Humuhumunukunukuapua’a is the name of the Hawaii State Fish. To say this, break it up into syllables and note the repetitions – Humu – Humu – Nuku – Nuku – Apua’a. And, if you’ve seen the movie “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”, you may recall a scene where a desk clerk at a resort on Oahu proudly boasts being able to name over 200 Hawaiian fish, including Humuhumunukunukuapua’a. You can see the clip (which is pretty funny) here. And now, I am proud to say that I have seen this fish in the flesh (pun intended).
Our last two days in Hawaii, Dec 27 (Saturday) and Sunday (Dec 28) were beach days. Our AirBnB host recommended a spot just a mile south from where we were staying, Kuhalu’u Beach Park, so we packed up some towels, beach chairs and a cooler together with two snorkeling masks that Lena brought along, and headed to the beach. The beach was nothing like what I’d been used to. It was a tiny salt-and-pepper beach hemmed in on all sides – by Ali’i Drive, a major thoroughfare by the ocean, a covered pavilion with a picnic area and an adjacent resort.
Unbeknownst to either one of us, it was also one of the most thrilling and easy-to-access snorkeling spot on the island. Initially, I had intended to only go in the water to frolic and cool off; then I saw a Moorish Idol fish at my feet, and I ran back to Lena to grab one of her snorkeling masks. Just then, I noticed a couple of tents by the parking lot – “Kahulu’y Bay Education Center”, a banner read. I went to check it out – they offered a variety of information on the fish in the bay and rented out snorkeling equipment. They also sold a laminated guide to Hawaiian creatures and an old-school film camera in plastic water-proof housing, both of which I could not resist.
So here I was, a waterproof camera and a laminated fish guide in hand and snorkeling gear on my head, in the water. You could literally put your face in the water only after a few steps and a great variety of tropical fish were swimming by you. We saw Pennant Butterflyfish, Unicornfish, Convict Tang and Yellow Tang as well as Bullethead Parrotfish, Yellowtail corris and, of course, the Hawaiian state fish in both of its colorings. See if you can find these fish in the picture of the fish guide above!
We went in to snorkel three different times over the course of the day- I honestly could have stayed in the water the whole time. It has been a long time since I’ve done something for the first time, and I felt like a little kid having discovered the underwater paradise here in Hawaii. I was also glad I got the snorkeling thing down, since we were supposed to take a night snorkel tour with a local outfitter to watch manta rays.
Unfortunately, to our heartbreak, the manta ray dive got cancelled due to high swell. We made it all the way out on the boat in our wetsuits before it was called off. I was glad our tour company was more concerned with our safety than making money – we saw a bunch of snorkelers with another company being tossed around in the ocean, and we could tell it was not a good idea. Snorkeling with Manta Rays involves holding on to a circular tube in the water, which a light shining in the middle that attracts the plankton that manta rays feed on. Our crew was worried people (especially some of the small kids on the tour) wouldn’t be able to hold on to the tube and float away. We knew it was the right call but we were super disappointed nonetheless. This was our last night in Hawaii, and we knew we couldn’t reschedule either. We were so bummed out! Instead, we spent our evening watching the aforementioned movie “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” (now with a new appreciation for a lot of the Hawaii references) and feasting on take out from Big Island Grill (where we had lunch on day 1) and a bottle of wine.
To make up for the lack of manta ray sightings, we headed back to Kahulu’u beach park on Sunday to kill a couple of hours before our 2 pm flight, hoping to see sea turtles. They are usually around only early in the morning at high tide. We got to the beach shortly after 7 am and we were one of the first people there. It was nice to have this otherwise busy spot to ourselves, and I am happy to report we saw not one but two sea turtles! We went snorkeling again and even swam by a few. We were so sad to leave. We could have spent another week on this side of the island exploring other beaches and frolicking in the ocean.
Alas, all good things must come to an end. As the island of Hawaii slowly disappeared from view on the plane, I vowed to myself I’d come here again, soon.