Diving ʻAuʻau and The Hive

When Dennis let me know he was heading south for ʻAuʻau Crater and that I was invited I didn’t even think about it… I’m in! When do we go?

The ʻAuʻau Wall
The wall at ʻAuʻau Crater
The furthest south I had been diving along the coast is the Red Hill area. The dive sites there are good, some of the best I had seen. The snorkeling at Kealakekua, even further south, is spectacular. I had read descriptions of the diving at ʻAuʻau, and had really wanted to see for myself.

It is a long drive past Kealakekua Bay to the ʻAuʻau Point area. As such we left Honokohau much earlier than usual, ready for a long day of diving. ʻAuʻau crater itself is visible on the shore, a classic littoral cone formed where lava met water and created an edifice much like a cinder cone from the resulting hydrothermal explosions. The cliffs are pocked with sea caves, many small, and some huge, large enough for us to drive the boat into on a calmer day.

The first hint about the site was the amazing glimpses of the terrain you could see from the surface as we crossed the area looking for the mooring. Boulders and coral 30 feet below us one moment, then nothing but deep blue the next. This site has a wall! Not just a little twenty foot wall as you see along the Kohala Coast. A sheer wall that we could not see the bottom of while we hovered at 100 feet. The wall just drops into the depths, inviting you ever further down into oblivion. On 32% EAN nitrox we dared not venture any deeper. This thing is at least 200 feet high, probably much more.

The wall is a mix of volcanic rubble, in places you can see layers, but mostly it is remnants of thousands of years of lava flows hitting the sea and creating sand and fragments of rock. On the ledges and in the little cavities life flourishes. Urchins and sea stars roam, but there is relatively little coral. This unstable surface is a poor place for the hard corals to colonize. One exception is wire coral, meter long specimens protrude here and there.

For our second dive the choice was The Hive. Arriving at the site revealed a small sea arch adjacent to the mooring large enough to drive the boat through. We did not know what to expect at the site. Thus the dive plan was to make a sweep out the edge of the reef and then back towards shore to check out the sea arch for possible caves. The sweep was pretty routine, a steep coral covered slope, nothing to hint at why there was a dive mooring here. Coming back to the arch revealed what was special about this spot! A set of great caves hide right under the arch at 25-30 ft depth. There were lobsters, innumerable flat rock-crabs, and several species of nudibranch to be found.

As I thought about leaving the caves after a first sweep I looked at my gauge… Still a thousand PSI in the tank! I turned around and headed back into the cave to find still more.

The Caves at The Hive
Dennis explores the big caves at The Hive
Entering the cave I immediately noted a Spanish dancer I had swum right past earlier. Looking through the large boulders at the entrance I found a few blue dragon nudibranch, always a pleasant find. Dennis was trying to get my attention from a few feet away. I insisted that he look to see what I had found, a blue dragon. When I looked to see what he was pointing at it was another blue dragon. They were everywhere, I lost count, it was just a matter of finding one better situated for photography.

We surfaced, a set of very happy divers, conversation buzzing as we compared notes. Diving has an interesting complication… Communication is limited underwater, you have to wait until you surface to ask questions and compare notes. We identify critters, sometimes grabbing the ragged and well used books Dennis keeps aboard to identify some rarity. We find out what others saw and what we missed. Through the conversation the dive is extended as we relive it one more time.

These are some of the most fantastic dive sites on the island. Not easy to get to but worth it. There are very few boats that run this far south, most vacation divers are happy with the dive sites near Honokohau and the boats need not venture very far from harbor. Jack’s Dive Locker runs a long range dive if there is sufficient interest. The Kona Agressor live-aboard is the only boat that regularly calls at these sites. The very occasional private boat like us is the only other practical way to get to these fantastic dive sites.

A Long Dive

Photography can be a tedious pursuit, even more so underwater where conditions can be very challenging. This leads to a regular issue in mixed dive parties. The photographers go slow, really slow. The other divers are ready to cover some ground. This occasionally means that the guys leave me behind.

