cold one.  Also, if you plan on riding horseback or exploring the higher elevations such as Hawaii Volcanoes National Park or Mauna Kea, be sure to bring some jeans and appropriate footwear, a medium weight fleece sweater and light rain jacket/windbreaker. A compact traveler’s umbrella is always a good idea.

Don’t forget to pack your toiletries and personal items; I used to carry these on, in case of lost luggage, but restrictions on liquids and gels and razors make this impractical. Medications, of course, go in the carry-on. Sun block, sun hat, sunglasses and sun-burn cream (I use an aloe gel) will make your vacation smoother, but can be purchased cheaply locally if you don’t quite have room for them.

Brad MacGowan on Kauai...A Tripod is Essential If You Intend To Photograph The Volcanic Eruptions Or Do Any Video Photography: Photo By Donnie MacGowan

Brad MacGowan on Kauai...A Tripod is Essential If You Intend To Photograph The Volcanic Eruptions Or Do Any Video Photography: Photo By Donnie MacGowan

Other Things to Bring: Just as an aside, two things you need to be head’s up about when you are in Hawaii–if you begin to feel thirsty, you’ve waited too long to get a drink of water; if you begin to feel the sun, you’ve waited too long to put sun block on. Drink more water than you think you need, apply sun block before you go out and re-apply more often that you think you need. Your body is used to more moderate climates and won’t warn you in time of the danger.  In fact, sometimes it’s dry enough on the leeward side that you won’t even feel yourself sweat—it evaporates before you get wet.  So remember to keep drinking water—alcohol, coffee and ice tea (as well as caffeinated sodas) are both diuretic and vasodilatory, so are counterproductive to keeping hydrated.  Drink water. Lots and lots of water. Although bottled water is abundantly available, being a thrifty traveler, I always bring my own reusable water bottles.  These may be carried on, but you need to take them through Security Screening empty, filling them at a water fountain before boarding—this also allows you to have water to drink during the flight, remembering that tap water on some airlines has proven to be unsafe.

The tropical sun in Hawaii is so fierce, and so many people ruin their vacations by seriously underestimating it, that I have written separate articles specifically covering sunburn and sunscreen and sunglasses.  Please read these short articles, be sure you have a good pair of sunglasses that give 100% UV protection and an SPF 30 or better sunscreen.  Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going out in the sun and every 1/2 hour there after.

Lora Aller Hydrates on a Kona Coast Hike; Taking a Small Pack Helps Keep Water Bottles, Sunscreen, Sunglasses, Camera and Other Necessities Handy and Easy to Carry: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Lora Aller Hydrates on a Kona Coast Hike; Taking a Small Pack Helps Keep Water Bottles, Sunscreen, Sunglasses, Camera and Other Necessities Handy and Easy to Carry: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Many people plan ahead by leaving ample room in their luggage to bring back souvenirs and gifts; recent luggage restrictions are making this impractical. Rather than buying new outfits for my trip, I spend the week before my trip weeding through my wardrobe, packing one very nice set of clothes and the remainder are items that were already bound for the thrift store. Thus, I simply abandon them at the end of my stay and thereby have more than enough space in my luggage for anything I buy. Remember—Hawaii is part of the US and the U.S. Postal Service sells flat-rate, pre-paid, boxes for very inexpensive rates. Ask for “Flat Rate Shipping Boxes” and ship those gifts home safely, cheaply and with no fuss on your part.

You should toss in a small fanny pack or day-pack for day trips…it’s amazing how many things you find you need to carry around during the day (sunscreen, water bottles, guidebook, camera, small purchases) and a pack helps to keep them organized and in hand.  A small pack can also double as a laundry bag on the flight home.

A Small Pack Come In Very Handy For Keeping Your Stuff Together and Right At HAnd: Photo by Donald MacGowan

A Small Pack Come In Very Handy For Keeping Your Stuff Together and Right At Hand: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Although this is not the time for a discussion of vacation photography in general, let me say a few words about cameras.  This is Hawaii for Pete’s sake, one of the most beautiful places on earth!  You are going to want to take pictures while you are here, you are going to wish you had taken pictures all the long years down the road after you return.  You do not have to be like me, packing two video cameras, a digital SLR and a digital underwater camera; even if you are not camera savvy at all, there are easy alternatives.

Simplest by far, and not terribly expensive, are pre-loaded, disposable film cameras.  Available for $5-10 each, and costing about the same for film developing, these are the most basic point-shoot-enjoy photographic choice.  There are even disposable underwater cameras if you plan on any swimming, kayaking or snorkeling.  May I suggest that you have your film developed in Hawaii—WalMart, Kmart and Costco all have 1-2 hour processing at reasonable prices.  The color balance in Hawaii, because of its equatorial position (angle of sun and thickness of atmosphere) and the richness of the colors of flora, land and sea, is different to what most film-processing shops know and thus, if you wait until you return home to develop the film, the colors will turn our disappointingly.  Getting your film processed on island also allows you to share prints with people you meet or are visiting.

