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Getting active on Hawaii.

The inflatable Avon Searider glided smoothly over the waves and headed into the vast aqua waters of the Pacific Ocean. The 15 passengers aboard and durable rubber slip nervously fidgeted with cameras, ready to shoot the first sighting. The craft slowed, then stopped. Cameras poised, we waited and watched. Suddenly, a voice yelled, "Over there, I see one!" Everyone's focus shifted to the east as a giant hump-back whale and her newborn calf broke the surface and cut gracefully through the waves with majestic, fluid movements. Apparently at each with our presence, the two seemed oblivious to the boat. Moments later, the whales dove and disappeared.

Not a single camera clicked.

Over the cource of the week, however, many photographs of whales were taken, as well as photos of active volcanoes, black-sand beaches, colorful underwater marine life, magnificent mountains, and lush flora -- portraits of the natural wonder that is Hawaii.

I arrived in Honolulu with a few naive notions about the cinematic memories of Hawaii's islands. One memory involved a dramatic scene from the film Bird of Paradise, in which Debra Paget, playing a tribal king's daughter, looked mournfully at Jeff Chandler before leaping into the fiery mouth of an erupting volcano, offering human sacrifice to Pele, the fire goddess. Not the most hopeful scenario to a young man. Then, of course, there were the colorful National Geographic specials on the wildlife, vegetation, and peoples of the Hawaiian Islands -- a slightly more inviting picture. But a dimension of Hawaii was still lacking.

During the next week, Hawaii unveiled in vivid color that missing dimension. My temporary home was aboard the recently refurbished S.S. Constitution, one of two ships of American Hawaii Cruises--the only oceangoing cruise ships sailing under the American flag. With my clothes and provisions safely stashed away in a comfortable stateroom, I sailed the Pacific aboard the well-known ship, calling before returning to Honolulu at Kahului, Maui; Hilo and Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii; and Nawiliwili, Kauai.

You probably think a cruise is a cruise is a cruise--a chance to relax, to eat delicious food at whatever time of day in whatever quantity you desire, and to be pampered like royalty on a daily basis. All this is true, of course, with on fascinating distinction.

"Save the Humpback Whales" cruises hosted by American Hawaii in the early spring offer passage to adventure. A fluke, pardon the pun, of nature allows the curious visitor to Hawaii during this time a rare and remarkable glimpse of endangered humpback whales in their native environment.

Each year, the fabled humpbacks migrate from the frigid waters off Alaska to Hawaii to breed and nurse their young. The gentle giants frolic and flirt with each other in the warm Hawaiian waters. While researchers struggle to unveil the habits of these mysterious mammals, whale watchers can witness firsthand the marvel.

But whales are not the only natural phenomena that await adventure-seeking visitors to Hawaii. Even though humpback theme sails are offered for only one week during the spring, cruising Hawaii packs excitement year-round. Each island boasts a unique character, distinct features, and definite challenges.

Leave the beach chair behind--the thrill of the islands lies in discovering their natural beauty and power. And there's no better route to discovery than by getting active in Hawaii.

MAUI

We landed at the pier in Maui early in the morning. After a quick breakfast and morning workout, we boarded the host company's Ocean Rider Zodiac--one of several officially registered with the Pacific Whale Foundation, a nonprofit research organization studying whales in the region. Offshore vessels, especially designed to navigate Hawaii's waters, must follow strict rules when approaching whales; these rules include not getting closer than 300 feet. Upsetting humpbacks' natural habits and habitats might deter the mammals from returning to the waters of Hawaii to breed and nurture their young. But the experienced pilots know how to maneuver the boats to reach the best possible vantage point.

The humpbacks swim very close to the boats. As with all species, courtship demands a certain concentration. Males are intent on "showing off" to the nearby female. Every so often, whales breech. For whale watchers, breeching is the most dramatic of the whale's behaviors. When a 30-ton animal jumps out of the water and slaps down on the surface, making waves takes on a whole new meaning.

The ritual is awesome. Occasionally, a male will hoist a wing-like dorsal fin out of the water, as if preparing for takeoff; dorsal fins can reach 15 feet. Hydrophone audio equipment on board the small craft allows passengers to hear the whales communicating with one another directly below and around the boat. Naturalists often accompany excursion parties, offering a running narrative on whale behaviors.

