What’s so great about scuba diving?

Early, wet, and sometimes cold mornings. Long drives and overly enthusiastic morning people. A crushing need to look under the dock now, beyond just lying on top of it. These are some of the harder parts to take about scuba diving (Scuba Diver Life dispels more myths about diving here). But I got back in tanks after 10 years as a regular swimmer – so what’s the draw?

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This may sound silly but one thing only got me off of the couch and on my way to the Scuba Shop on Notre Dame one afternoon in July. It is one of the most beautiful sights to turn over on your back while under the water, and see the sunlight filtering down on a clear day. I was watching a television show about scuba diving (ever watched Descending?) and the camera person flipped over on their back to give the viewers a glimpse. I picked up the phone and called Mike in that instant, before I could hesitate, because I knew I had to see that again for myself. Soon.

There is so much beauty to be observed under the water! Saltwater, freshwater, warm water, cold water – it makes no difference to me. I first learned to dive as a teenager in 2005, surrounded by three of my cousins. The Open Water certification for recreational divers by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) consists of an in-class portion, pool classes, and open-water dives. It was a hell of a way to spend March break, but by the end of it we were all ready to jump in the pool – tank, fins and all.

While many memories fade, or are just forgotten about, my time spent in the Dominican Republic with them is crystal. It was the first time I was ever able to swim in the ocean, and the place where I learned to dive! I recall being nervous at first, but once you’re in that blue, blue water with visibility for days that all melts away. We were tested on our basic skills – things like regulator recovery and clearing, clearing a flooded mask, and the tired diver tow. My diving buddy quickly earned a nickname – Glowstick Panter – for the way his legs glowed white under the water, and how quickly he went through his air supply. Hope you’re reading this!! Scuba diving has always been something I have done with my family.

Some mornings, getting up early is worth it.

A father helps his son gear-up on Open Water testing day.

Our trip to the Dominican Republic sparked something in me – the travel bug. Since then I have completed a lot of school, scoured the internet planning my own trips and appreciatively/enviously looked at their travel photos. It was time to get traveling and back in the water myself!

Planning the trip to Vietnam and Indonesia, and advancing my diving education has moved in lock-step. The idea of traveling to Indonesia and not scuba diving there is inconceivable! And something I learned this summer? Scuba diving is similar to riding a bicycle – you never forget, and it comes back to you after a few kicks. So everything I learn now will continue to be useful, as long as I travel and dive. Costa Rica 2015… Yes please. More on that later!!

The point here? Diving and travel go hand in hand. When I first started considering the idea of scuba diving again, my travel companions and I were asking ourselves the question, “What jobs can we do that allow us to make a living, and travel at the same time?” One of the jobs on my list was Scuba Instructor, and so I started looking into that. Then we committed to going to Asia. I figured there was no better time to start the PADI Advanced Open Water certification. I found the blog of Astrid Fischer to be particularly inspiring – she just completed her instructor levels on Tioman Island and blogged about it here.

One more great thing? Besides being fun and awe inspiring, scuba diving is a hobby that is good for your health. Leg and core muscles are working, you are getting active (usually early in the morning), and there are benefits associated with swimming and being in water. This is true, no matter where you go.

So give diving a shot! Your certification never expires. It’s good for your health, your sense of beauty, your travel addiction, and your family life. Plus, being up early in the morning means some amazing pictures you wouldn’t have been able to take otherwise, and maybe some new friends that you wouldn’t have made otherwise.

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A sunrise I caught walking to the dive shop one morning.

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What do you need for a dream vacation to Hawaii? A Turo rental Jeep and a GPS.

I was excited to receive an email about the blog. It was Emma Powers, from Turo, wondering what my dream based US vacation looked like with a rental car in my possession! Turo is a peer-to-peer car rental service that connects renters with owners, and skips the car rental company.

As my regular readers will know, I am currently planning a backpacking trip to Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia. I am especially excited about this because it is a chance to escape the frigid, blustery winters of central Ontario in January. And so it didn’t take long to decide that for me, a dream vacation in the United States would take place in beautiful, tropical Hawaii!

And since we’re dreaming, we might as well dream big people! Enjoy some of what would certainly be highlights for me on a trip to the Big Island.

