The Big Island – Hawaii – Day 9 & Coming Home


Swimming with wild dolphins is the first item on our agenda this morning. We swam with dolphins when we were in Mexico in 2019 at Dolphin Discovery. That was an amazing experience but totally different from what our plan is for today. Todays plan involves finding a moving pod of dolphins and being placed in the water ahead of them and let them swim around/over/under us.

Around 3000 spinner dolphins live around the Hawaiian islands. Dolphins feed at night when their food comes up to shallower waters. They then return to the sheltered coves of the islands each day to sleep. Dolphins sleep is very unique in that they:

  1. Sleep together as a pod for safety.
  2. Rather than staying stationary, they actually swim slowly.
  3. Only half their brain sleeps at a time.
  4. They keep one eye open to watch for threats.

Spinner dolphins are smaller than the more commonly known Bottlenose dolphin, and they jump out of the water and spin for an unknown reason. Some scientists think it may be to remove sucker fishes that attach to the dolphins or as a form of communication – I like to think it is because it is just so much fun!

Our tour company provided snacks and drinks and told us to help ourselves. Those are dangerous words when speaking to hungry teenagers. We had to start telling the kids no more after they got close to approaching double digits (my boys were obviously the biggest offenders). Then again the tours aren’t cheap at around $120/person and snacks are cheap, so I don’t think we’ll put them out of business.

This is a video created by our tour guide during the excursion.

As you can see, this was a very cool experience. When we got back to shore, there was a police officer there that wanted to talk to our captain. We asked what was going on and found out that Hawaii is trying to pass some new laws that make “chasing” dolphin pods illegal. They don’t want to disturb or change the behavior of these wild animals. We are very conservation minded and agree that we should do everything possible to enjoy nature, but not disturb it. I’m not sure what the right balance is in this case. The tour companies claim that they are simply putting people in the water and the dolphins come to us. They limit the number of times they drop people to two to three times during the tour, even though they could probably do more. It will be interested to see what they decide to do.

As we were leaving the tour, they let us know that we were able to redeem a 20% off any future tours with them and that they still had space open for their Manta Ray tour tonight. We fly out out tonight at 10:30 pm and they said they could get us back from the tour by 8:00 pm. This is going to make it a very tight, but we figured we could make it work, so we booked it.

We stopped for lunch at J&L Hawaiian BBQ and we stopped at Costco to get some chocolate covered Macadamia nuts. We had a few unscheduled hours, so we decided to do a hike in the jungle that we tried to do yesterday but when we arrived it was a complete downpour. Makuala O’Oma Trail is the highest rated trail on AllTrails in the Kailua Kona area and is about 3.4 miles roundtrip. This mountain gets a lot of moisture and parts of it definitely feel like you’re in the jungle. There are a few interconnecting paths and a few places that go beyond the actual trail, so watch for rocks with white paint as your indicator of where to turn to stay on the main trail.

We saw a lot of areas where wild pigs had been digging, but we didn’t see the pigs themselves. We found an avocado tree and an un-ripe avocado on our trail. It didn’t look like the avocados in the store, and the seeds we saw laying on the ground seemed almost too large, but when we broke it open it was obviously an avocado.

After our hike, we stopped for another round of shaved ice at a local Kona favorite, One Aloha. They have organic fruit flavors sweetened with cane sugar. I didn’t want all the sugar this time, so I ordered a smoothie without sweetener. I used to eat fruit smoothies on my church mission to Brazil all the time and really enjoyed them.

They have a lot more options than our previous store and the kids got to try ice cream in the center of the shaved ice. Bryan was the most daring and chose the Ube flavor (this ice cream is made of purple yam). You can’t tell from this strange camera face, but he actually really enjoyed it.

Our Manti Ray excursion was not what I expected in both positive and negative ways. First the boat ride out to the place was pretty far away and took quite a while to get there. Considering the good weather, the waves were much higher than I was expecting. Several of my family members are prone to sea sickness and took Dramamine before we started out. The kids had a really good and it felt like a ride at an amusement park. When we finally arrived, we waited for the sun to set before getting into the water. Watching the sun set over the ocean is always neat.

