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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), safety (Part IV) and snorkeling wilderness beaches (Part VI).

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. If you do decide to buy, remember stores like COSTCO and WalMart sell great gear at low prices–you do not need to drop a fortune on snorkeling gear at a dive shop or specialty shop to get perfectly serviceable, safe and comfortable gear at affordable prices.

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. The strap should pass up around the “ball” of your head, not over the ears…make sure the strap is easily adjustable and spend sometime getting the fit right–it’ll make you lots more comfortable and safe in the water.

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–it is unsafe to cross the beach or rocks wearing your fins; wait until you are in the water. Strap-style fins allow you to wear reef-walker shoes 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. I personally prefer models with a flexible tube with a drain/purge valve connecting the mouth piece to the snorkel.

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…lots and lots of drinking water. Immersion in salt water is dehydrating by itself and just swimming around you’ve worked harder–and sweated more–than you realize. Wear a t-shirt when in the water to protect from the sun–suncream kills the corals so don’t put it on and then get in the water. Rinse yourself and your gear with fresh water immediately after you get out of the ocean and remember to apply sunscreen at this point and to 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. For instance, 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

For more information on traveling to Hawaii in general, and beach activities on the Big Island in particular, visit and; for a video presentation covering much of this information, go here. For information on the author, go here.

by Frank Burgess

As you continue around the Crater Rim Drive, at Volcanoes National Park, there are dozens of great sights. A more recent crater, erupting with fire curtains in 1974, is Keanakako’i Crater. The pebbles around the rim were formed by froth from the lava as it was blasted into the air and cooled as they fell to the ground. This crater is a bit off-the-beaten-path, but Tour Guide shows the way.

Right along the Crater Rim Drive is the Devastation Trail (video here) formed by Kilauea Iki. When the Pu’u Pai vent erupted in 1959 it spewed pumice cinder and scalding ash burying the rainforest some ten feet deep. This caused the forested area to die leaving a barren wasteland where little has grown since. Tour Guide will take you on the three quarter mile paved hike, along the edge of this moonscaped region, and give more historical information as well.

At the end of the Devastation Trail is the Pu’u Pai overlook. This spot affords a view of Pu’u Pai (gushing hill) and Kilauea Iki (little Kilauea) (video here and here) and skirts the edge of the desert and rainforest as if some drew a line separating the two. Tour Guide gives the fascinating stories of 1900 foot lava fountains during this episode.

Super Tip: Bring plenty of water. I can’t stress this enough. There are few facilities available on the drives and hikes around the park, so make sure you stock up before leaving the Visitor’s Center. Besides, good hydration will keep you energized for all your fun activities. To your health.

On the east side of Crater Rim Drive is a delightful stop not to be missed, Thurston Lava Tube (video here). Tour Guide will tell you how lava tubes are formed when magma flows underground. It eventually empties leaving cave-like formations. Most lava tubes are very small; however Thurston Lava Tube is quite large. The National Park Service has paved a pathway through the tube, and installed lighting, to make this a 300 yard spelunking adventure for everyone to enjoy. The cave circles so that the entrance and exit end at the parking area. The giant ferns here invited the songs of exotic birds, many of which are found nowhere else in the world. This is one of the few locations where restrooms are available.

One of the best hiking and biking routes is the Escape Road (video here). Built for just what its name implies an alternate road for when the lava will inevitably cut the Chain of Crater Road, it makes a lovely down hill walk or bike ride. Tour Guide will show where to start at the Thurston Lava Tube parking area and end at the Mauna Ulu parking lot. This road meanders through some of the most cool and pristine rainforest to be found.

At the other end of the Escape Road is Mauna Ulu (video here), also accessible from Chain of Craters Road. This spot was formed by numerous eruptions between 1969 and 1974. A few yards down the road, you see the different types of lava formations left from these flows. Tour Guide will explain these types of lava in great detail. Across the expanse lies Pu’u Huluhulu, or shaggy hill. For those that are ready hike, there is a tree mile round trip hike to the top of Pu’u Huluhulu marked by cairns. From the summit, the views of the lava flows and coastline are indescribable.

