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Maximizing Time: A Week(end) In Hawai’i (Part 2)

My previous post delineates my lessons from the 13th International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) in Honolulu, Hawai’i. But I also want to spend some time reflecting on the time I spent in Hawai’i, not just ICRS.


My shoestring budget meant that I outside of days at the conference itself, would only have two full days to explore Hawai’i, a dream destination of mine since I was a kid. My week-turned-weekend in Hawai’i I discovered would be a great success thanks to the kindness of strangers, differences in timezones, and local expertise.

My arrangements, also dictated by my shoestring budget, ultimately brought me to, a website that connects budget travelers with hosts that will host guests for no cost or minimal cost. As a result, most arrangements are pretty humble, usually a couch or air mattress. As a long as I had a place to sleep and a shower for the morning, I wasn’t about to complain. My host Patric was above and beyond, giving me recommendations for around Honolulu, letting me borrow his surfboard, and even getting me fresh fruit for my days at the conference.


My first full day began at 5am, when I woke up unable to get back to sleep. I had only gone to sleep four hours earlier thanks to a nighttime flight into Hawai’i, but my North Carolina-adjusted body was convinced it was already 11am, and there was no reason to sleep. I was in Hawai’i. I got up, got dressed and packed the essentials (mask, snorkel, camera) and hopped into the street to get oriented. My accommodations were a mere 3 blocks from Wakiki Beach, so naturally the first thing I needed to see was the Pacific Ocean. For the most infamously touristy beach, I was pretty amazed at the clarity of the water and of course a refreshing morning swim was necessary.


I picked up a bus pass and a map of the island in the local store and after a while beach bumming I met up with JP, a fellow Castillo labmate. We wandered out into the surf near Wakiki beach in search of reef. Despite some local insight, we were only able to find some recently deceased coral, though we were pleasantly surprised by the amount of fish present.


Reef or not, the clarity of water ensured I never wanted to get out.

So instead of looking for coral, we decided that our time was better spent doing what everyone else does at Wakiki beach and surf. With the help of Patric’s borrowed surfboards, JP took me out in the surf and gave me a lesson in how to surf. The calm rolls of Wakiki Beach were forgiving, to the point were it was even a little difficult to find a wave that could be ridden. After a few tries I finally felt it: the board falling down the wave beneath me, and that I was no longer pushing the board forward as much riding with the roll of the wave. I stood up, briefly. Long enough to want to try again the next chance I ever get.


I still had a four hours before I had to report to the conference center that evening, so after returning the surfboards I hopped aboard a bus out of Honolulu. Thanks to shipmate Sabrina Hutchinson, who had lived on the island for college, I had a local’s inside scoop on places to explore. Sadly though, they almost all were outside of the city, which meant even the closest recommendations she had were an hour by bus. This particular bus ride to Makapu’u where a lighthouse on the side of a cliff supposedly made for some spectacular views. I hiked to the top, where I was really able to get an idea of how volcanism had shaped the island, bringing steep rocky cliffs up from the ocean. At the top of Makapu’u I really understood that I was in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

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At the top of Makapu’u I spied some folks venturing into large tide pools at the bottom of the cliffs. Carefully picking my way down the steep Cliffside (Chacos® serve me true once again!), I found myself at the base of the cliff and directly in front of powerful waves pounding the rocky shoreline. It was here that I really appreciated how fire and water had carved this landscape.

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The waves pounded the lava rocks, weaving water into the many nooks and crannies worn over the centuries and making for interesting shapes in the spray. I could have stayed here until the sun went down, but I had a conference to attend, and a cliff climb and long bus ride was in between me and being on time to the conference. After a long hike back to the bus stop and a long ride to a shower and then the convention center, day one of two in Hawai’i had been full of adventure.

My poster for ICRS!
My poster for ICRS!

The conference then began, barring most of my daytime from exploring Hawai’i. I did have the chance to meet some local students from the University of Hawai’i, who were happy to provide me all kinds of recommendations and suggestions for things to do during my day two of enjoying the island.


So after a full week of learning all about the latest and greatest in coral research, I had one day left to get out and explore Hawai’i before hopping on a 10:30pm flight back to the mainland. My fellow labmates and I invested in renting a car for the day, freeing me from the long bus rides to explore the island. We first ventured out of the city to what every local had called their favorite snorkeling spot on the island: Electric Beach.


Named for the power plant adjacent the shore, the most obvious feature beneath the water were two large concrete pipes that churned out warm water that had been used to cool the power plant. The concrete support for the pipes seems to provide the perfect hard substrate for corals to settle, and as a result a small shore reef flourishes around the pipes. Again amazed by the clarity of the water, our gang stumbled into not one, but two carefree turtles!

Hannah hanging with chill turtle #1
Hannah hanging with chill turtle #1

The turtles had no cares with us, and glided alongside us as we explored the reef. After a while of wandering across the reef, we piled back into the rental and headed out for the famed “northshore” of Oahu.


While until now I had been enjoying Hawai’i for it’s beaches, nothing could have prepared me for witnessing the towering mountains of the Northshore. The steep mountainsides were stunning to witness, and made me feel like I was in a different world.

After a delicious food truck lunch and drive around the Northshore, we pulled over at shark’s cove, another popular swim and snorkel spot, right next to the famed Banzai Pipeline (which I found out, is only full of huge waves during one half of the year, and completely calm the other half of the year). I hopped back into my mask and snorkel, but this time stuck with my trusty Chacos® as footwear instead of fins. As a result I was able to snorkel all in the cove as well as climb on rocks and cliffs as I wanted to. Unlike electric beach and Wakiki, there didn’t seem to be much coral OR fish in Shark’s cove, but a lot tempting caverns and nooks to explore.

I carefully found my way through the surge into secret coves and swim throughs, accompanied only by turtle friends. I then swam out of the cove and carefully navigated my way up to the top of the rocks and took a moment to enjoy the sun and the sea sitting before me. I took in the beauty of the water glistening on the rocks, and solitude of witnessing this view alone. If all of my two days in Hawai’i had just been that moment, it would have been a full trip.

It was good thing that I got that moment. After regrouping, the day was drawing to a close, and we began the trek back to Honolulu. After grabbing a quick dinner, JP dropped me off at the airport for the journey home. And for the first time in a long time, I slept on the plane. I suppose that makes sense, it was quite a full trip to Hawai’i.

This trip also signified the last event I would participate in as a member of the Castillo Lab. With my projects completed and presented, my funding done, it was time for me to move on in my professional journey in becoming a marine scientist. But to me, this was a perfect way to end. We had all presented great work during an amazing week of coral reef science. And like my time in the Castillo Lab it wasn’t just the research that I enjoyed but the time we spent outside and adventuring together. Having a support group like the Castillo lab is a big part of why I am so charged to keep doing marine science, and also see the amazing people and research coming out of the Castillo Lab!


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