Our guide discouraged us from getting wet suits saying the water temperature is the same as it is during the day and we did fine during the dolphin excursion. This excursion was very different. They put a large floating device with bright lights shining straight down. Each person held on to handholds and with the provided pool noodle (they told us to put it under our feet) we were supposed to lay flat. The pool noodle slipped out from under my feet a few times and it was really hard to get it back into place. I wish they had figured out a better system. Accidentally kicking or just touching the Manta Rays could injure them – they are prone to infection. So basically for 45 minutes we were floating in 77-82 degree water, not exerting any energy. The sun was down, the wind was blowing, we weren’t fully submerged, and all of us were just shivering because we were so cold.

Manta Rays are amazing creatures and I’m sure we just scratched the surface. Here are some of the things I remember:

  1. Manta Rays are part of the shark family.
  2. They are harmless to humans and they do not have stinger like their relatives the Sting Rays.
  3. They feed on phytoplankton.
  4. Adult Manta Rays have a wing/fin span of 12-14 feet on average (I expected them to be much smaller like Sting Rays). Giant Manta Rays can have a 29 foot span.
  5. They can be identified by the unique spots on the underside. There are websites that provide pictures and names of all that are known.
  6. We don’t know how old Manta Rays can get, but some have been visiting these same areas for 40-50 years.
  7. The most common injury to Manta Rays are caused when they approach the surface and get hid by boats.

This is footage from my iPhone XR in a waterproof case. We started off with only one Manta, and at one point had three swimming together right beneath us.

After our excursion, we planned to change out of our wet swimsuits in the restrooms at the dock, return our car, and get to the airport with 60-90 minutes to spare before our flight departed. Unfortunately, things did not go as planned. The first issue was the bathrooms were closed and locked. We figured that would be a minor setback since we needed to go to a gas station anyways to fill up the rental car. The first gas station we went to their bathrooms were also closed for cleaning. The second gas station said they didn’t have any bathrooms for public use. We decided to change at the airport which is going to be a pain since our luggage is mostly packed up but we had a lot of stuff loose in the car.

We arrived at the car rental place and had to scoop out handfuls of loose items – I’m sure we looked pretty ridiculous. Luckily they had an open restroom that we could change and repack our suitcases. However, it was at this point my son realized he was missing his camel pack which also some had some personal items like a watch and book. We tried to get AVIS to let us take our car or another for 20 minutes but they said they would have to charge us a full day rate of $80. We also looked at getting an Uber/Lyft, but that was fairly expensive as well and would likely take longer. We decided to leave it and get to the airport as we are now about an hour away from our flight departure.

We arrived at the airport and were very surprised to see a huge outdoor line to get through security. We instantly realized we were likely going to miss our flight. The gentlemen just ahead of us asked us to hold his spot and he went to check on something. We agreed and we were excited when he came back moments later with news that there was a separate TSA-pre check line. I received a Global Entry last year because my credit card offered to refund 100% of the cost. Global Entry gives me TFS PreCheck and because all of my children are minors, they were also selected for TSA PreCheck. We left Jeri behind and walked past the huge line to the TSA PreCheck which was essentially empty. I asked if my wife could come through with us and she declined. As we were getting processed, the supervisor came over and told her to start accepting people from the regular line. With pleading eyes, I looked back at her and asked, “Can I bring my wife through now?” She said as long as you hurry. Caleb was ready and started sprinting back to Jeri. She quickly made her way up and we all went through security together in just a few minutes. We were able to relax for about 20 minutes before boarding our plane. The whole experience was just another miracle we experienced on our trip. Had we gone back form the backpack, I’m pretty sure we would have missed our airplane.

The red-eye flight back to California was decent. Delta is still trying to block out the middle seats but because of cancellations and still trying to get people to their destinations, they filled several seats including the one on our row on the way here. On the way home we had an empty seat and didn’t have to sit by strangers. It made it a little more comfortable and we got a little sleep. After arriving at LAX, we found our spot on the second floor again and tried to rest some more before our flight back home.

After one last flight we are officially back in Utah!

In my mind, one of the indications of a good vacation is that the kids are worn out. All of our kids slept the entire drive home. Not sure why Bryan is cuddling with an adjustable wrench :-).

Thank you for following us on our adventure. Next year, Jeri and I will be traveling to China! Subscribe to my blog for updates.

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