I have this thing for turtles. It goes back to an incident that happened several years ago, when I encountered a turtle while snorkeling on Oahu’s North Shore with my mom. It took me by surprise (they’re huge!), and I freaked out a little in the water. When I had a chance to catch my breath, the turtle had taken off.

Ever since then, in each of our successive trips to Hawaii, I have not seen any turtles in the water. Ray says they have all heard of me and stay far away.

My mom and I decided we were going to go snorkeling while she was in Maui, but we didn’t have any definite plan; not being a Maui resident, she didn’t know exactly where the good snorkeling spots were, the way she does on Oahu. So we figured we would drive around in one general area and see if we could find a good spot.

We all got a late start, and we took a little detour to the Alii Kula Lavender Farm, up the mountain, rather than on the way down. It was a pleasant spot, but it is such a strange thing to be on a tropical island, breathing in clouds of lavender. Nevertheless, there it is, and they have a breathtaking view as well as some lovely gardens (and, randomly, a paragliding course!). My mom and I were hoping they had a restaurant open for lunch, but all they had was a little cafe that served lavender coffee (???) and scones.

After wandering around for a bit, we made our way back down the mountain towards the ocean for a bite to eat and then snorkeling!

BUT…

The service was really slow at the restaurant, and then we had to wend our way past all the rich residences again, blindly looking for a good place to snorkel. We stopped at one place where Ray and I had seen turtles resting on the beach a few nights before (“You snuck up on them,” he said. “If they had known you were going to be there, they would have taken off.”), but there were a lot of people on the beach, and my mom said the rock formation wasn’t ideal for snorkeling.

So we drove on.

The next few beaches were more of a park-and-walk deal, far from the road, and we weren’t entirely sure they would be good places, so we kept going.

Past all the residences, into the lava flow.

Before you get too concerned, this lava flow had cooled off and dried up in the 1800s, when Haleakala last erupted. So there weren’t any rivers of lava that we had to cross. Rather, we drove for two miles down a rickety one-lane road (there are a lot of them in Hawaii!) through a barren moonscape riddled with signs warning not to park or walk on the rocks.

Lava flow in Ahihi Kinau Natural Reserve

At the end of the road is La Perouse Bay. There is a “beach,” of sorts, made up of mostly rocks. It was the right kind of rock formation for a coral reef, but the waves were banging against the rocks pretty strongly, and I was a little worried about getting tossed around. My other concern was that there was nobody else in the water.

My mom pointed out a small cove that was protected from most of the waves. We began to walk over there, but were stopped by a sign declaring the cove to be protected by the Ahihi Kinau Natural Reserve. We decided it would be best to turn around and find another spot.

Back through the lava flows we went, and around a couple of idiot tourists parked in front of a “no parking” sign (hey, dummies: if you are on a one-lane road, it probably isn’t the best idea to stop and take pictures while there is a line of cars behind you).

There was one parking lot right after the boundary to the natural reserve, and we pulled in. It didn’t look like much, but the sun was beginning to sink in the sky, and we figured it was our best shot.

A man and woman were walking up the path from the beach carrying snorkel gear. “That’s promising,” I told my mom. We asked them if the visibility was any good.

“Oh yes!” cried the woman. “It’s a little choppy now, but still worth it.” She proceeded to give us directions on where to head once in the water. “You should have been here in the morning; the water was really clear, and the whales swam right by here.”

Emboldened, we made our way down the rocky path to the beach, put on our snorkel gear, and got in the water.

The water was warm, but the waves were strong. We didn’t get very far before realizing that it really was too dark to see anything. I did see some fish and a bunch of beautiful coral, but it was pretty far down, and the sun, now at 4:30, was no help to us. I couldn’t take any pictures with my camera in its fancy waterproof case.

We swam back to the shore, and I tried to sit on a rock in the water to remove my flippers. The waves were relentless, and made it almost impossible for me to even move, much less remove my gear. My mom’s snorkel got swept away. My own snorkel would have been lost, too, if I hadn’t been so quick to see it floating by.

So I didn’t see any turtles, which made me sad. But now I know where to go…and I know that next time, I should go there in the morning.

The Search for Snorkeling
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