Digital cameras may at first seem confusing, but are really much easier to deal with than film cameras, have such great storage capacity that they quickly pay for themselves in film and processing costs and produce images that, even for the rank beginner, are startling and gorgeous.  You don’t even need a computer to enjoy your digital pictures, just take them to any film processing shop and they’ll make prints for you—much more cheaply than prints from film.  If you plan to buy a digital camera for the trip, or are not quite used to the one you have, start practicing with it about a month before you leave…standing with your arm around your lover in the perfect sunset, with the palm trees swaying, the hula girls dancing on the beach and the humpback whales leaping in the ocean (oh, yes, these scenes DO happen!) is not the time to be fiddling with camera and instruction booklet trying to figure out how the damn thing works.  Secondly, be sure to bring that instruction book, all accessory cords, chargers and adapters in a small plastic baggie when you come—they are expensive to buy on vacation and you never know what you’ll need.  Experience will teach what you can leave behind on successive trips.  If buying a new digital camera to immortalize your trip to Paradise, think about getting a waterproof version.  Most major camera manufacturers produce fine, submersible digital cameras, good to 40 feet or so, that are every bit as good as the regular cameras and are not very much more expensive.  Many also have video features that allow you to take brief video clips, even underwater.  One final note on your camera—never let go of it.  Keep it in your carry-on bag during the flight, in your pocket or you day pack on the trip, do not leave it in your rental car or your hotel room or lunch table.  Ever.

Amanda, Liz and Amy Maus Pose for the Underwater Camera: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Amanda, Liz and Laurie Maus Pose for the Underwater Camera: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Another useful item, many tourists bring their GPS from home to help navigate—be sure to download the maps for Hawaii before you come; some brands of GPS do not offer Hawaii coverage.  A few of the rental car agencies have GPS units for rent at reasonable prices.  The best solution, however, are the folks at Tour Guide Hawaii (808.557.0051; http://www.tourguidehawaii.com) who offer a hand-held computer with an onboard GPS at very reasonable rental rates (a video about the Tour Guide product is available here).   They have stuffed into this device over six hundred points of interest (did you hear that?  600!) of recreational, cultural and historical importance. They have produced a short audio/video presentation for each site, telling you all about it, the history and culture, what to bring, what to do while there; they even have the public restrooms listed! These presentations play as you approach the points of interest, or can be searched for at any time or location. Thus, the device can be used to preview all the sites around the island in the comfort of your hotel room, pre-plan trips or to get information and turn by turn navigation on the road.  Combining cutting-edge technology and old-fashioned story-telling, the unbelievably easy to use, fabulously informative and terrifically fun Tour Guide Self-Guided GPS Tours are an amazing bargain and a great way to see Hawaii. They are now offering a pared-down version (50 of the top areas and attractions—AND the restrooms!) that is downloadable to iPhone and iPod.

Finally, one of the most enduring visions I have of travel is standing exhausted, late night at the luggage carousel as hordes of weary travelers lift first one anonymous piece of black luggage, then the next, searching for their own anonymous black luggage amongst a sea of ubiquitous black nylon and leather travel bags.  Not everyone is comfortable carrying the bright Hawaiian print luggage I have (although I always instantly recognize my bags…except when returning to Hawaii where EVERYBODY has this luggage), but there are ways to customize and personalize your bags.  One of the more common, and therefore useless, is the nylon rainbow-colored strap…there are almost as many of these wrapped around anonymous black luggage as there are plain black bags themselves.  Airlines don’t like straps and cords flopping around off the luggage, for obvious reasons, but you can buy colorful and unique baggage tags or tie a bit of uniquely colored ribbon or a small scarf to the handle of your luggage…just something that  screams “Mine!” to you as it slides down onto the carousel so you do not have to search plaintively through the weary lot of black bags with rainbow belts on them.

The MacGowan Family Deplanes From Airforce 1--Even Traveling in Style Your Luggage Can Get Lost So Plan Ahead: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

The MacGowan Family Deplanes From Airforce 1--Even Traveling in Style Your Luggage Can Get Lost So Plan Ahead: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

This is Hawaii, remember?  You came to have fun!

For more information on traveling to Hawaii in general, or touring the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.  Information about the author can be found here.

All media copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan

Liz Maus Snorkeling in West Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Liz Maus Snorkeling in West Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Internationally famous snorkel bums and renowned Fun Hogs Donnie MacGowan and Bart Hunt say a few choice words about getting into the electrifying, high stakes world of Extreme Snorkeling.

For more information on how to snorkel, snorkeling gear, safety, reef etiquette, Big Island snorkel spots and wilderness snorkeling in Hawaii, check out these informative and fun articles by eZines Expert Author Donald B. MacGowan here, here, here, here, here and here.

Featuring Donnie MacGowan and Bart Hunt; Videography by Bart Hunt and Donnie MacGowan, Original Musical Score written, performed and recorded by Donnie MacGowan; Produced by Donnie MacGowan.
For more information on traveling to Hawaii in general and touring the Big Island in particular, please visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.

