KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii -- With two national parks beside the calm
waters of its Kona Coast and a third amid its active volcanoes, the
Big Island offers a special haven for those seeking nature retreats
and soft adventure.
Several ecotourism operators pay commission on excursions
ranging from morning or afternoon snorkeling trips to
naturalist-led dolphin and whale seminars and camping retreats.
In the latter category, Planetary Partners of Newbury, Mass.,
organizes corporate team-building as well as family retreats to the
The trips feature snorkeling and camping at one of the national
parks, along with hiking and camping in Hawaii Volcanoes National
Park. The final night is spent in a hotel.
"These trips are for people who really love nature and want to
live simply," said Joe Noonan, president of Planetary Partners.
"It's about intimacy with nature -- living simply, playfully and in
harmony with the environment. It's not super-demanding or
Noonan described the trip experience as "a 21st century tribe.
We're immersed in the natural environment.
"For instance," he continued, "we camp on the beach on the
Hawaii trips, and many mornings I've woken up to see dolphins
leaping in the bay."
Planetary Partners' seven-night trips to Hawaii are priced
around $1,000 per person, land only, with a four-person minimum.
Commission is 10%.
Asked about the simple itineraries he favors -- where little is
planned out besides exploration and meals -- Noonan, a former
leadership training instructor for Outward Bound, said that "having
an open schedule creates room for magic to show up."
Sea Quest Rafting Adventures here pays 20% commission on its
morning and afternoon rafting and snorkeling trips to Kealakekua
Bay, where Captain Cook's last stand is marked by a waterside
monument, and the Place of Refuge in Honaunau Bay, where sea
Shawn Farish, owner of Sea Quest, said the turtles, which aren't
particularly shy but generally stay about 10 feet away from
snorkelers, are seen on "about 95%" of morning snorkeling
"The turtles that live in Honaunau Bay, where we snorkel on our
morning trip each day, have grown up with snorkelers in the water,"
Farish said. "Over the years, they have become less frightened of
For snorkelers in Kealake-kua Bay, Farish said, "visibility is
generally 100 feet or better, and the bay is so well-protected from
the surf conditions that it is almost always flat, like a
Along the way, the rafting trips explore the Kona Coast's sea
caves and lava tubes, which were created by lava flowing to the sea
and are often large enough to walk inside.
"The Kona Coast is dotted with dozens of sea caves and lava
tubes," Farish said, "and we spend a good deal of our return voyage
exploring these things up close and explaining the geology involved
in their creation along with the history of the area and some of
the colorful myths and legends."
For example, the name for the Place of Refuge came about
because, according to Hawaiian tradition, "if you broke a law and
made your way there, you were forgiven your sins," said Kurt Bell,
one of the Sea Quest captains.
Sea Quest's four-hour morning tours are priced at $75 per
person. The three-hour afternoon tours, which visit only Kealakekua
Bay, are priced at $56 per person. Excursions are limited to six
Clients interested in observing and learning about dolphins can
take a four-day seminar series with Claudia and Kevin Merrill,
certified marine mammal naturalists who operate Dolphin Discoveries
The firm's next Wild Dolphin Adventure seminars will be held
June 17 to 21. The program, limited to six people, includes lunch.
The cost is $550 per person; commission is 10%.
Similar to Sea Quest, Dolphin Discoveries runs
four-and-a-half-hour morning and three-hour afternoon snorkel boat
trips to Kealakekua Bay.
The excursions, which include cold drinks, fruit and snacks, are
priced at $74 per adult and $59 per child in the morning and $59 in
the afternoon for adults and children.
Private snorkeling charters also are available, priced at $400 for
morning trips and $300 for afternoon trips.
Kevin Merrill said the ideal seminar participant is someone who
has interacted with dolphins before and wants to learn more and
spend more time with them.
"It's a weeklong adventure, as opposed to just a few hours out
on the water," he said. "It provides an opportunity to learn more
about them, their characteristics and behavior."
Although federal law prohibits people from "swimming" with wild
dolphins in Hawaii, Claudia Merrill said, "It is a very satisfying
and memorable experience to view and photograph the dolphins and
whales from the boat. Many people tell us their experience on the
water with us was the highlight of their vacation."
Don't expect touchy-feely in the deep
WAIKOLOA, Hawaii -- Clients wishing to swim and physically
interact with dolphins in Hawaii should know that the Dolphin Quest
education centers at the Hilton Waikoloa Village here and Kahala
Mandarin Oriental Hawaii in Oahu are the only places they can do
The Marine Mammals Protection Act requires people to observe
wild dolphins and other marine mammals at a respectful distance, so
as not to potentially disturb their natural behavioral patterns,
including migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding or
Hawaiian spinner dolphins, according to Billy Hurley, director
of quest development with Dolphin Quest, are the ones commonly seen
near the leeward coasts of all the Hawaiian Islands.
They come to lagoons and protected waterways like Kealakekua Bay
off the Kona Coast, he said, to rest from their nightlong dives for
small squid miles offshore.
"If an animal is in Kealakekua Bay to relax and rest from
diving," Hurley said, "the last thing we should do is disrupt their
rest. People should snorkel in Kealakekua Bay, but we should be
responsible about how we interact with wildlife."
An opportune time for dolphin lovers to visit the Hilton
Waikoloa Village is during the annual Dolphin Days festival of
food, wine and music, to be held June 27 to 29.
For hotel reservations, call (800) HILTONS. For information on
Dolphin Quest, call (808) 886-2875; e-mail: [email protected]; or visit www.dolphinquest.org.
For more information on the festival or hotel, visit www.dolphindays.com or www.hiltonwaikoloavillage.com. --
Book It: Swimming with dolphins
Phone: (808) 324-0433
Phone: (800) 220-6825
Sea Quest Rafting Adventures
Phone: (808) 329-7238