Sunday, May 25, 2014

Pacific Whale Foundation Wildside Eco-Adventure, Lanai

[Sadly, I somehow accidentally deleted my own pictures of the trip, so these stock photos will have to do.]

Let me start by saying that this is hands-down the best snorkeling trip I’ve been on, putting last year’s Molokini snorkel trip to shame. Why? Well, that’s what you’re here to read about so I guess I’ll tell you.

The Ocean Adventurer; note the canopy
My group left out of Lahaina harbor a little after 7:30am on the Ocean Adventurer, a powered pontoon boat that seats up to 30 people. My group was fortunate in that there were only 16 people (not including 2 crewmembers) on the trip because what with everyone’s gear and whatnot, I don’t see how 30 people on this vessel would be at all comfortable. The Ocean Adventurer also features a canopy over most of the vessel to keep the brutal sun off you, unlike the other PWF pontoon vessel that usually goes out to Molokini. (Though it was a cloudy day, people who stayed up in the front of the boat where there is no canopy did get a little burned, even with sunscreen.) Once aboard, we powered our way 45 minutes -1 hour over to east Lanai and proceeded to head south and around to the west side, being that ocean conditions and weather dictate which way the boat travels and what snorkeling stops they make, meaning, each time you take this trip may make for a much different experience.

Sweetheart Rock
Once at Lanai’s coastline, Captain Carl (super nice guy) skipped over some regular snorkel spots that weren’t up to par this day and opted to take us to our first snorkel spot at Sweetheart Rock. (Why is it called Sweetheart Rock? Captain Carl will tell you the whole story.) Although the surf was a little bouncy, it was still a great stop with a high fish count and interesting underwater topography. In fact, if you’re at all good at free diving, there are some underwater arches to test your mettle. Ah, yes, they let you dive under the water on this trip, something other tours ask you not to do, though this may have had something to do with the abilities of the people on board. Still, it was a nice bit of freedom. Better still, when you get out of the water, there is a nice fresh water hose to rinse off with; a nice touch. After Captain Carl gave us some history, we headed out for another snorkel spot.

Along the way, Captain Carl put the pedal to the metal and did a couple of nice S-turns, hence the “Wild” portion of the trip. Granted, I’ve been on faster boats but it was still fun, especially with the surf being a little bouncy. At our second stop at Shark Fin Rock, the fish count AND fish diversity was even greater than at the first stop. Even though I was a little hesitant to get in the water at first since the first stop was a bit cool in terms of water temp 
White Pyramid Butterfly Fish
(yes, the water temp is a little lower here than it is off the Maui coast), as soon as I saw all the fish I forgot about the water temperature. Honestly, there were so many fish I got tired of taking pictures! We saw plenty of white triangle butterfly fish, to, which I guess are really rare over on Maui (I guess so since this is the first time I’ve ever seen them). And again, there was some interesting underwater topography.

Dolphins - Yes, they get even closer.
After Shark Fin Rock, our naturalist, Jackson, told us all about the fish and reef animals. It would otherwise be a boring presentation, but Jackson is clearly passionate about the ocean and that kind of passion makes even the mundane interesting. Unfortunately for Jackson, we were eventually interrupted by a school of spotted dolphin which we were so close to they were literally swimming alongside the boat and jumping out of the water as close as 15 feet away. Wow; best part of the trip. From there we kept heading west along the sea cliffs.

I will admit that our last stop wasn’t too impressive which may have had a lot to do with the weather, although two people did say they spotted eagle rays. I got out of the water just a few minutes too soon, apparently. But after we got out the crew gave us bagged lunches which included turkey and cheese sandwiches, small apples, a bag of mixed nuts, and soda and drinks and fruit which are available throughout the trip. While the food was nothing particularly great – it never is on such tours – it is still nice that it is provided at all. All things considered, I don’t consider the food a letdown at all. At about this time, it’s about 5 hours into the trip and time to head home. True, it’s a long slog back to Lahaina harbor if you don’t get to circumnavigate Lanai as we did not this day due to weather conditions, but that just gives you time to kick back and reflect on the day. The trip was worth every penny.

Anything else to note? Yes, if you think you’re going to get even a little queasy on a small vessel, take some Dramamine first. If you don’t know if you get sea sick, take the Dramamine, ‘cause unless you’re dying, the boat isn’t turning around for you. And bring warm clothes; when you’re wet and the boat is moving fast, it can be quite chilly out there. Got it? Alright then, have fun out there!