At one point, a humpback female dove directly under the craft, allowing us a close-up glimpse. As the majestic creature swam through the strong ocean current, she resembled an underwater subway en route to destinations unknown. Whale behavior still remains largely a mystery, but researchers off the coast of Hawaii are learning a great deal. Returning humpbacks have become familiar "faces" and are given affectionate names.

Later that evening, naturalists and biologists briefed us on the habits and history of humpbacks. Ron Norris, a marine biologist from Anchorage who is famous for the coordination of "Operation Breakthrough," the gray whale rescue in Barrow, Alaska, in 1988, explained to us the problems endangered humpbacks face. The Whale Gallery on each ship boasts permanent displays on the lore of the humpback, underwater photos and stop-action shots of the animals, and maps of known migration patterns--all of which generate awareness of the plight of the humpback in our environmentally threatened world.

Tips: Bring plenty of film, and load the camera before the offshore craft anchors; whales surface and disappear in moments--so be ready. Take as many photos as you can; once you return home, you'll be glad that you did. Ship photographers offer suggestions on action photography and "taking your best shot" prior to the outing. Wear sunscreen; the tropical sun beats down on the water and you--and a tropical burn could ruin the rest of the trip.

After the four-hour excursion, we returned to Lahaina. Once a remote fishing and whaling village, Lahaina is today a tourist's mecca: a true T-shirt town. From the crowded harbor to the busy main street, tourism is the town's economic mainstay. Vendors sell everything from $2 shells to $20,000 originals from such art-world luminaries as Peter Max, Andy Warhol, and Erte. The whale-watching movement has caught up with Lahaina: Whale kitsch is everywhere. For mementos, this is the place to shop. The convoluted shape of the spreading century-old Indian banyan tree in front of the Court House is an attraction all by itself. At the heart of town, the Pioneer Bar is a delightful watering hole: A live impromptu group often plays.

If you prefer shoreside adventure, land excursions are available. For the strong of heart and limb, try bicycling down the slopes of Mount Haleakala. Beginning at the summit of Haleakala, 10,023 feet above sea level, you will coast more than 38 miles at approximately 20 miles per hour. This excursion, which lasts seven-and-a-half hours, is a wonderful adventure for the thrill-seeking. Lunch and frequent stops are included in the outing.

HILO

Fourteen years ago, a retired San Francisco executive, Dan J. Lutkenhouse, discovered a spectacular valley at Onemea Bay. He fell so in love with the scenic landscape that he sold his business, purchased the land, and in 1984 opened the doors to his dream: the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden.

This is Hawaii at its most lush and colorful. Hidden and pristine nature trails wind through this spectacular rain forest; paths cross streams, pass by magical waterfalls, and provide ocean vistas along the rugged, rocky coast. Large, colorful koi fish swim in Lily Lake. It's a photographer's dream come true, so all shutterbugs should be prepared. (Actually, there are fantastic photo opportunities along the way on the four-mile scenic route seven miles north of Hilo.)

The garden showcases a vast variety of tropical flowers, plants, and trees, including palms, bromeliads, gingers, heliconias, exotic ornamentals, and giant tree ferns. At one point on the trail, I found myself engulfed in a palm jungle, wondering if I had stumbled onto an alternate set for Honey, I Shrunk the Kids or whether the legendary Merlin would soon jump from behind one of the trees in this enchanted forest. Nestled in the green, shrine-like and solemn, is a three-tiered natural waterfall. Parrots, African flamingos, and Mandarin ducks roam the gardens.

More than 1,800 species of plants and flowers from around the world can be seen on the self-guided tour. Lutkenhouse has purchased additional acreage and plans to expand the tropical garden to include even more endangered plants, larger research facilities, and large, modern visitor center.

Tip: Wear comfortable shoes and bring a sheer cover-up; rain is frequent.