Dive Profile
Dive profile for Suck ‘Em Up Cave
While diving alone is not recommended, the risk can be mitigated. I shift to a different set of rules, a far more conservative set of rules if I am on my own. I keep the depth much shallower, to where I could do an emergency ascent with little risk, this is generally 30ft or less. I do not go very far into a cave, perhaps working the twilight zone, but not getting into the back recesses of the many little caves common along the Kona coast. These sort of rules are usually not much of a compromise. Almost all of the dive sites on the Kona coast can be enjoyed while staying shallow. Many of my best finds have been in the twilight zone of the little reef caves. Staying shallow also has the benefit of extending the dive dramatically, it simply takes far less air to fill your lungs when shallow.

Gosline's Fang Blenny
Gosline’s fang blenny (Plagiotremus goslinei) sheltering in a worm tube, 20ft depth, Suck-Em-Up Cave
Suck-Em-Up cave fits the bill. The maximum depth here is 30ft, and there are so many entrances and skylights that an emergency ascent is always possible. The rest of the guys are planning to sweep the reef face and take a deep excursion before heading to the cave. I am planning to simply dive the cave as I have several photographic targets in mind. I am first into the water, swimming a few feet from the boat awaiting Pete, Ben and Dennis. A loud pop and woosh announces a blown o-ring on an air tank for Pete, this will lead to a short delay. I signal that I am dropping anyway, they know where I will be. The cave entrance is only a few yards from the boat. I give a salute and they wave back as I slide under.

Continue reading “A Long Dive”

Mouse in the House

Well? Mice actually… A lot of them.

Continued wet weather has kept the landscape green and allowed the weeds in my yard to multiply. It has also permitted a population explosion in the local mouse community here in Waikoloa. Now they are getting into the house.

A mouse, caught by the cats and photographed by the humans
Fortunately, we have cats.

Our cats had never caught a mouse before, we were not really sure that they would hunt mice. They are a terror for the geckoes and cockroaches. This worry was quickly laid to rest when the first mouse was killed. Multiple mice later and it becomes apparent that the hunting instinct is strong.

The garage had been forbidden territory, the cats kept out to keep them from getting into trouble. With the mice appearing that decision has been rescinded. The current morning routine is feed the cats, then open the garage door. Both felines immediately disappear into the garage. They may appear briefly to be fed, then it is back on post monitoring the rich hunting grounds of the garage.

The cats have shown their hunting prowess by putting the human to shame. My traps have only led to the capture of a single mouse. Currently the score is cats five, human one. I expect the score to rise far higher in the coming month.

Our well fed cats do not typically eat the mouse, but rather play with it until dead. Only one mouse has been recovered from the cats in good shape. Time to take another walk to the field above the house for release, after a few portraits.

We are not alone in our mouse issue, the entire village is being invaded. Elsewhere along the Kona coast it is much the same. I heard from my boss, who’s wife works at the macadamia nut processing facility in Kawaihae, that the mouse catch has risen from the usual handful, to over a hundred mice caught each day.

I had hoped the weather was drying out, that hope has been dashed by the breakup of a tropical storm and another rainy weekend. The mice will keep coming for a while. The humans may not appreciate this, the cats however…

July 20 Update: Human 3 Cats 5!
July 22 Update: Humans 4 Cats 6… Cats assessed a penalty, the mouse was let loose in the kitchen! Humans recover the fumble, caught in trap behind stove and released away from the house. New score Humans 5 – Cats 5… The score is tied!!.

July 23 Update: Humans 5 Cats 6 Evidence that humans missed one in trap as it ate all bait and got out…

July 27 Update: Humans 5 Cats 13 This is getting old, the mice just keep coming. At least one learned how to rob me of the bait in the traps, hopefully that was one of the three the cats got today.

July 29 Update: A mouse caught by Electra escapes in the bedroom, not recovered despite a major mousehunt by humans and cats. Sticky traps deployed.

