Posted by: Katie | May 27, 2012

Life in Hawaii

Jessica is a friend that went to a university in Wisconsin with me and we were both studying the same major – Marine Biology. However, with this program, students would spend 2 years in Wisconsin and then transfer to Hawaii for their last two years of college. Though, I eventually didn’t go to Hawaii (what is wrong with me?! Seriously – look at Jessica’s pictures! amazing!), she did and had the time of her life while there. This is her story.

1. Could you explain your initial thoughts or reactions the first few days in Hawaii?

The first few days in Hawaii were extremely exciting! However, for some reason, Hawaii decided to downpour for the first two weeks after our arrival. Since we moved into an unfurnished apartment, and had no car at the time, we literally sat on the floor and watched tv for the first two weeks! It was quite anticlimactic in the beginning, but we had a gorgeous view out our windows as the rain-generated waterfalls fell down the Ko’olau mountains. After the rain stopped, we enjoyed going to the beach and exploring our new home – we had almost one month of doing nothing but exploring the island. It was amazing!

2. You got scuba certified before moving. What have been your favorites underwater experiences?

I have a few favorite underwater adventures. I would say my all time favorite was diving offshore at a reef named the Makaha Caverns. This reef is a large underwater maze, created from lava flow, that you can swim through and encounter all sorts of marine life. We had the pleasure of meeting two black tip reef sharks, only feet away! I actually made a little squeal of excitement (that the sharks didn’t seem to like – oops)!


We only managed to go diving a few times in Hawaii, but I must say some of our snorkeling adventures were just as good as diving. Two places on Oahu are my favorite in particular: Makaha beach and Sharks Cove. Snorkeling at Makaha is a little tedious and you have to swim a good distance to actually get there, but there is a green sea turtle cleaning station that is absolutely amazing to see. In one snorkel you can see at least 8 turtles! It is also really neat to see the turtles being cleaned and cared for by the little reef fish. Of course, it is illegal in Hawaii to touch the green sea turtles, but the turtles at Makaha will get extremely close to you and are not shy at all! You may also see some spinner dolphins from shore or while snorkeling, though I did not see any during my time there. At Shark’s cove I have seen many cool marine species from the humuhumunukunukuapua’a to octopi and squid! I also enjoy free diving through a few lava tubes that emerge out of the rock shelves near Shark’s Cove. It is quite exhilarating to dive through the tubes, though I wouldn’t recommend it to unexperienced free divers.

3. What underwater camera do you use and do you recommend it?

My underwater camera is a bit outdated now, but I have the Pentax Optio W60 camera. It is 10 megapixels, 28 mm lens, 5x zoom, and shoots HD video. I bought this camera in winter of 2009 for $220 and it still works perfectly! I see them on Amazon now for $398, I guess I bought it at the right time! I really love this camera, it produces great quality images in and out of the water and has never failed me even through all the bumps, diving, and drops. The only issue I have had with the camera is its batteries, but those are relatively cheap and easy to replace. It also is only supposed to be submerged up to 13 ft, so if you are looking for a scuba diving camera you will want to consider getting a waterproof camera case (canon has many options for these). I do believe I have taken it to at least 20 ft while free diving, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

4. Do you have a specific dream job or focus with a Marine Biology degree?
I do have a dream job – scuba diving and conducting coral reef research! I am currently working towards my Master’s Degree at the University of South Carolina and am conducting research on Florida stone crabs (you should google-image them, they are quite neat). However, it is not the same as being in the water and being completely surrounded with the reef and all of its inhabitants. I definitely want to get back into coral-related research, and I would love the opportunity to scuba dive in the process! Any job offers out there..? 🙂

5.Could you briefly explain the experience of watching the filming of one of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films and seeing Johnny Depp?

The filming of the Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides was located literally 5 minutes away from my apartment in Kane’ohe. The majority of the night scenes were filmed at the Heeia Kea boat harbor and involved a lot of smoke machines! I’m not going to lie, I probably stalked the boat habor at least once every two days trying to catch a glimpse of Johnny Depp. My friend and I actually woke up at about 5 a.m. to try and meet Johnny Depp a little more personally, since that was when they would finish filming. Someone we knew had gotten the chance to meet him in person the day before at that time, but unfortunately for us we weren’t the only ones that found out! We got to catch a glimpse of him waving out of his SUV’s window, but we did not get a personal greeting like we had hoped. We then went to the harbor later that night, at about 9 p.m., and got to see him walking on to set in his full costume! It was a very unique experience, and it was a lot of fun to see him as Captain Jack Sparrow. We also saw a pirate skate-boarding home that night, we thought it was quite funny.

