One of the most beautiful places on the island is gone.
The Wai‘ōpae Tide Pools were a place where anyone could see the wonders of a coral reef. The calm and protected pools full of fish and lush coral. You could see damselfish hovering over a coral head or watch small barracuda hunt just under the surface.
And they were popular, on any given day a couple dozen locals and tourists could be seen exploring the pools. You could swim across one or two, then have to climb across a few feet of old pahoehoe lava to drop into the next. The more adventurous were rewarded with even richer coral in the outermost pools where the ocean waves created more challenging swimming conditions.
Queen’s Bath is a name you will find scattered through vacation guides to the island of Hawaiʻi. The problem is that there is more than one, dozens actually. The name Queen’s Bath tends to be applied to any freshwater pool, particularly near the ocean. Some are small, some are quite large pools of crystal clear freshwater, a few are hidden in lava tubes.
There is the well known lava tube at Kihilo just a pebble’s throw from the surf. Enter through a skylight into the crisp, cool water. Bring a dive light and swim all the way to the back of the tube. Careful, there are boulders waiting to scrape the shins of an unwary swimmer, reef shoes or river sandals are the ideal footwear here.
There are any number of pools along the Kohala Coast, particularly the low-lying section from Puako to Kiholo bay where enormous amounts of fresh water find their way into the sea. These often have reef fish trapped within, perhaps washed in by the winter surf. Other species of fish prefer these pools, grazing on the algae growing in the shallow, warm water.
The Puna coastline hosts many pools along the shoreline. Kaimū beach at Kalapana hosted one of the most famous Queen’s Baths. It was lost to the lava on the 1990’s as successive flows covered the area and destroyed the famous black sand beach. I have heard the pool at Ahalanui Park called a Queen’s bath, yet another example of the confusion.
Some of these pools are brackish, the salt water mixing with fresh. The result is a swirling view through a dive mask with the mixed refractive indexes, looking a bit like mixing water and oil. As one swims away from the ocean the water becomes fresher, you often find startlingly cool currents where the fresh water enters the pool. Often the tides will affect the depth of the water in the pool, even pools a hundred yards from the ocean rising and falling as the tide backs up the flow of water.
Many of the pools are local secrets, directions not available to outsiders. Places where a hot afternoon can be enjoyed, swimming in the cool waters. I know a few of these, don’t ask me where to find them.