July 30 Update: Two mice in one trap in the garage! Humans 7 Cats 13. Later in the day another mouse caught by a cat escapes in the bedroom. Caught by one of the sticky traps… Humans 8 Cats 13.

Final Update a month later… Humans 18 cats 16, we pull it out at the end. A few more traps deployed makes a difference. The mouse plague seems to have ended… For now.

Walking the 1871 Trail

A few hours free in Kealakekua… What to do. Drive down the Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau National Historic Park? Why not? Have camera will travel.

My goal was not to visit the sanctuary itself, I have been here several times. Instead, my plan was to walk the 1871 trail south along the shore, something I had never had a chance to do. I did start at the sanctuary, passing through and shooting a few photos of Kiʻ i before heading south.

1871 Trail
The 1871 Trail proceeds south from Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau
This historic trail proceeds south from the visitor center, cutting across the point and then along the shoreline. The trail connected villages and religious centers along the coast. North of the park the trail has become the modern route 160, crossing over the coastal plain to Kealakekua Bay. In satellite shots you can follow the trail along long sections of the Kona Coast. Along the Kohala Coast the King’s Trail was built in a similar fashion and serves the same purpose.

The trail is what was called a two-horse trail, wide enough for two horses to pass with room to spare, about eight feet wide. A curb of stone runs along both sides, while the roadbed between is cleared of rock and sometimes filled with sand or gravel to level the worst pits. In places the trial is built up to cross low areas with substantial stonework. The result reminded me in many ways of Roman roads in Europe, built to a similar pattern and cutting straight across the landscape.

On both side of the trail there are numerous remains of the ancient settlements. Stone walls and raised platforms reveal what was once a thriving settlement along the shoreline. There is the foundation of John Ahu’s house, complete with a cistern and an old grave. The remains of the ʻŌmaʻo Heiau, a hōlua slide and more are alongside the trail as you proceed. Ask at the visitor center desk for a guide to the various points of interest along the trail.

Kiʻilae Bay
A cove of blue water beneath the sea cliffs of Kiʻilae Bay
About a quarter mile south of the visitor center the trail reaches the shoreline and runs along the top of the sea cliffs. The view is stunningly beautiful… small coves of crystal blue water lie at the bottom of the rugged cliffs. The coral reef is clearly visible, even from fifty feet above you can make out fish feeding amongst the coral heads. Here and there the bright yellow of small schools of tangs add color to the blues and greens. Next time here I need to remember to bring some snorkeling gear.

About halfway the trail is built against a small sea cliff. A large stone ramp was constructed to allow travelers to ascend the cliff. The amount of stonework serves to highlight how much work went into building this coastal access trail.

The south boundary of the park is a mere 0.8 mile along the trail, an easy stroll. Perhaps add a couple points of difficulty for the rough, rocky nature of the trail. It takes about half an hour to reach the abandoned fishing village. From there the trail continues south, out of the park. It becomes substantially overgrown, the path reduced to a cut through the brush with the occasional branch to push aside. I proceeded a bit further, but became rather annoyed with the amount of spider web I was accumulating.

As I sit amongst the abandoned stone walls of Kiʻilae Village it is interesting to imagine what the scene would have looked like a well over century ago in the 1870’s. A thriving settlement with travelers coming and going along the trail. Fishermen carrying their catch home, village women doing the chores and shopping, the tasks of life that never really change. Perhaps a royal procession going north to the temples at Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau. The period was an interesting one, when western ways were mixing with the ancient patterns of life in the islands.

If you have some time while visiting Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau, take an hour and walk the old trail. The scenery alone makes it worthwhile, with a bit of history thrown in.

Diving the Naked Lady

A different sort of dive. There are few wrecks to dive on the Big Island, the Naked Lady is one of the few. An Easter Sunday morning spent out on the water, enjoying a beautiful day. As we came back across Kailua Bay from diving at Casa Cave we decided to dive the wreck as our second dive of the day.

