Diving with Hawaiian dolphins

Just like everyone else, this year looks a little different than what I had planned. Instead of having a wedding in Costa Rica in July and then travelling around the world on a year-long honeymoon/sabbatical, Guillermo and I stuck it out in our NYC apartment until six months into the pandemic when we decided to move to the Big Island of Hawaii for a few months. After quarantining in a hotel on the island for 14 days after our arrival (where I’m happy to say we did not kill each other!), we’ve been living in Kona since late September.

What drew us to the Big Island? The Big Island is known for some of the best scuba diving in Hawaii (and the world!), and we’ve been lucky enough to travel here on vacation two times before. Once we knew our sabbatical was going to look nothing like what we’d planned and that it was going to involve two or three stops, not a whirlwind tour of the world, we knew the Big Island would be our first stop.

While we have more space to spread out and opportunities to be outside here than we had in NYC, we’re still following the strict mask wearing and social distancing rules on the island. The easiest way to do this is to shore dive, just the two of us. Shore diving can be a challenge in Hawaii, since the coastline is almost exclusively made up of lava rocks, which does not exactly make for an easy entry/exit into and out of the water (especially with scuba gear on!). We’ve enjoyed the adventure of it, though, and the extra effort it takes to haul our gear around and down to the water has paid off more than I’d ever imagined.

Last week, we explored a favorite spot of ours, Honaunau Bay, which is a protected bay that is popular among snorkelers, scuba divers, and free divers. It’s also known as “Two-Step” because there are two lava rock steps that you step onto to enter and exit the water (although we learned that, depending on the tide, the steps sometimes disappear or are so far apart that you can’t really step on them, it’s more like a leap into the water or a crawl up and out of it).

At the bay, there’s a parking lot where you can pay $5 to park for the day (the proceeds go to support a local church). We heard that in normal times the site and parking lot is packed, but there’s always been plenty of space in the lot (we’re usually the first ones there). We park in the shade, gear up (it’s a process!), and make the trek down to the “two-steps” entryway to get into the water.

While the site is always beautiful and full of fish, on this day, we were treated to the dive of a lifetime. When we arrived at the bay a little after 7 a.m., we saw a couple of snorkelers out in the water and realized they were not the only ones making splashes– there were dolphins there, too! We rushed to put on our gear and headed into the bay, hoping the dolphins would hang around long enough for us to catch a glimpse of them underwater.

Well, not only did they stick around, but we were able to dive for two hours with 19 Hawaiian spinner dolphins! We used up one tank of air, got out of the water, did our surface interval, and headed back in with tank #2 to the same spot. The dolphins were there for the entire time! We hung around at about 50-60 feet while the dolphins dove and swam around us, played with leaves, spun around, surfaced once in a while to breath, and came back down again and again. We spent the dives totally mesmerized and in total awe of them. It was a dream come true!

As my brother called it when I sent him the videos, that was a “top life highlight.” And it definitely was. Not a dive I’ll ever be able to recreate again or ever forget!

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