Getting to Hawaii – the Aloha State

There are a number of options available when flying intoo Hawaii, but we are going to take the most common one. This involves

  • Flying into Honolulu International Airport
  • From there, we can catch a connecting flight to the smaller, Kona Airport – located on the western shore of the Big Island

First Up - Fly in

Who is we, you ask? That would be myself, and my partner. We both love travel, road trips and food so he would be my first choice! He is an excellent driver, while I am on the other hand am the superior navigator and DJ (aka: co-pilot).

The Big Island is an ideal destination for a first Hawaiian vacation because it is the biggest island of the state, is the only island with active volcanoes, and a circular highway system connecting us to the coast, and Hawaii’s best!

To get the most out of a trip to Hawaii, the easiest way has to be to rent a vehicle! Enter Turo, the peer-to-peer car rental service that connects travelers with car owners that want to rent. This is an interesting service because it skips the car rental companies, which are usually expensive. When I started to plan my dream trip to Hawaii, I went online and found this little beauty in the listings.

2014 Jeep Wrangler

This 2013 4×4 Jeep Wrangler would be the perfect vehicle for our Hawaiian road trip because

  • It has cargo space to store any camping equipment, diving gear and road trip supplies we may need
  • It as an all-terrain vehicle, so we won’t have to worry about rougher roads, rocks, mud, and so on
  • It has a convertible top, enough said!
  • Comes equipped with a GPS unit to help us navigate around the Big Island

The best part? We meet our sweet ride at the airport. You can also see where else Turo operates.

Road Trip! – Three weeks touring the shores of the Big Island

I have never been to Hawaii, and so I would want to take my time when exploring and really experience it. So instead of trying to island hop, we think a Big Island road trip is the way to go! There are good things to be said for managing your own time, and choosing your own destinations.

To keep the trip manageable yet exciting, plan for at least 3 weeks! Taking advantage of the Turo car rental service will mean ultimate flexibility when exploring the Big Island, and a more relaxed trip all in all. No need to rush when we are making our own timeline!

Loose Itinerary

Hawaii Island is a good place for a road trip because there is so much happening! It is the largest island in the state and has the only active volcanoes (ongoing eruptions). There are also a ton of things to see and do, depending on who you are and what you’re into. My partner and I? We like driving around, taking pictures of things, and exploring! Relaxing, water sports and learning new things. Eating! So, what can we get up on the Big Island for 3 weeks?

Week One: Exploring Kailua-Kona, and acclimatizing to life on the Island

After arriving in Hawaii and picking up the Jeep, a 30 minute drive south through Kailua-Kona will bring you to the Ka’awa Loa Plantation – a guesthouse and coffee plantation. After the hectic pace of day-to-day worries and traveling, it’s town for a little down time.

The plantation doubles as a small bed and breakfast removed from the hustle and bustle of Kona, yet without being too far away for it to be a mission. The bed and breakfast would be excellent because it would provide somewhere peaceful to relax and adjust to life on the island for a few days. And drink copious amounts of fresh, Island coffee!

  •  The plantation boasts a mini spa, hiking trails, kayaking, a tropical fruit plantation and mini spa… yes please. That sounds like just what I need. And a view of volcanoes.

Even though we are relaxing, the first couple of days are not completely idle!

  • Get in the first day of scuba diving with Big Island Diver’s – a nice and easy morning of diving off of the coast of Kona. Warm up for the Black Water dive, which makes use of lighting to draw rarely observed creatures from the deep.and unique rock structures
  • Pick up any road trip supplies such as a cooler, snacks and a roadmap while getting your bearings
  • Check out Splasher’s Bar and Grill. They offer free coffee (with the purchase of an entree) before 11am, are family-owned and operated, and have great reviews!

After a few days of being in one spot, it’s time to hit the open road in the Jeep and head towards Kilauea – just not too close right now, thanks. Getting onto Highway 11, we head south on the Hawaii Belt Road, or the Mamalahoa Highway. It is one part of three that makes up our circle route around the perimeter of the Big Island.

Destination: South Point (Ka Lae) and Papakolea Beach

An olive-green sand beach that was once a volcano.

An olive-green sand beach that was once a volcano.

This is the southernmost point in all of the United Statesm and I would like to stand on it. Other visitors also report amazing olive green, volcanic sand beaches that are well worth a days’ hike to find and do some beach combing on. Although excellent beaches in Hawaii go without saying, this one in particular seemed worth mentioning.

Continuing on the natural path of Highway 11 will take you to Naalehu, a close stop to spend the night.

