Hula Kai is the only Hawaii Island cruise where guests can use sea rockets. // © 2014 Living Ocean Productions
Feature image (above): Hula Kai takes clients to remote and dramatic snorkel sites. // © 2014 CJ Kale
As my family and I boarded Hula Kai, a Hawaii Island snorkel cruise boat, we were greeted by Captain Kirk — his actual name, just like the “Star Trek” television and movie character. By the end of the five-hour trip, it was clear to me just how fitting the name was, as this particular Captain Kirk helped us boldly go where no tour has gone before.
Many of the island’s snorkel tours take their clients to Kealakekua Bay, a popular Marine Life Conservation District and a great place to view colorful tropical fish and coral reefs.
But Hula Kai — a sleek 55-foot, 42-passenger power catamaran — bypasses the often-crowded bay and seeks out its own snorkeling spots. Due to its smaller size, faster speeds and hydrofoil technology, Hula Kai zips guests to two remote sites where clients have the waters to themselves.
As he steered the craft out of Keauhou Bay, Captain Kirk — who goes by Kirk Hering on shore — told me he reads the winds and waves to find his snorkeling spots. Along the south Kona coast, he chooses from 15 options. He also picks his locations by evaluating the age, experience and energy level of his guests.
"The bottom line is to select sites that are safe for my passengers, while providing a snorkeling experience they won't get with other companies,” said Hering.
Our first stop was an isolated cove flanked by dramatic sea cliffs. Reefs were teeming with marine life, such as yellow tang and striped Moorish idol fish. Lava tubes, sea arches and littoral (sea) caves added to the stunning sunken landscape.
For the second stop, Hering headed farther south to an equally picturesque site known for its abundance of sea turtles, which were easy to spot in the clear, calm waters. At both locations, we had plenty of time to paddle around using the masks, fins and snorkels provided by the crew.
Upscale Onboard Experience
Our day onboard Hula Kai was distinctive for other reasons as well. Catering to the luxury travel market, the posh vessel featured shaded, individual theater-style seats with arm rests, a Bose sound system, a large commercial grill, two staircases into the water, two freshwater showers and two restrooms.
The onboard breakfast and lunch, served during the two stops, were first rate. Since Fair Wind Cruises (Hula Kai’s parent company) sources many of its ingredients locally, we savored the likes of farm-grown Kona coffee, seasonal tropical fruit, salads with local lettuce and burgers with Hawaii Island beef.
As another perk, we were given the chance to try stand-up paddleboarding right off the deck and “Snuba,” a cross between snorkeling and scuba that requires no certification.
Hula Kai is the only cruise that offers sea rockets, available for an additional $25 per person. These handheld underwater propulsion vehicles make it easier to free dive for a closer look at marine life. One member of our group emerged from the water and said his sea rocket was the best $25 he ever spent.
A day on Hula Kai gave us a top-flight exploration of Hawaii’s subaqueous universe. With Captain Kirk at the helm, the upscale snorkel cruise was simply out of this world.