Active vacationers can enjoy more than scenery in Hawaii Aloha ADVENTURES

September 11, 1994|By JoAnne C. Broadwater | JoAnne C. Broadwater,Special to The Sun

After 13 hours in a crowded airplane with two children, another adventure may be the last thing most families want when they land in the Hawaiian Islands.

But when they realize they've flown one-quarter of the way around the globe and landed in a paradise of pineapples and palm trees, the monotony of the journey is quickly forgotten.

When the zest for adventure returns, the islands offer plenty of opportunities to satisfy it. During a vacation on Maui and the Big Island of Hawaii, families can go horseback riding in a volcanic crater, take a helicopter tour, try the new sport of Snuba diving or explore the island by jeep.

Why not try snorkeling, sailing or parasailing -- and then reserve one night for a luau? Bike down the side of a volcano or venture along coral reefs in a submarine. The excitement is there on all of the Hawaiian islands.

Snorkeling

The crew of the Paragon, a 47-foot, high-performance sailing catamaran, dropped anchor in 30 feet of water near the Molokini Crater, an uninhabited islet about three miles off the west shore of the island of Maui.

The skies above the partially submerged volcanic crater were overcast and gray. They clouded the surface of these coral-rich waters of the Pacific Ocean and denied even a glimpse of some of the most beautiful of all Hawaiian treasures below.

After quickly explaining how to use the goggles, snorkels and fins that we'd been fitted with, the crew threw open the hatch between the two hulls. A group of early-morning snorkelers began climbing down the ladder and into the sea.

Capt. Eric Barto, owner of the vessel, warned us we'd risk being swept away by what he jokingly referred to as the "Aloha" current if we ventured beyond the rocky tip of this crescent-shaped islet in the middle of the ocean.

We strapped our 8-year-old son into a life jacket, grabbed a couple of boogie boards, and urged him and his 13-year-old sister down the ladder into the chop below.

Although the rough water took hold and bounced us around, we gripped the snorkels in our teeth and peered through our goggles into the water -- questioning our choice of adventures. Perhaps this would have been a better day for horseback riding in a volcanic crater.

But our doubts disappeared as we saw beneath our flippered feet a stunning display of multihued coral in crystal-clear water. A changing parade of Hawaiian reef fish swam around our legs -- oblivious to us, yet just out of reach.

Clutching our underwater fish identification chart, we pointed to brilliant yellow raccoon butterflies, long and lanky needlefish and vivid orange-and-jet-black tangs.

With a deep breath, we were able to dive down for a closer look at the groupers, puffers, blue crevalles and trumpet fish that were swimming through cauliflower and finger coral.

Tucked onto crevices and ledges were round and prickly sea urchins -- deceptive beauties with needle-like spines that can wedge like splinters into the skin, causing severe stinging and burning pain. (For the unfortunate individual who stumbles against one, Hawaiians suggest a vinegar soak to soothe the pain.)

Back at the surface, a hard blow into the snorkel cleared out the water for surface breathing again. The sport is easy for first-timers and young children, with saltwater providing a natural buoyancy and flippers making swimming almost effortless. The flotation capacity of the boogie boards adds to their confidence.

After a few wondrous hours, we reluctantly climbed back on board. The sun had broken through the clouds, and we were reminded that Maui, island of many rainbows and "liquid sunshine," is known for its rapidly changing weather. Cooling sprinkles of rain often come on a brilliant, sunny day.

As we enjoyed our lunch, the crew prepared for the speed sail back to Maalaea Harbor. Crew members Laurel Llewelyn and Greg Thomas advised us that a lot of water was going to be coming across the bow where we were seated and said we might want to move to the rear of the vessel.

But six of us kept our seats as the catamaran, under full sail, shot across the water. It crashed through waves and sent sheets of water through the mesh of the trampoline beneath our feet and over the side. The crew and passengers cheered as we reached our top speed of about 22 knots.

"I've raced over 1,000 different boats and I have never sailed on a boat that performs as well as this one," Capt. Barto said. "Typical sailing is at 6 to 8 knots and, if you're going really fast, at 10 knots. Twenty-two knots is very unusual for a sailboat."

Snuba diving

The pace was more leisurely on the Fair Wind as we motored south along the Kona coast of the Big Island of Hawaii on a brilliantly sunny summer day.

We were bound for the calm, clear waters of the protected underwater state park at Kealakekua Bay. This 50-foot trimaran is one of two vessels authorized to bring snorkelers to the pristine site.

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