Soon after takeoff in a Hilo Bay Air helicopter to our next excursion, Kilauea, we noticed the landscape had shifted from the rich, inviting green to a dark, eerie gray, resembling more a set from a George Lucas science-fiction thriller than any earthly scene--acre upon acre of molten, hard lava covering the once-plush lands of Hilo. Slowly, the volcano's eruptions have reclaimed ancient ground, sealing it forever from generations to come. Despite the residents' offering of the traditional bottles of gin, Pele, the fire goddess, could not be appeased.

The helicopter seats four comfortably per tour. Headphones are provided so the knowledgeable pilot can relate the history of developments in the landscape below.

Once over the active Pu'u 'O'o vent, we witnessed the volcanic activity up close as the helicopter hovered to peer through a portion of the collapsed "roof" of one of the lava tubes, called "skylights"; the river of molten rock streaming underground seemed a perfect portrait of Dante's Inferno. The brilliant orange underneath contrasts with the dark, dirty, gray surface, which is actually lava turning to stone. The temperature in this tube reaches about 2,300[degrees]F. As you hover 30 feet or so above the skylight, you can feel the intense heat through the open windows of the helicopter.

The one-hour tour route follows the volcano's eight-mile path to the ocean's edge, where the tube shoots the lava out into the water. As the incredibly hot lava pours into the cool seawater, the ocean erupts in an explosion of steam and spray, much as it must have millions of years ago in forming the earth. Kilauea has destroyed many of the homes and farms of Hilo's residents, but has added more than 125 new acres of land to the island. From this aerial vantage point, you can see scattered remnants of the oceanside community--tin roofs, road signs, the windows of a school bus, a tractor--all frozen in the rock-hard lava. The famous Black Sand Beach--once one of the most popular tourist points--is gone, but a new black-sand beach is forming at Kamoamoa.

Tip: If possible, try for the front seat next to the pilot or the two outside windows--the views are much better. If at all squeamish, opt for the middle back seat. Whatever the perch, you will be treated to absolutely astounding views.

If flying over an active volcano isn't for you, Volcano National Park offers you a taste of the crater while your feet are planted firmly on the ground. A motor coach takes you from the Kilaeua Visitor Center around the 11-mile crater-rim drive into the summit's cauldron.

Tip: Comfortable shoes are a must.

Whichever option you choose, this landscape is one that you will not soon forget. That night as we sailed along the coastline, the lava-spewing Kilauea Volcano illuminated the night sky a bright red-orange--it was a final reminder of the fire goddess Pele's dominion over the island.

KONA

For most people, Kona suggests one thing: coffee. Kona coffee is, arguably, the best in the world. But Kona is also a port of entry on the Big Island--the island of Hawaii. If visiting these isles conjures up visions of lounging in the sun, sipping fruited drinks, contemplating the mysteries of life and the many injustices of the world, then book passage on the Fairwind Snorkel sail. The afternoon excursion offers four hours of snorkeling or scuba-diving, basking in the sun, a satisfying on-the-water lunch, and just plain leisurely fun--for sheer relaxation, this outing rates an A-plus. The 50-foot trimaran takes off from Keahou Bay on either a morning or afternoon cruise to Kealakekua Bay, once the scene of violence that resulted in the death of the now-legendary Captain James Cook, whose monument graces a nearby bay.

Once there, we donned snorkely gear and done in to view firsthand the varied and colorful marine life. Novices to snorkeling were instructed on the basics; it's really a simple skill to acquire, and the staff was very helpful. The fish were harmless--a collage of royal blues, brilliant yellows, and coal blacks. For the water-weary, the glass bottom on the trimaran provides a peek at the busy world underneath.

Tip: Bring sunscreen and a large towel. Relatively inexpensive underwater cameras allow you to freeze-frame your piscine pals.

KAUAI

Hawaiians call it "The Garden Isle." With towering mountains and deep, lush canyons, Kauai remains a natural primeval paradise--how you might imagine Hawaii to be. Mitzi Gaynor sang "I'm Gonna Wash That Many Right Out of My Hair" from South Pacific seated on the rocks along Lumahai Beach, and Bo Derek jogged into history in 10 on Kauai's white-sand Hanalei Coast. Opening scenes from the action-packed wilderness adventure Raiders of the Lost Ark were filmed in Kauai's Huleia National Wildlife Refuge. Whether you see it by land, by air, by boat, or by foot, Kauai shouldn't be missed.