For more information on traveling to Hawaii in general and touring the big island in particular, please also visit and

Copyright 2008 by Frank Burgess.  Photos and video opyright 2009 Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved.

Written and produced by Donnie MacGowan; narrated by Frank Burgess. Videography by Donnie MacGowan and Frank Burgess.

Along the side of the centuries-old Ka’u-Puna trail, worn smooth by generations of travelers, in the area of the Hill of Long Life (Pu’u Loa) lies the largest petroglyph field in Polynesia It is estimated that the Pu’u Loa field contains in excess of 15,000 carvings. A one mile segment of this ancient trail, from the parking lot along the Chain of Craters Road to the petroglyphs, has been marked with cairns (or “ahu”) by the Park staff to lead visitors to the petroglyphs. As you hike along this trail, notice the smoothness of the lava, the sheen on the trail worn by generations of travelers’ feet.

There are many theories concerning the origin and meanings of these carvings but one thing is certain. People stopped here for hundreds of years and left their mark on the stone. Among the designs are simple holes, spirals, concentric circles, human forms and others which are unrecognizable geometric shapes. The hills and swales of pahoehoe surrounding the boardwalk contain thousands more petroglyphs, but due to their fragility, you are advised to remain on the boardwalk to keep from damaging them.

Pu’u Loa, the hill at the margin of the boardwalk, is the place where Hawai’ians came to bury the umbilical chord of their children. People came from all over the Hawai’ian Islands to bury their child’s piko, or umbilical chord stump, in this place of “mana” (Hawai’ian for power), the home of the Goddess Pele. Grinding out a cup-shaped hole, the Hawai’ians would place the piko in the ground to insure long life, and good grace from the Goddess, for their child.

Remember that these carvings, though many hundreds of years old, are extremely fragile so remain on the boardwalk—do not step into the petroglyph field, even for a better view, or onto the carvings themselves. The boardwalk passes by hundreds of carvings near enough for you to examine them minutely and photograph the completely. This self-guided tour takes about 1 hour.

For more information about touring Hawaii in general or visiting the Big Island in particular, go to and

Aloha is a Hawaiian word for hello, goodbye and a word they use for love. In the literal translation, “alo” is life and “ha” is breath. So when you say “Aloha”, and someone returns the greeting, you are sharing the breath of life.

The Big Island of Hawaii is the largest land mass in the state. I fact, all the other Hawaiian islands will fit inside the Big Island and only take up about half of it.

Therefore realize it takes 6-7 hours to drive around this island, if you don’t stop anywhere. I always suggest if you are going to drive and see the sights yourself, split the driving into 3 days and pick up your GPS Tour Guide (808-557-0051).

The first drive day, go to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. From Kona it will take 3 hours of non-stop drive time to reach the entrance. Tour Guide has over 50 sights to see inside the park with tons of great info and photos. The park entrance fee is $10.00 per carload and is good for 7 days, so you can go back and see sights you may have missed the first time if you wish. Bring a cooler with sandwiches and lots of water as there are few places inside the park to buy food. If you prefer a hot lunch, the Volcano House is reasonably priced ($15.00 buffet) and has a spectacular view. The Volcano House is also steeped in history and is not to be missed.

I wear shorts, tee shirt and comfortable walking shoes. BUT, also bring my sweat pants and sweatshirt. At 4200 ft. elevation, temperatures can vary from 80 to 45 degrees and weather conditions can change in a matter of minutes, so BE PREPARED. My advice is leave early (7:AM) and expect to get back about dark (6-7 PM). Tour Guide will get you there and back safely and has all the info about hiking, biking, museums and much more.

There are a number of great sights between Kona and the volcano that could be a whole day of sight seeing, all found in your Tour Guide.

When leaving Kona going south, you will enter the coffee country. There are several farms that offer free coffee sampling and tours. Just look for the signs along the highway. Kona Joe’s (visit here and see video) is one of my favorites. They grow their coffee on trellises like fine wine in Napa or Sonoma. Kona Joe’s offers tours, has a coffee bar and gift shop, is immaculately maintained and has breathtaking views of the Kona Coast. For tour times, see their ad in Tour Guide.