  • There are plenty of options available, but we like to go off the beaten path at times. A small ‘ Elegant Pohaku House’ caught my eye as a place to stay for the night. No website, I found this spot through a third-party booking website.

Before leaving in the morning, plan to stop at either the Punalu’u Bake Shop or the Hana Hou Restaurant for coffee, sandwiches and other necessary road trip supplies before heading for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Week 2: The eastern shore of the Big Island

Destination: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

I have never seen a volcano close up, and I want to. Now is an excellent time to go, as Kilauea has been experiencing ongoing eruptions since 1983. Either way, seeing volcanoes is certainly a highlight of any trip to the Big Island.

  • The Park’s Visitor Center should be your first stop to get information on restricted areas, lava flows, possible routes and so on. That being said, a number of online resources point towards the Crater Rim Road Tour as an excellent place to start for views of the actively erupting Kilauea volcano.
Not a current shot - but still incredible.

Not a current shot – but still incredible.

Views are nice, but we also want to do a little bit of more active exploring on the Island, and make use of some that dream camping gear we have stored in the back of the Jeep. The park has many miles of trails and hikes to choose from, so 3 or 4 days of back country camping is on the table!

  • You will need a permit to camp. It’s best to make arrangements beforehand, and check all route and park advisories before setting out to ensure lava safety.
  • There are plenty of day hikes available if you would rather spend the night indoors

Destination: Hilo, a beach paradise

Photo courtesy of www.downtownhilo.com

Photo courtesy of http://www.downtownhilo.com

After a couple days of camping, relaxing on the beach in beautiful Hilo, on the eastern shores of Hawaii Island will be a nice change up. A stop at the Akatsuka Orchid Gardens on Highway 11 along the way would be wicked! Although I never have success in growing them.

In Hilo,

  • A wide variety of accommodations from hotel to hostel. We are choosing to investigate the Hilo Backpacker’s Hostel. Planning to do lots of exploring in Hilo, we are not in need a fancy hotel and would like the chance to meet other travelers.
  • Visit the Hilo Farmer’s Market in Downtown Hilo for an authentic Hawaiin market experience, and to stock up on road trip supplies and snacks

There is also time to get in a second day of diving, this time from shore with the well-reviewed Nautilus Dive CenterHopefully we would get to see sea turtles, coral, fish and some more unique lava formations.

We would also like to visit the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii! This is somewhere we would both be very excited to go! The observatory teaches visitors about Hawaiian culture and outer space through their exhibits, a native 4-level garden and a planetarium.

And to eat, check out

  • Sombat’s Fresh Thai CuisineWinner of the Hawaii Heralds ‘Best Thai Food’ category since 2007
  • Paul’s Place – a tiny breakfast/brunch café that specializes in benedict’s, waffles and other classes and has gotten rave reviews from customers

Week 3: Canopy Tours and Kicking Back

The beach paradise of Hilo has put is into relaxed pace, so it’s time for some adventure! Hoping into our Jeep and onto Highway 19 (still part of the Mamalohoa Highway), we head north-west along the coast. This is the scenic route.

Destination: Kamuela and Koloha

I often choose the scenic route because it provides so many opportunities for picture taking, beach combing and general exploring. Hopefully it’s a nice day and we have the soft top off of the Jeep. After a slow day of travel along the coast though, I think a big juicy burger from The Village Burger in Kamuela would taste just right.

  • These burgers boast organically and locally raised or obtained Big Island beef, pork and Ahi tuna
  • Vegetarian options available

After spending the night in Kamuela, a stop at the Waimea Coffee Company is a must for a killer breakfast and the Island’s voted ‘Best Cup of Coffee’. Take it for the road and head onwards to Koloha.

The Kohala Zipline company offers zip line and canopy tours, that can be combined with other activities such as hiking, swimming and island tours. All in all they offer 9 distinct zip lines! There’s a different way to see a country.

Since we are in Hawaii but haven’t checked out a strict seafood restaurant yet, I want to check out Monstera – a Japanese noodle and sushi bar that gets rave reviews!

Destination: The Fairmont Orchid luxury hotel

And now I am just teasing myself.

And now I am just teasing myself.