By Donnie MacGowan

Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Mask, Fins and Snorkel: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Coming to my island for a vacation? There are three things I always recommend the first-time visitor do. First, get in the air–seeing my island from the air is the only way to appreciate its vastness and diversity of landscapes-and it’s the best way to see the erupting volcano.

Secondly-go to a luau–for people with limited time, you will not be able to discover much about the magic of the local lifestyle, and although canned and packaged for visitor consumption, a luau is a good place to get an introduction to it.

Finally, I advise people of every age to get in the water and go snorkeling. The “one-one-one, experiencing the world through the fishes’ eyes” magic of swimming in those bath-warm lagoons surrounded by clouds of tropical fish is an amazing, restful and restorative pursuit-you will find your mind going back to that experience over and over through the years much more so than many of your other travel experiences. There are some things to bear in mind about snorkeling, however, so let’s take a moment to talk about gear (covered here, in Part I), technique (covered in our next post, Part II), reef etiquette and the animals which inhabit the coral reefs (which will be in Part III) and safety (coming in Part IV).

First some advice about snorkeling gear:

Bringing vs. Renting vs. Buying: Bringing your personal snorkeling gear from home insures that you are familiar with the gear and you know that it fits…but it’s a hassle in your luggage.  In this day and age of paying for extra baggage, it may be better to simply rent.  Renting gear once you get to your destination is cheaper than buying it there and you don’t have to make room in your luggage to lug it home.

Fit: The mask should fit snugly over the face; you should be able to hold it onto your face with suction simply by taking in a quick breath through your nose.  The strap should be snug enough to hold the mask in place against face but it should not be tight–if it is too tight, it’ll make wrinkles in the seal, letting water in.  Simple water pressure against the outside of the mask seals it.  If you wear glasses, either use contacts while snorkeling or get a mask that has vision-corrected mask lenses (which is more expensive, but almost universally available); it’s almost never possible to seal a mask around your glasses.

Fins should fit snugly like shoes, but you should able to pull them on and off without a struggle.  If they are too loose, you’ll either lose them or get blisters; if they are too tight, you’ll get cramps AND blisters.  With fins you need to make a choice.  Shoe-style fins are easiest for the novice to use, but if you have to enter the water over rocks, your feet may get abused as you wade out barefoot.  Strap-style fins allow you to wear reef-walkers with the fins, which makes rocky entries easier.  If you choose this option, make sure the fins fit over your feet with the reef shoes on.

Snorkels come in a confusing array of styles and an astounding range of prices.  Although some have space-age design features, a decent snorkel with a comfortable mouthpiece and a simple splash guard is all that’s required.

Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Laurie Maus Using a Boogie Board as a Floatie: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Floaties: Many beginners, and even experienced ocean explorers in surgey or high surf conditions, appreciate having a floatation device.  Standard life-jacket styles are not recommended because they are designed to keep your head above the water while the whole point of snorkeling is to keep your head under the water.  There are specially designed snorkeling vests and belts which work quite well, but are waaay spendy.   Boogie boards are a nice alternative; they have a wrist leash so you won’t get separated from it and provide a floating platform to rest on, making your forays out over the reef longer and more enjoyable.  Safer, too.  Another, much less expensive, alternative is the foam “noodle” available in the toy department of all WallMarts and stores like that.  I like to attach a boogie-board wrist leash to mine to keep it from floating away when I dive down.  A large noodle will support even a full grown man upright in the water when ridden “horsey-style”.

All the gear you drag with you needs to be carried in something and by far the best way is in a nylon mesh bag; rental gear will come in one and you can buy them inexpensively where you buy your mask and fins. Since you must rinse your gear off with fresh water immediately after you climb out of the ocean, this allows the gear to “breathe” as it dries, obviating the annoying growth of mildew.

For after your swim, a large, thirsty towel is also a nice beach accoutrement, but do not use it to lie on the sand with.  Buy a cheap rice mat instead (again, at WalMart or such)–it won’t collect sand, it’s cooler on the skin, smells nice and it means your towel will be clean and sand-free when you use it to dry-off.  Don’t forget to bring drinking water…immersion in salt water is dehydrating and just swimming around you’ve worked harder–and sweated more–than you realize.  Rinse yourself and your gear with fresh water immediately after you get out of the ocean and remember to apply sunscreen and wear your sunglasses. Sun screen and sunglasses, necessary to combat the deceptively severe tropical sun, are so important that I’ve written a separate articles about sun burn and sunscreen in Hawaii and what sunglasses you should bring to Hawaii. Too many visitors drastically underestimate the strength and ferocity of our sun and wind-up with vacation-ruining sunburns.

Don’t overestimate your skin’s tolerance for beach sun.  Now might be a good time to go inside and cool off, you know?

Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Liz Maus Snorkeling at Hounaunau Bay, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Part II of this series will discuss snorkeling technique, Part III will cover snorkeling etiquette and Part IV will discuss snorkeling safety.

For more information on traveling to Hawaii in general, and beach activities on the Big Island in particular, visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.  For information on the author, go here.