Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Vamsee's List of Must-See Places in the World - Big Island, Hawaii, USA

A very happy new year to all my readers. This New Year, I have decided to start a new series on my blog titled "Vamsee's List of Must-See Places in the World". Over the last decade I had the good fortune of seeing some of the most beautiful places in the World and I would like to share images and stories from those trips. This will be a bi-weekly series with more photos and less text.

Hawaii, Big Island, USA

I screamed as hard as I could. My head was underwater and I knew there was no point screaming, but I did. How could I not? This giant 10ft creature was coming directly at me with its mouth wide open. Saru, who was right next to me, heard me, popped his head out of the water and burst out laughing. "No need to worry. You are not its food" he said.
"It is easy for you to say that, it didn't come at you" I said. He laughed again as we went back under water. This time, he held my hand to reassure that we were safe. We were in the company of many night divers and snorkelers who were all there to see some of the most spectacular sea creatures - Manta Rays. The tour operators take you in a boat in the evening to Keauhou Bay near the Kona airport and setup while you watch a glorious sunset (sunsets in Hawaii are always mind blowing!!). When night falls, divers go down to the sea bed and switch on their powerful torches. Light attracts plankton (tiny brine shrimp) and Manta Rays come to feed on them.
Saru and I got into body suits (water is quite cool) and jumped into the water. One glance into the underwater world and we were astounded!! There were a little fishes/sea creatures floating in the water. Snorkeling in the night is very different. You can't tell the colors of the fish, but just the numbers blow you away. Loud gasps from people around us announced the arrival of the chief guest - the gigantic Manta Ray and it was not alone. A troupe of 14 rays showed up for the party and boy what a spectacle it was!! These rays can be as large as 6-14 feet across and weigh as much as 5000 pounds, but seem as light as a batman's cape. The Manta rays come swooping by with their mouth wide open scooping up thousands of little shrimp. For more than an hour, we watched the feeding frenzy of these fascinating creatures. Their dinner time was grand theatre for us and I have to give full five stars to their performance. Manta means blanket and they did look like black and white blankets swishing and swooping around the area with great elegance and aplomb. Their acrobatics can put Cirque du Soleil to shame. We were the last to get out of the water and I remember shaking with excitement. This experience rates as one of the top 10 adventures I had in my life. Watch this video I found on youtube . It is heavily edited and not as exciting as the dive itself, but gives a good look at the rays. Watch out for the snorkeler at the surface and how close the rays get to her. I could have easily been her.

If I had to rate one place as my most favorite in the entire, it will have to be the Hawaii Islands. Over the years we made three trips to the islands and loved it every single time and why not. These islands have EVERYTHING in one place - Rain forests, snow peaked mountains, stunning beaches, lava fields, active volcano and some of the most beautiful coral reefs. Added to all this, they have many charming hotels, Bed & Breakfasts and excellent food. For some reason, Big Island has a ton of Thai restaurants and we just loved them. Don't forget to sample "Donkey Balls". They are delicious!!.

Top 5 Experiences in the Big Island:
  1. Manta Ray Night Dive
  2. Hike to see an active volcano in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
  3. Kayak in the Kealakekua Bay and snorkel at Captain Cook
  4. Watch a sunset
  5. Go to a Lu'au for a grand dinner and Hula dance performances

You can read detailed travelogues about this trip in my old posts (Hawaii - Got Balls? , Hot Lava from a Live Volcano) Here are some pictures from our trips. Please note that these pictures were taken in 2003, 2005 and 2008 when we had a normal camera.

Ocean Vistas to die for!!

Turtles at Punalu'u Black Sand Beach

Past Volcanic Activity

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park - Hike to see the lava flow into the Ocean

Waterfalls in Hilo

Hula Dancers at a Lua'u

Every sunset is a postcard picture

Practical Information

Best time to visit
: Any time of the year. It is crowded and expensive during all major holidays and school breaks.

How to get there: There are a lot of cheap flights from the Continental US to all Hawaiian Islands. Flight time is about 6 hours from California.

Getting Around: Renting a car is the only way to get around the island. 4-wheel drive is necessary only if you plan to go off-road.

Lodging: Big hotels have good deals, but I love bed & breakfasts in Hawaii. Of all the places we stayed, Areca Palms in the Captain Cook area is my favorite.The hostess makes ginormous breakfasts.

Coming up next:
  • Alaska - The land of the midnight Sun
  • Monument Valley, Utah, USA
  • Rome, Italy
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park, California, USA
  • Munnar, Kerala, India


  1. Awesome idea for a blog! We already don't make any effort when it comes to choosing vacation destinations--its usually, "lets just ask Vam". Now we don't even have to plan what to see and do once we get there.
    Big Island is just different from Maui. That Manta Ray is beautiful but so scary! Your pictures with a "normal" camera are as good as the more recent ones. Love the sunset pictures!

  2. WOW!!! This is one experience to die for!! I would looooovvve to snorkel with manta rays or anything else!!! And your pics with a 'normal' camera as as mind-blowing as with your DSLR!! If the sunsets are so good in the pics, imagine how they would be to actually see!! This series is a superb idea, Vamsee!!

  3. Wow....what an amazing experience!!! And this series is a wonderful idea indeed..what more could we as lay-person travellers ask for than to have seasoned pros like you and Saru share ur experiences, tips and ideas with us. Now rather than painng u on the phone for ideas, we can have it all here in black and white! Keep it coming!

  4. Awesome!! and a great idea for a series... looking forward to more.. Wish you all a wonderful year ahead... hopefully with much more travel and posts about them!

  5. beautiful pics..look forward to more ..

  6. Neat series Vamsee, looking forward to Alaska now.

  7. This is just awesome and very beautiful pictures

  8. Awesome Idea! More pictures is always good to see. :D
    Have been so busy planning and traveling couldn't catch up with most of the posts. Now that I am home, I think i will.

    P.S - Can't wait to see Alaska through your lens. :)

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