Under the Sea

Both my husband I were avid scuba divers, as they say, back in the day. Now we have relinquished our tanks and gas gauges for snorkeling. The good news is that in Hawaii we are not compromising much of the adventure under the sea. We were on the Big Island past the Hilo airport when we Googled the best places to snorkel. It led us to Richardson’s Ocean/Beach Park at 2355 Kalanianaole Street, Hilo. (Yeah, I stopped trying to pronounce the names of streets so I didn’t hurt myself). There are basic amenities including picnic tables, flushing toilets and outdoor showers to get the salt off yourself and equipment.

This is a lovely spot under palm trees with easy(ish) access to the water. By which I mean, you have to be willing to sit down in the water and crawl into the snorkeling bay. You are, after all, on a coral reef. The entry is level, but includes rocky outcroppings. The good news is you will see tropical fish right away.

This is for strong swimmers if you intend to go out towards the natural lava rock jetty. If the waters are calm and you are an intermediate swimmer you can see lots of action at waist deep water.

However, if it is choppy bring good long fins. I had short fins and had to kick the entire time to go forward at all or even stay in place. We bought new equipment in Hilo (because the last time we used our snorkeling gear was 8 years before and we found out on our first day that the rubber seals were shot on our masks). You may want to test older equipment before you head out on vacation so you have time to buy new online and get better deals. The bright side to this? We found that the new snorkels are now topped with closing valves so when you dive you don’t have to surface and spout like a 5-ton whale.

And oh the sights we saw! There were schools of several varieties of Butterfly fish, Moorish Idol fish (think Gill in “Finding Nemo”) and purple neon long nosed Wrasse fish. There were Triggerfish including dazzlingly multi-colored Picassos, Rectangulars (which looks like Picasso’s cubism phase) and Pinktails. The Parrot fish were all iridescent colors; blue, red, and green. We saw Goat fish, Tangs, and polka dot blue Puffers. There were also schools of Needle fish hovering on the surface and yellow Trumpet fish.

And as luck would have it this beach is a favorite of sea turtles. We swam behind at least three watching them “fly” through the blue green waters. After we snorkeled, we ventured past the lifeguard stand onto the lava rocks and through an inlet. On the other side of the rocks beyond the beach was a private lagoon where 15 sea turtles were napping. Well, 12 were napping and 3 younger turtles were climbing all over their elders trying to stir up trouble. The lagoon is surrounded by ten-foot ledges so you can watch the turtles without being with them in the water.

For beginner-intermediate swimmers I suggest Carlsmith Ocean Park, 1815 Kalanianole Street, just before Richardson’s. There are several shallow lagoons for families with small children and seniors with limited swimming skills. Look for the natural stone stairs down to the water. It is so shallow you can set up your beach chairs right in the water. Both parks have sea turtle sightings. All along the highway there are lagoons to snorkel but without lifeguards. The colors inspired me to paint the fish I saw. So very relaxing (if you how to swim).

NOTE: Bring your own food. These are picnic areas with no food vendors for miles.

Sally Franz and her third husband live on the Olympic Peninsula. She has two daughters, a stepson, and three grandchildren. Sally is the author of several humor books including Scrambled Leggs: A Snarky Tale of Hospital Hooey and The Baby Boomer’s Guide to Menopause


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