Continuing south, brings you to the turn off for Kealakekua Bay (Napo’opo’o Road). At the bottom of this beautiful winding road, turn right to see the Capt. Cook Monument. Tour Guide will give great info about this historic area.

Stay along the coast headed south, on the single lane road for 4 miles, and you will arrive at Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park, also known as the “Place of Refuge”. Tour Guide help will make this magical spot come alive; for even more information, visit here.

Along the sea cliffs that surround the Island of Hawai’i, arches and sea stacks are formed where wild waves and tides exploit minute differences in the hardness of various layers of lava flow and airfall material, making strange, gravity-defying natural sculptures. Although common, there are few places where these arches and stacks are easily viewable–one such place is the Holei Sea Arch, which is currently directly seaward of the end of the Chain of Craters Road.

At Holei Sea Arch the cliffs are 80 to 90 feet high, but many waves still spray and wash over them, so use caution when approaching and photographing the arch. Notice along the lower cliffs in the area toward the eruption viewing platform, the several large boulders which have been dropped by giant, angry waves crashing over the sea cliffs. Imagine the power of a wave that would have enough force to deposit a several-ton boulder on a cliff 30 feet about the surface of the ocean.

For more information about traveling to Hawaii in general and touring the Big Island in general, visit and

Reprinted for here.


The interesting thing about sky-watching is the fact that although the seasonal constellations are predictable, what you may see at any designated time is not. Planetary movement and other recurring events take place on different cycles than the background of stars so we can’t always count on seeing the same combination of sights in the sky at the same times. That keeps me in business.

So what we will see in the sky this July is not unusual, but a fortunate arrangement of celestial constituents that will be easy and convenient to view. Four naked-eye planets dot the evening skies this month, with two staging a nice pairing together and beautiful Venus making its reappearance back into the night. Although it might be challenging to spot Venus low in the western sky after sunset during the first half of the month, by the end of the July it will be climbing higher out of the light and easier to spot.

A nice highlight will be the conjunction of Mars and Saturn in the constellation Leo on July 9 and 10. The rust-colored planet and pale yellow Saturn have been slowly creeping closer over the past weeks and will be at their closest on those two dates (although the 10th is technically the closest date, both nights are good for viewing). Included in the lineup is the brightest star in Leo, Regulus, which is on that planet highway called the ecliptic. As a bonus, on July 5 a small crescent Moon joins the group as Mars closes in. That evening going from west to east, you can see the Moon next to the star Regulus, followed by Mars and Saturn. Make sure you start early however, because this gathering will set by 10:00 P.M.

Jupiter is also impressive in the east as the sun sets. The giant planet is at opposition now, meaning that it is on the opposite side of our sky than the sun (think “Sun, Earth, Jupiter” in that order). It appears bigger and brighter in the night sky at this time and is visible in the sky the whole night. Now would be a great time to take out a pair of binoculars and look for the famous features that characterize Jupiter, like the Galilean satellites and the distinct bands of color on the planet. The monster hurricane, the Great Red Spot, is visible with telescopes but not necessarily with average binoculars.

While the planets steal the spotlight this month, don’t forget to pay attention to the summer Milky Way! The hazy band of light extending from north to south is part of the galaxy we reside in and offers many binocular and telescopic sights along the way. The area roughly between Scorpius’ stinger and Sagittarius’ “spout” is particularly wide since that direction is the bulbous center of our galaxy, approximately 26,000 light years away. Rather than individual points of light we see the accumulation of the millions of stars obscured by gas and dust. Right now you can see the Milky Way stretching from the southwest in the direction of the Southern Cross (early in the evening) through the Summer Triangle toward Perseus in the northeast in the early morning hours.


With so many objects to look for in the skies, it’s difficult to cram everything into one article every month. Consider our planetarium as the next best thing to the real sky, one with a personal “guide” to the stars. An evening program is held on the first Fridays of the month, with sky viewing if the weather is clear. However since it falls on the 4th of July this month, the program has been moved to Friday, July 11. It begins promptly at 8:00 P.M. and reservations are strongly recommended. Call 848-4168.


