Wednesday 25 January 2012

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Taunted by Tourists at Kualoa Ranch

Long before our suicidal catamaran ride on Waikiki Beach, we tested the Hawaiian boating waters with the Ocean Voyaging Tour at Kualoa Ranch. Kualoa is a privately owned, 4000 acre working cattle ranch that features some of the most beautiful scenery on the island, so much so that many movies and TV series have been filmed there. I can see why, as the setting, between mountains yet extending all the way to the ocean, kind of leaves you awestruck, and you'll catch yourself looking up at the scenery almost constantly.

That, however, is when you're on the land. If you take the Ocean Voyaging tour like we did, there's other things to look for, like dolphins or turtles. At least these were the promises we made to our kids to get them excited about the early morning tour we were booked on. We were on the first run of the day, which goes out at 9am. The drawback to this is obvious, but the benefit is that there are very few other people crazy enough to get out of bed that early on vacation. Our tour was populated only by our family, and another extended group from Japan who spoke no English.

We were shuttled out to the boat where the safety information was explained. After a lot of sign language to ensure that our Japanese friends understood where the life jackets were stored, our captain explained that both levels of the boat were open, and that those who wanted to stay dry and get a good view should go up top, while those who wanted to be closer to the water could stay downstairs, but be warned that you will probably get wet. The Japanese family immediately climbed up the stairs to the top deck (leaving me wondering how they understood the phrase "stay dry" with such ease) so our family took up residence on the bottom. The captain explained that if you stayed back in the seating area, you would probably stay dry, but if you went up to the front railing, you'd best hang on and hold your breath.

That was good enough for me, and I headed for the front rail along with my older two children while Lori and our youngest stayed in the dry area to take some pictures. I have to say that all the warnings were a little over the top however, as the ride out to the area where sea turtles were known to congregate was perfectly smooth. It got a little choppy as we got further out, but we weren't getting anything more than a light misting. Once we got out from the land a little ways, Lori called us to turn around for a picture.

I suppose it could have been coincidence. Lori claims that she didn't know, but usually it's the people in the picture who are supposed to have a giant smile on their face, not the person taking the picture. Just as we turned around to get our picture taken, the ship dipped and we hit our first real wave. I don't know if there's a time when the ocean temperature actually warms up, but I can guarantee you it's not 9am. It felt like somebody threw a bucket of ice on my back and I let out enough of a squeal to attract the attention of the Japanese family on the top deck, probably because my yelp was high-pitched enough to sound like the dolphin they were searching for. In a move that made me wonder why anybody ever argues against stereotypes, they all pointed their cameras at the crazy, wet people at the front of the boat and started taking pictures.

There were a couple more calls from Lori for pictures, but having been fooled once, the most she would get from us was a half glance over the shoulder while we held on to the front ropes with an iron grip. We didn't really want to turn around anyways as, other than being a little cold from the water, the ride out was really enjoyable. Eventually the captain told us that we were getting to the area where sea turtles were usually found, and that we should keep our eyes open. Lori and my other daughter came out to join us at the railing, and we all stared into the water looking for Crush the sea turtle. After a little bit, there was a commotion on the top deck, and we could hear shouting. Figuring that they had located the turtles, we all turned to see what was happening.

What I didn't expect to see, was a wall of smiling Japanese faces across the front of the top deck, all with cameras pointed right at us. This threw me off for a minute as I tried to figure out what was making us so interesting, but while I was putting all the information together, I recognized that feeling of the ship going down a wave again. I grabbed my daughter and covered up, but sure enough another blanket of ice water came over the front of the boat and soaked us all. At the time, I assumed that they had been trying to warn us, but in hindsight, I'm guessing that if I understood Japanese the yelling would have translated into something along the lines of "Hey crazy people! Look at us!" 

Since we were all wet now anyways, we spent the rest of the boat ride out on the front deck enjoying the sun. The Ocean Voyaging Tour lasts about an hour, which is way less time than you want to spend on the water in Hawaii, but it's enough to give you a little taste of ocean life, and it's perfect as an adventure for the kids. We only found a couple of sea turtles (hence leading to our later visit to Laniakea Beach), and caught a glimpse of what I suspect were a couple of dolphins, but we really enjoyed the chance to get out on a boat, and the view of Oahu as you come back towards it is worth every penny of the cost (which is $24 per adult and $15 per child). Kualoa Ranch offers packages where you can choose one, two, or four of their activities during your visit, and if you have a spot, I highly recommend the Ocean Voyaging Tour. Maybe just learn a little Japanese before you go.