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As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, I am not a snorkeling enthusiast. So, when I was given an assignment to write about a combined sea kayaking and snorkel tour to Kealakekua Bay on Hawaii’s Big Island, I had some hesitations.
For one thing, I’ve never kayaked before. (I’m not the athletic type in the least.) Secondly, I’d have to snorkel. Now, having snorkeled a few times, I can say it has definitely grown on me but, at this point, I was not a total convert.
Nevertheless, I was determined to make my assigning editor proud and, in retrospect, my guided tour with Adventures in Paradise (AIP) turned out to be one of the best experiences of my recent trip to Hawaii.
While I begrudgingly woke up early that morning to make it to my 7:30 a.m. tour, I later felt thankful to get a head start on snorkeling in the bay, before it later became overrun with catamarans and hundreds of snorkelers.
After a 15-minute drive from Keauhou to our meeting point, I was greeted by our guide for the tour, Aubrey “Brey” Crow, and co-owner Karen Hand. Together with her husband, Geoff, a seasoned kayak outfitter from Monterey, Calif., Karen founded AIP in Kailua-Kona in 2001. AIP is one of only two tour operators licensed to operate in Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park, home of a monument to Captain James Cook, the first Westerner to discover the Hawaiian Islands.
Brey and Karen were warm and friendly, inviting me to sign waiver forms and fill out a questionnaire about my previous (and limited) kayak and snorkel experiences. They also noticed that I had brought along a camera, and they gave me a dry sack to store my valuables.
Once our group of 10 got settled, we hopped into Karen’s van and headed toward Kealakekua Bay, a protected marine life conservation district. (In February, the state began prohibiting public access to land vessels and snorkeling in the bay.) Along the way, Brey and Karen told us about local landmarks and the exotic natural vegetation we saw from our windows.
We were some of the first kayakers to arrive at the bay. After Karen and Brey readied our kayaks and outfitted us with life jackets and snorkel gear, we were ready to head out to the monument, which I could see from across the bay.
Brey kayaked with me in our two-person vessel. While I was lucky to have Brey as my kayak partner, your clients need not be experienced (or physically fit) kayakers or snorkelers to enjoy and complete the tour.
The 1½-mile journey to the monument was awe-inspiring. I especially loved how the ocean changed to different shades of blue the farther we kayaked, getting deeper and richer with every paddle stroke. Brey told us the history of the monument and, after learning that the bay is the purported spot where islanders threw Captain Cook’s body into the ocean in 1779, I felt slightly unsettled about my impending snorkel tour.
Once we reached the monument, Brey carefully lifted the boats onto shore, making sure that the plastic hulls didn’t shred on the sharp lava rocks and contaminate the rocks with tiny remnants of toxic plastic. Then, after walking toward the monument itself, we jumped feet first into the water.
Eventually, I warmed up to the idea of snorkeling here. The reef was full of amazing sights, from rainbow-colored parrot fish to a giant sea turtle whose eyes seemed to twinkle while he swam through the reef. In fact, I loved snorkeling here so much that I actually didn’t want to leave when it was time to go.
After snorkeling, we walked toward a more remote part of the lava rock beach, where we feasted on a spread of fresh fruit and snacks. Not long after we began to eat, one member of our group called out to us. She and her girlfriend had come across a sunbathing Hawaiian monk seal.
We walked over to them and saw little B19 (researchers give each seal a nondescript and boring name). Brey said he’d seen B19 many times before and that, although he looked very cute, we should keep our distance because 1) B19 was known to be “aggressively friendly” and attracted to women; and 2) it was the law to stay away from endangered monk seals. From afar, we snapped a few photos of him and then returned to our picnic spot.
By the time we left, the bay was packed. I was glad we saw what we did before the crowds scared away all the beautiful wildlife. I can also safely say that I’d gladly kayak and snorkel again if all of my experiences could be as memorable as this one.
Clients should wear a swimsuit and water shoes, as well as a hat and sleeved-shirt for added sun protection. Rates start at $79.95 per person. Commission is available; agents should call Geoff Hand at 808-323-3005 to set up an agreement.