For an unequaled view of the dramatic coastline, the Hanalei Sea Tour cruises along the Na Pali Coast. The Zodiac raft courses up the craggy coast, which stretches along a dozen miles of pristine wilderness. Schools of dolphins swim alongside the boat, darting in and out of the waves with playful grace and precision. The sights along the Na Pali Coast are magnificent, and definitely worth the bumpy passage: Undoubtedly, this island boasts some of the most beautiful land on earth.

Shadows play upon the rugged mountain faces, changing contours and deepening colors. It is easy to believe in magic here. The mountain remains uninhabited and uninhabitable, a sanctuary for all to enjoy. Nature has dominion here, as it has for centuries. Rivers seem to fall for miles from distant mountaintops, washing cliffs before cascading into the ocean.

Tip: Don't wear contact lenses--or wear protective goggles if you must wear contacts--and plan on getting wet. Also, the front outside seats get pummeled by waves; sit elsewhere.

The Waimea Canyon, the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific," might best be seen by air or on foot. Helicopter tours of the Waimea Canyon and Na Pali Coast are an unforgettable way to see these sights. As you fly over the canyon, you'll view 5,000-foot-high Mount Waialeale crater--the wettest spont on earth with 471 inches of rain a year, which makes it a hothouse for exotic orchids. Occasionally, you can spot an experienced climber or a mountain goat; otherwise the scene is one of untamed wilderness--a wet one, at that.

Tip: The 40-minute helicopter tour is very popular, so book ahead.

If you're on foot, you can experience Kauai up close. The Kalalau Trail is 11 miles long; most hikers complete the first 2 miles of the journey, which ends at the popular Hanakapiai Beach. From the path, you can see Ke'e Beach, the Zodiacs along the coast, and the sweeping Na Pali coastline. Camping is allowed with a permit, but swimming at Hanakapiai is not--the undertow is treacherous. The trail is demanding and often a bit too narrow, but seeing Kauai on foot is definitely worth the extra effort.

Tip: Avoid the holidays; locals love the trail too. Of course, hiking boots or durable shoes are a must. Also, it gets chilly the higher you scale, so dress warmly; rains are also very common.

Excursions to Waimea Canyon, riverboat cruises to the famous Fern Grotto and Wailua River, or Kauai kayak adventures up the Huleia and Hanalei rivers are all exciting alternatives. The shore-excursion office aboard ship can arrange a tailor-made itinerary.

HONOLULU

The S.S. Constitution returned to Honolulu, Hawaii's capital and the largest city in the islands. No trip would be complete without a visit to Waikiki Beach--the playground of the Pacific. The white sand, clear green water, and dramatic Honolulu coastline make it easy to see why people around the globe long to visit the famous strip. By now, many passengers were just plain pooped out, but there were those who scheduled extra days in Honolulu at the end of their trip for surfing, sailing on a catamaran, or hiking to the summit of the famous Diamond Head crater.

Not far from Waikiki are Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial. The 50th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor is December 7th; special celebrations will mark the day.

If you plan on visiting Hawaii, now is the time to do so. The Hawaiian tourism industry is launching promotions to attrach travelers, and vistors can choose from a wide range of tours. The cruising option eliminates the need for much of the hustle and bustle: Hotel reservations, meals, airline shuttles, and excursion arrangements are all professionally managed from one source. The old phrase "Leave the driving to us" says it all.

Families need not fret about adolescents or younger children at sea, either: Cruise directors realize the special "energy quotient" of the young and keep kids of all ages occupied. Not only are there special presentations addressing the younger passengers, but some lines--such as American Hawaii's "Save the Humpback Whales" theme cruises being held the week of March 14, 1991--offer special packages whereby those 16 and under sail free when cruising with two full-fare adults. Exploring the oceans, learning about endangered species, meeting new friends--children can benefit from the cruise experience in a variety of ways, gaining insight into the world around them.

So whether it's a first or second honeymoon, a dream vacation, or a faraway family adventure, now is the time to get active on Hawaii.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Saturday Evening Post Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:cruise travel
Author:Perry, Patrick
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Nov 1, 1991
Words:3064
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