The beautiful clear blue seas around the Hawaiian Islands are teeming with a wide variety of marine life, from the ubiquitous jellyfish to the more elusive turtle. For many months I had looked forward eagerly to having a go at snorkelling to explore these seas. One of the more popular snorkelling venues on Oahu is Hanauma Bay - this is so popular that it is now a protected Marine Life Conservation District. Sadie and Cindy were also keen to try the snorkelling and Christie came along to watch us. We parked above the bay and looked down at the translucent aquamarine sea below us - it was possible to make out the areas of coral in the shallow water. The bay looked very busy, but since this was the best place on the island for snorkelling novices and it is possible to hire gear here, it was no great hardship to join the crowds.
Unfortunately, a rather too long frolic in the sea the previous day had given my a sunburnt back. The car journey to the bay had convinced me that I did not fancy lying face down ie 'back up' under the hot mid morning sun with my already red skin becoming more like a beetroot each minute. The problem was solved by the presence of a market stall on the beach selling cheap T-shirts. Sadie and Cindy followed suit and since we were practically the only snorkellers wearing conspicuous white shirts they acted as good markers, although I frightened one poor unsuspecting stranger when I approached her from behind thinking it was Cindy.
We joined the queue to hire equipment and chose to hire the 'dry' snorkel - apparently easier for beginners to use. We were a little anxious when handed the equipment with no instruction as to the use. We asked for tuition. Only to be told "put this (mask) on ya face and stick that (snorkel) in ya mouth and breath normally". It all sounded so simple. First dilemma for me: do I put the mask on over my glasses - it fitted, but not comfortably - or do I take them off and miss half the blooming fish I'd come to see? I tried with them on and missed half the fish anyway as I couldn't get the co-ordination of clear mask/clear glasses/breathing right. I tried with the glasses off and hey, suddenly everything became clear.
For short spells I managed to combine the clear mask and the breathing and it was wonderful floating quietly and effortlessly in the clear water. There was lots of fish and I couldn't believe they were so tame; they didn't bother about the human company at all. I was amazed to see the deep gaps in the coral; one minute the rock was three feet below me and the next it dropped down sharply to deeper water. At some places in the bay the coral is very extensive and the water is so shallow near the shore that it is hard to stay off the coral, but standing on it causes damage and also incurs the wrath of the vigilant lifeguards. I found this the hard way on several occasions, when I felt the need to stand clear of the water for a minute to clear my mask again, but found no soft sand beneath. I usually ended taking in several mouthfuls of water. It was easy to lose all track of position and time when under the water. I hardly felt the need to kick with the fins at all, yet drifted far across the bay. Being half blinded without my glasses, I squinted around trying to spot the (now not so) obvious white T-shirted figures of Sadie and Cindy. I found they were resting on the beach, Cindy coughing and spluttering worse than I, after one particularly bad incident when she tried to drink the bay dry. I found the snorkelling left me rather tired, considering it did not feel a particularly energetic activity at the time and Cindy and I made good use of the road train back up to the car park.
The underwater theme was continued with a visit to Waikiki aquarium. This visit was very informative and made all the more enjoyable by the hi-tech listening devices which provided a commentary - far easier than trying to peer at small print in a darkened room. The helpful guide at the outdoor tank helped me identify some to the many fish I had seen in the sea. These included rainbow surgeon fish, which have a clearly observed 'scalpel' close to their tales.