The Phoenix lander is busily performing its tasks since touchdown on Mars a little over a month ago. What the mission has already done for space exploration was demonstrated by the difficult EDL phase, or Entry, Descent and Landing. Many previous missions were lost in this critical phase, including the predecessor of Phoenix, and since one of the science goals of the mission is to prepare for human exploration, NASA had to prove that landing a craft on Mars has improved dramatically. It appears that goal is well on its way. See for more information.

The Planets


The second of two annual opportunities to experience Lahaina Noon comes this month. Between May and July the sun passes directly overhead for areas within the Tropics. During Lahaina Noon objects that are directly perpendicular to the sun, such as flagpoles or fences, have no shadows since the “shadow” would be cast “under” the object. Times vary by location, so check the website for more information:

Also, aphelion takes place on July 3, the Earth’s farthest point in its orbit around the sun. Coincidentally the Moon is in a new phase at the same time, so the effect of the tides will be enhanced. Higher tides than normal usually occur during this alignment.


Mercury is in the morning sky now, rising around 4:30 A.M. in early July. By the last week it will be too close to the sunrise to spot as it rounds around the backside of the sun to reappear in the evening sky.


For the casual viewer, Venus will be very difficult to spot until mid-month, when it is a little farther from the sun in the western sky at sunset. However the “window” to see it will be short for this month since the planet sets before darkness by 8:00 P.M.


Mars is cruising through Leo, meeting up with Saturn along the way and by the end of the month will pass through the constellation on the way to Virgo. The planet is slowly receding from us in its orbit and dimming as it goes, but is still easily visible to the unaided eyes.


Jupiter reaches opposition on the evening of July 9, rising in the east as the sun sets. If the weather is nice, this is an excellent night to see the four evening planets in the sky. You will need to get somewhere you can see all the way to the western horizon, and starting from that point shortly after sunset (around 7:30 P.M.) look for Venus low in the west, followed by Mars and Saturn close together about halfway up in the western sky and Jupiter rising in the east.

Although Mars and Saturn are set for a rendezvous Saturn’s position changes very little with respect to the starry background. The ringed planet is much farther away than our neighbor Mars, therefore orbiting the sun at a slower rate of speed. Where Mars orbits the sun in almost 687days, Saturn takes 29.5 years!

For more information on touring Hawaii in general and the Big Island in particular, visit and

Kilauea Iki, meaning little Kilauea, is the still seething remnant of a quite recent (1959), spectacular eruption that filled the crater with a molten lake of lava and threw fire fountains as much as 1900 feet in the air. For a sense of scale, the worlds tallest building, the Taipei 101 which is 101 stories tall and 1667 feet high, would be dwarfed by these fire fountains.

Distances across the crater are hard to guess, as steam jets up from small cracks in the now-hardened lava-lakes surface and the minute specks of hikers cross its black expanse, but the crater today is more than a mile long, 3000 feet across and almost 400 feet from the rim to the surface. At its peak, the volcano spewed about two million tons of lava per hour; however, between spurts, much of this liquid drained back into the subterranean plumbing of the caldera, thus giving the distinctive ring-around-the-crater look to Kilauea Iki.

For more information about touring Hawaii in general and the Big Island in particular, visit and

Driving south on Hwy 270, just past the town of Hawi, you will see the tourguidehawaturn off for Hwy 250 on the mountain side of the road. This hwy will take you over Kohala Mountain to the town of Waimea. This hwy is rated by AAA Travel as one of the top 10 most scenic highways in the U.S. Along the way you will pass through beautiful pasture lands, areas for horseback riding, ranch style dinners, ATV tours and Hummer tours. Tour Guide will give the history of this area as well as activities offered here.

At the other end of Hwy 250 is Waimea. This town is known for the paniolo, the Hawaiian word for cowboy, and the Parker Ranch. At 3500 ft elevation, the cooler climate is perfect for growing all sorts of fruits and vegetables as well as a variety of livestock. There are also some fabulous restaurants featuring some of the best chefs in the world. Tour Guide will tell you about the storied history, museums, tours, shopping and dining. For such a small town there is a lot to do here.

From Waimea, it’s time to head south on Hwy 190 on our way back to Kona. Along the way is Waikoloa Village. This is mostly a residential town but is built around the Waikoloa Village Golf Course. This Robert Trent Jones Jr. designed course has some stunning views from the 2000 ft elevation. Tour Guide will show you where there is a shopping center with grocery, restrooms, restaurants and a gas station.