6. What hands on experience have you gained from Hawaii Pacific University?

HPU offers a lot of great hands-on experience opportunities. The university owns its own research vessel, the Koholo, and many lab activities use the boat. For example, in an Oceanography class that I took, we went on the boat nearly every other week using different oceanographic research tools. A few labs seemed more like whale-watching adventures than university sponsored labs. It is quite a unique experience to be sitting on a small vessel about 50 feet from a humpback whale! Labs at HPU also go out to the field (i.e. to intertidal areas) frequently. I would say about 50% of my labs at HPU were not conducted in the laboratory classroom itself. HPU is a great small university, and a wonderful learning environment! And if you are motivated, you may be able to gain research experience by helping out some of the graduate students at HPU. I was able to help Paula Lam with her research conducted on an endemic soft coral, and it was a great experience.


7. Do you recommend any beaches or nature areas on any of the islands?

If you are looking for nature, Kauai or Big Island are the best. However, if you are looking for both nature and night-life, I would recommend either Maui or Oahu. Unfortunately I was not able to go to Maui or Big Island during my stay on Oahu. On Kauai, I would recommend going to the Napali Coast. In particular, the Kalalau trail is an amazing hike! Though the entire trail is 11 miles long, hiking just the first two miles to Hanakapi`ai beach is a great day hike! My friends and I hiked  to Hanakapi`ai beach, and then another 2 miles in to the Hanakapi`ai falls (8 miles round trip!). It was a very strenuous hike, but it was well worth it! The Hanakapi`ai falls are gorgeous. Of course, you also need to visit Waimea canyon while on your trip to Kauai. It is essentially the grand canyon of the Hawaiian Islands! There are numerous trails that hike through the canyon, including a few that go past waterfalls, but I have not had the opportunity to hike any of them. I think any beach on Kauai would be well worth a visit

On Oahu, I could name endless things to do! The best beaches to go to vary by season, so make sure to check wave forecasts before heading to the beaches. As for beaches, it depends on what you are looking for. For snorkeling: Shark’s Cove, Makaha beach, Hanauma Bay, and Lanikai Beach to name a few. If you want calm water for just swimming in, Ko’olina lagoons are good for small children, Lanikai Beach and Waikiki Beach are often flat. For waves for inexperienced swimmers: Waimea Beach (on North Shore), Kailua Beach, Waimanalo Beach, or Waikiki Beach. Waimea Beach also has a large rock that you can jump off if you would like to (about 20 ft drop). For waves with body boarding or experienced swimmers: Makapu’u Beach, Sandy’s Beach, and Sunset Beach. The waves at these beaches can be dangerous, so make sure to check the wave forecast before entering the water! For hiking, there are numerous trails that are amazing. If you are not afraid of doing something that isn’t strictly legal, Stairway to Heaven is an amazing hike. I think its about 1,500 stairs that you climb up the side of the mountain. Other legal hikes include Maunawilli Falls, which I believe is about 2 miles round trip and ends at a waterfall that you can swim in/jump in. Hiking up to the Makapu’u light house is also a neat hike, especially during whale watching season (winter time). If you want a challenge, Koko head trail is basically a vertical stair hike in the sun, but once you get to the top it has a great view of Waikiki/Honolulu/Hanauma Bay. The Diamond Head Crater hike is a pretty easy hike that also offers great views of the city life below. For parks, Hoomaluhia is a great botanical garden on the windward side of the island, and is often quite deserted. Well, I think that would be enough for any one vacationer to see, but don’t forget to eat some Kalua pork and shaved ice.. yum!

8. Did you learn basic surfing skills while living there? How challenging was that?

Unfortunately, I only attempted surfing once. It was a very windy day with strong currents, and I must admit I did not enjoy it. However, many of my friends surfed in Waikiki and seemed to really love it. It definitely requires a lot of arm strength, but I think that once you get the hang of it you don’t want to do anything else!

9. Do you have any special close-encounters with marine life you’d like to share?

Hmm. I think I have mentioned a few from Hawaii already, but I’ll share some more! I went to Belize for a three week period during my second year of college, and I must say that is the best snorkeling I have ever experienced. I saw a hawksbill turtle and many green turtles, spotted eagle rays, giant groupers and moray eels, a few nurse sharks, and numerous octopi and squid! Not to mention the fairly pristine coral reefs in some areas. I also went on a night snorkel there and it was really neat to see the bioluminescent dinoflagellates that live on the sea grass. Here in South Carolina I have seen dolphins, and not to mention the day-to-day interactions with my stone crabs! Some of them are large, and can/will break your finger if they have the opportunity. I can’t think of anything else right now, but I’m sure I could come up with more if anyone was really interested!



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