Diving the Naked Lady
Andrew Cooper diving on the wreck of the Naked Lady, photo by Pete Tucker
The Naked Lady is a sailboat that burned and sank in Kailua Bay. Apparently the Naked Lady is not the vessel’s real name, simply the name acquired as a result of how it arrived on the bottom of the bay. Hard details are difficult to come by, but the story goes something like this… The sailboat was moored in the bay when the lady aboard needed to eliminate the “little green men” infesting her boat. The result was a burning sailboat and the lady arriving on shore minus her clothing.

It is 110 feet to the sand where the Naked Lady lies on the bottom. This is a short dive, at this depth our bottom time is limited to less than 20 minutes due to nitrogen absorption. Even with the safety stops on ascent the entire dive was about half an hour, I surfaced with over 1200psi of air left in the tank. Considering I often last over an hour with a 80cft tank this was a short dive indeed.

Deb and I did not bother with the mooring line as we dropped to the bottom. The water was clear enough we could see the wreck on the sand 100ft below. With no current we simply dropped, in the clear water this was a surreal, slow motion free-fall. Seeing the sand approaching I did not bother to trim buoyancy, but allowed myself to hit the sand a few feet from the hull. The gauge read 109ft as I knelt on the bottom. I took a couple photos, trimmed for neutral buoyancy and started exploring.

Sky at the Naked Lady
Sky exploring the wreck of the Naked Lady
The hull is more or less intact, with the mast lying to the port side. The entire upperworks are gone, consumed in the fire one would assume. The bowsprit and stern railings lie in the sand in front and aft of the wreck. Inside a few pipes and other fitting are all that remain of the interior.

Aside from a few colonies of cauliflower coral on the wreck itself there is no coral visible, simply a flat plain of sand that stretches in all directions. A swarm of fish surround the wreck, snappers and dasyllus the most numerous. Oddly there are numerous rough spined urchins on and around the hull.

There is little sign of life away from the wreck, the sand seems sterile from a distance. Upon closer examination even this sand desert teems with life. Burrows and tracks betray numerous residents. I take a few photos of a colorful goby I have yet to identify, it does not appear in the usual guidebooks.

The Atlantis Submarine that gives tourists a ride in Kailua Bay often tour the Naked Lady. The submarine was present when we arrived at the mooring, but had moved off by the time we dropped to the wreck. It would have been fun to wave at the tourists.

Naked Lady
Deb on the wreck of the Naked Lady
A lot of photos got taken, mostly of each other as we orbited the wreck. The remains of the sailboat on the sand makes an interesting subject, particularly with the divers poking about. Pete was diving his new 5DMkII rig with a wide angle lens. The wreck was a perfect wide angle target, I found myself wishing I had brought something wide angle like the GoPro. At 110′ there is only blue and more blue, so that the photos turn out rather blue. It becomes interesting to convert the photos to black and white.

The location results in a different dive profile as well. On this island we usually dive deep and then spend the rest of the dive slowly working our way back up the reef, ending in shallow water. A slow ascent eliminates the required safety stops used in recreational diving. Here there is no sloping reef, simply a drop to the bottom. Time to remember those safety stops and monitor the dive computer closely. This ascent required two stops, one at 50′ and another at 15′ to allow the nitrogen to transpire out of our tissues.

With two dives done it had been a great day and we were ready for more. Alas we had a pile of empty tanks and a distinct lack of full. Nothing left but a return to harbor, clean up the boat and an early dinner at the fish market. A great Easter Sunday, far more fun than sitting in church.

Postcard from Hawai’i – Drying Coffee

Rigging scuba gear at the old airport park, a nice place for a Saturday morning dive with the guys. Just in front of my vehicle a couple is spreading large tarps on the pavement. Setting up a party pavilion? Then the bags of beans get unloaded… They are drying coffee! The old runway with hot asphalt in the sunlight is a good place, those beans will dry fast!

Only in Hawai’i…

Coffee Drying
Drying coffee beans in the hot sunlight at Old Airport Park.