Super Tip: Finding restrooms on the road can be difficult when you are driving in unfamiliar territory. Tour Guide has a special feature that helps you to find the nearest public restroom anywhere you are on the island. This is super handy when touring with the family.

Along the way back to Kona, you will pass some of the finest beaches and most interesting historical and cultural spots on the Kona-Kohala Coast. Tour Guide can tell you all about these fascinating places, as well as opportunities here for whale watching, wild-life viewing, hiking and sight-seeing.

From Waikoloa Village, continue driving south on Hwy 190, about 30 minutes, until you arrive back in Kona. Tour Guide will give you turn-by-turn directions to your resort to end you’re second day of touring by car.

For more information on touring Hawaii in general and visiting the Big Island in particular, go to and

Along the sea cliffs that surround the Island of Hawai’i, arches and sea stacks are formed where wild waves and tides exploit minute differences in the hardness of various layers of lava flow and airfall material, making strange, gravity-defying natural sculptures. Although common, there are few places where these arches and stacks are easily viewable–one such place is the Holei Sea Arch, which is currently directly seaward of the end of the Chain of Craters Road.

At Holei Sea Arch the cliffs are 80 to 90 feet high, but many waves still spray and wash over them, so use caution when approaching and photographing the arch. Notice along the lower cliffs in the area toward the eruption viewing platform, the several large boulders which have been dropped by giant, angry waves crashing over the sea cliffs. Imagine the power of a wave that would have enough force to deposit a several-ton boulder on a cliff 30 feet about the surface of the ocean.

For more information on touring Hawaii in general and the Big Island in particular, go to and

Produced by Donnie MacGowan; videography by Donnie MacGowan and Frank Burgess; narrated by Frank Burgess; original music written and performed by Donnie MacGowan.

Called Honu by Hawaii’s natives, the Hawaiian Green Sea turtle is beautiful, serene and seeming wise. Though they have swum the oceans for over 200 million years peacefully feeding on algae and invertebrates and living the turtle dream, this highly successful product of amphibian evolution is in grave danger. Loss of habitat, hunting and molestation by humans has conspired to push the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle to the very verge of extinction.

Protected now by state and federal law, the population of once millions of individuals has been decimated to just a few hundred thousand; although they are making a comeback Hawaii’s honu are still very much endangered.

Honu may grow up to 45 inches and weigh as much as 400 pounds at maturity, reached at 25 years of age. Hawaiian Green sea turtles can easily be differentiated from the other near shore sea turtle in Hawaii, the much less common Hawksbill turtle, by counting the scales between the eyes. Hawksbills have four scales between the eyes and Hawaiian Green Sea turtles have two.

Lady honu crawl on shore to lay their eggs, generally after migration to the quieter shores of the French Frigate Shoals, 800 miles northwest of Hawaii, or the black sand beaches on the south end of the Big Island of Hawaii.

Danger to the turtles comes from a myriad of directions; toxic waste, floating balloons and plastic bags, Styrofoam, plastic six-pack rings, abandoned fish nets and line, not to mention getting caught in active fishing operations. As if this weren’t bad enough, new and debilitating diseases are afflicting the Hawaiian green sea turtle. Near public beaches, resorts and other areas heavily impacted by human activity as many as 90% of the turtles are dying slow, painful deaths from tumors, infections and other diseases as well as parasites which attack the diseased flesh.

Humans have caused this misery and the decline in these magnificent creatures lives…visitors who wish to see the turtles must take care not to further stress them. Do not approach basking turtles closely, never touch or pick them up. Harassing turtles carries a stiff fine and in any case, touching the turtle is a good way to get a raging salmonella infection. If honu are swimming near where you are, do not approach or chase them; always swim to the side of them, never above (as a predatory shark would) nor below them (so they won’t feel that their soft belly is at risk).

Anyone who observes their beauty and grace underwater easily understands how the Hawai’ians base their word for “peace”, “honua” on their name for the green sea turtle, “honu”.

It is within our grasp, this generation, to save or destroy forever these ancient animals; treat them gently and with respect.

More information is available by visiting: and