To finish off a truly spectacular and awe-inspiring dream vacation, we will be concluding our visit with a 3-day stay at the Fairmont Orchid luxury hotel on the western Kona-side coast of the Big Island. The hotel boasts excellent restaurants, top-notch accommodations, and a spa. Go kayaking or snorkeling, or try your hand at something distinctly Hawaiian like basket weaving or canoeing in an outrigger canoe. Be pampered and get relaxed before having to return to real life? YES PLEASE!

  • Even at the resort, having the Jeep still has its perks! There is just enough time to zip back to Kona for one last evening of diving – the much anticipated Black Water Night Dive where divers use lights to attract unique deep sea creatures

Sadly, a trip is always over too fast – even in just the planning stages.! Even in my vacation fantasy world, letting go of the Jeep is hard. Saying goodbye to beautiful, welcoming Hawaii is harder. Now I just have this great trip planned… someone’s going to have to take it.

 

 

Monday is for photos

After a very busy two weeks, I am more than ready to get back into the regular habit of posting!

So Monday’s are for photos, because no one is ready for heavy reading this early in the work week. But keep your eyes peeled this week people! I am working with a company called RelayRides, and planning a dream vacation to Hawaii. New place to go diving? Hello!

This is what "picking apples" looks like when you go with your Dad, and bring your camera.

This is what “picking apples” looks like when you go with your Dad, and bring your camera.

My photogenic hound dog.

My photogenic hound dog.

Some mornings, getting up early is worth it.

Some mornings, getting up early is worth it.

Post-Dive #1: Deep Diving at Moose Mountain Quarry

Sunday was reserved for an early morning trip to what Mike – the head diving instructor – calls ‘Moose Mountain’. The dive site is an out-of use quarry north of Capreol filled with clear, blue, tropical-esque water and little ledges that you can drop down and explore. Today we were descending to 96 feet, among other things. “Just so I could get used to it”, Mike said. What did that mean? But he’s the kind of guy that doesn’t give you a lot of time to over-think it. As everyone is suiting up, he hands me an underwater slate with a column of numbers – “How’s your math?”. He times me as I add the numbers together – 40 seconds. Then under the surface we go.

Amanda and I - one of the Divemasters that dives with the Scuba Shop. The gear flatters.

Amanda and I – one of the Divemasters that dives with the Scuba Shop. The gear flatters.

Diving at deeper depths is different for a number of reasons. At 96 feet, the water around you and in your wet suit is cold. About 42 degrees Fahrenheit, or 5.6 degrees Celsius. I repeat – it is cold. The pressure of the water on your body at greater depths compresses your wet suit and your air supply, so cold water is rushing in and it feels like I’m gasping for air. For once, my arms are tucked tight in to my body, not floating out beside me – “like a starfish”. Despite having air in my buoyancy control device (BCD), I still feel like there is a danger of sinking, dropping too far. So much for the graceful diver, calmly gliding through the water. Even the color is starting to change; blues start to fade away while my yellow fins and snorkel begin to look pink more than anything. Most of all, it’s dark. I feel myself start to breathe faster, gasping at my air supply. I see what Mike meant about “getting used to it”.

At just the right time, my guide turns back up the ledge we had come down and we slowly ascend to the relative warmth of 60 feet. I had never imagined I would call 60 feet warm, but after my first time at almost 100 feet it felt like bathwater. Later on I learned that the temperature at 96 feet was comparable to diving under the ice in the winter – without the ability to ascend to warmer water at shallower depths. Intense.

The math exercise is repeated and I am grateful for it. For whatever reason, I couldn’t slow my breathing and calm down after coming up from the deep, and I feel myself really starting to freak out a bit. At first I was having a tough time even holding on to the pencil, but as I started to add my brain was forced to focus and I was able to relax. Slower this time – 45 seconds. This touch of anxiety at 60 feet really put into perspective how important it is to remain calm and not panic under the water. You can’t just quickly rise to the surface if you are panicking, or out of air, or whatever the scenario may be. Too quick of an ascent can do internal damage due to nitrogen build up and expansion in the blood, and so must be controlled.

We rejoined the rest of the group and headed for the beach where we had entered the quarry. We start to speak again in English – not the combination of recognized and made up hand-signals that divers use to communicate with each other when under. Numbers are exchanged; depths, temperatures, times and remaining air supply. While no one is in a hurry to return to that depth anytime soon, you can feel the excitement from the divers about the accomplishment. As for me – I am thrilled. I am one step closer to diving in the ocean again!