On our first official day of vacation, my travel companion and Hawaii guide (another astronomer) and I drove to the northern side of the big island to visit a black sand beach a short hike from the Pololu Valley lookout. Not only is the lookout stunning, with cliff after cliff of lush tropical forest rising from the ocean below, but the hike down to the black sand beach offers even better vantage points, until at the bottom you find yourself in a forest of sorts looking out onto a beach of black, grey, and red rocks worn smooth by the relentless pounding waves. These rocks (of volcanic origin) are eventually ground into a fine black sand. This is not a beach for swimming, but for looking and walking, trying not to re-sprain your ankle on the very unstable rock beach surface, for sitting and staring at waves, cliffs, and that crazy person who thought they could surf here.
After a black sand beach morning, we hit up Bamboo, a Thai/Hawaiian restaurant, and the homemade ice cream parlor across the street. Feeling very belly-full, we drove to a place that will forever be the location of my first successful snorkel-swim (Mahukona Beach Park). I had never seen so many beautiful fish in such crystal clear water before in the wild. You could literally look off the dock and see bright yellow fish darting about. Unfortunately, being fin-less (and thus unable to swim quite so quickly out of the ocean currents), I wasn’t brave enough to check out the shipwreck farther offshore. This disappointment was short-lived, as at the next snorkel spot (Kapa’a Beach Park, unfortunately too advanced for me) we saw probably 8 humpback whales spraying water into the air, flipping their very impressive tails, and generally accumulating a human posse on the beach and in the water (my astronomer friend tried to go snorkel with them, but the whales were too far away).