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Early in the morning at Hilton Waikoloa Village, six kayakers and a guide had the resort’s vast, main lagoon all to themselves.
Except for a few frolicking dolphins, that is.
The guests, composed of adults and children ages 5 and older, were taking part in Sunrise Dolphin Kayak, one of the newest Dolphin Quest programs offered at the Hawaii Island resort. The dolphins, that go by names including Nimbus, Pele and Keo, had decided to swim along with the group on this particular day.
“Our programs are always voluntary for the dolphins,” said Tim Murphy, general manager for Dolphin Quest Hawaii. “They are educational and playful sessions of mutual discovery.”
Of course, any kind of dolphin encounter can lead to lifelong family memories, but the sunrise option takes the interaction between man and mammal to a splashy new level. While other Hilton Waikoloa dolphin programs are located in a separate, smaller habitat, this kayak tour provides an exclusive way to explore the resort’s signature, ocean-fed lagoon — teeming with reef fish, sea turtles and other marine life — at a time when the water visibility is at its best.
The 30-minute sunrise program starts as guests meet their Dolphin Quest guide, don life jackets and wade into the lagoon’s shallow waters. They get acquainted with the dolphins, and they learn different hand signals that help the trainers communicate with the animals and care for them. For instance, the motion that asks a dolphin to roll over on its side for a soft belly rub is the same gesture that the staff uses to perform an ultrasound.
Next, clients board their kayaks and paddle around the lagoon, with dolphins following along and showing off their special skills. As participants glide here and there, they test out their newly learned hand signals and marvel at how the clever creatures respond. A finger pointed to the sky and a dolphin does a high jump. A light touch to the top of a dolphin’s head results in a surprising series of squeaks through the blowhole, much to the delight of visitors young and old.
Sunrise Dolphin Kayak appeals to nature lovers, adventure seekers and animal buffs of all ages, making it the perfect shared outing for parents and their kids. Professional photographers and videographers document the occasion, allowing guests to better describe their exploits to folks back home.
“We have some guests who return to Dolphin Quest year after year, so this is a great new way for them to connect with the dolphins in our expanded lagoon habitat,” Murphy said. “It is also an enriching experience for the dolphins.”
As with all of Dolphin Quest’s offerings, Sunrise Dolphin Kayak teaches guests about dolphin natural history and factors affecting their health in the wild, along with ways people can help keep them safe. Murphy hopes participants will take away a newfound appreciation for marine animals and a passion to learn more about ocean conservation.
“We provide guests with a unique opportunity to get up-close to amazing animals that many people would never be able to experience otherwise,” Murphy said. “Our guests tell us that these opportunities inspire them to care about and protect wild dolphins that desperately need our help.”
Plus, the sunrise experience is just plain fun, as one guest shared after the tour.
“We ended up with a dolphin to ourselves as we kayaked,” said the guest. “It made for a really pleasant way to start the day.”
Sunrise Dolphin Kayak costs $185 per person.
The DetailsDolphin Questwww.dolphinquest.com