On the Southeast Tip of Oahu in the shadow of Makapu’u Lighthouse, you will find SeaLife Marine Park. It’s nothing like SeaWorld or an aquarium in the mainland. It’s a very small park, but it’s very important to Hawaii!
SeaLife Marine Park is the only place in the United States with a Sea Turtle breeding program. They breed endangered Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles, which are distinctly different than Green Sea Turtles in other parts of the world. Here in Hawaii, our turtles enjoy basking in the sand and coming out of the water to eat algae on land. This behavior has never been observed before in any other sea turtle. (Usually they only come on land to lay eggs.)
In addition, the turtles here have been observed hunting fish, and eating different kinds of foods than Green Sea Turtles in other areas. That’s why right now, the folks at NOAA are fighting to get the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle classified as its own subspecies.
The SeaLife Marine Park turtle breeding program is therefore very important, because without them, the population here in the islands would be in great danger. SeaLife hatches, grows, and releases hundreds of turtles every year. This supspecies was nearly extinct until the breeding program began. Now, there are an estimated 2,000 Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles! This isn’t as much as we would like to see, but it’s a lot.
I recommend that you visit the park or donate to them simple because of the importance of the turtle breeding program, but it’s not all that they do! They also rescue and rehab endangered sea birds. If you go, you might get to see a brown-footed boobie or a Hawaiian albatross! You never know what birds they’ll be tending to in their seabird rehab area.
SeaLife also takes on dolphins who have retired from service with the United States Navy. What they did for the Navy is sometimes classified, but dolphins are used for all kinds of things like testing the affects of sonar on sea life and finding mines underwater. These dolphins now perform in the Aloha Dolphins show twice a day, and are available to swim with if you make a reservation and pay extra. My husband did the Royal Dolphin Swim Package and absolutely loved it.
Another fun thing to do is go feed the love birds. I don’t know how this exhibit got started, but it’s fun to take pictures in the lovebirds enclosure because they are so colorful.
If you live in Hawaii, I recommend buying the yearly membership. It comes with perks like private parties for holidays, and discounts on all the merchandise, dolphin encounters, etc. It’s well worth the fee, and remember: You’re supporting a good cause.
If you’re just visiting us here on Oahu, I still recommend you go. I know locals here in Hawaii appreciate when tourists take an interest in supporting our local land and animal conservation, and supporting SeaLife is a great way to do that.
It may not be a big, fancy park; but they do a lot of good and that’s what really matters!
Dragon Fruit, or Pitaya, is a unique cactus that grows in tropical areas. It’s actually Native to the Americas, but they can be found all over the world, from Florida to the Philippines.
Here on Oahu, dragon fruit cactus grow all over the island. They like to climb on walls and up trees, and they can be seen in many yards and wild spaces.
In Arizona we have cactus all over the place. We’re famous for our saguaro cactus, which have become a symbol of the southwest. But, we also have prickly pear, cholla, and a wide variety of other species.
Dragon fruits remind me a little of prickly pears because the fruit looks similar. However, prickly pear fruit is drier, and it’s better in syrup than when eaten raw.
It’s weird to see a cactus in places that seem otherwise tropical, but dragon fruit are adapted to all sorts of environments, and can handle both a little or a lot of water.
I’m hoping to grow some while I’m here. You guys know that I love plants! I’ve tried to grow something different everywhere I’ve lived.
In Guam, I kept a variety of orchids. I’d never lived in a tropical place before, and so I enjoyed having happy orchids for once that would bloom and bloom. As you can imagine, they don’t bloom a lot when kept in Arizona.
Here, I’m hoping to grow dragon fruit, avocados, and maybe some pineapples just for fun.
As I’ve said before on this blog, I grew up on a farm around dangerous chemicals. I’ve had several tumors as a result of this. I’ve been fortunate, and they’ve all been very survivable. However, I had number four out for my birthday this year, and it’s really forced me to take stock.
Cheers to you all for being in my life. I’m grateful for every one of you. My life has been extraordinary in spite of the challenges that I have faced. I’m very lucky, and I’m very thankful.
This isn’t a waterfall hike, but it’s a great way to spend a few hours. The trail is 4.8 miles. There’s plenty of parking and it’s not usually crowded. I’ve done it when it was wet and muddy, and I’ve done it when it was dry. There’s no time that it’s not a gorgeous hike though a unique assortment of plants.
Look out of wild pigs. Some of them are big and not very friendly. But, they will leave you alone if you leave them alone.
Several parts of the trail feature beautiful eucalyptus trees. A eucalyptus is an awesome tree with bark that peels off throughout its lifetime. If you look carefully, you can spot a rainbow eucalyptus mixed in here and there. They’re amazing.
If you didn’t happen to do the trail on a rainy day, then bring along extra water to splash on any rainbow eucalyptus that you find. I splashed water on the one below before taking it’s picture and it looks awesome!
It’s up in the mountains, so it does rain a lot. That means you’re likely to run into rainbows and mushrooms. I like to go early to avoid crowds, and because morning light is amazing.
Remember to disturb the forest as little as possible. If you pick something up for a picture, put it back afterwards. There is a lot of graffiti and names carved into trees here in Oahu. Try to respect nature more than the people who do that.
Along the trail there are several lookouts that feature sweeping views of the mountains, the H3 Highway, a very distant Pearl Harbor, and other neat stuff. The picture below was taken at a lookout that just faces another mountain, but it’s still a good place to stop and rest because sometimes there are rainbows.
Remember that you won’t be able to sit anywhere most of the time without getting your butt wet, so wear a poncho if you’re worried about it. Also, I keep a plastic bag and a pair of sandals in my car. This way I can put my hiking shoes into the bag and wear sandals home. this has been a good idea on all the trails because of the mud.
It’s impossible to predict the weather, so you’re always taking a chance when you decide to do a trail. It might be too cloudy to get pictures like the one below.
Keep in mind that the pictures in this post are from two separate hikes. One was rainy and the other was sunny. If you are visiting us from somewhere else and have limited time, don’t be disappointed if you don’t get to see rainbows AND sun. It’s usually one or the other.
As with all hikes, please don’t feed the animals, pick the flowers, or go off the trail. Hawaii gets a lot of visitors and the only way that we can keep the nature here beautiful is if everyone treats it with respect.
It’s a lot different than when I lived in Guam. I never saw another person on those trails and no one picked the flowers. But, this is a high-traffic area. Please pack in everything you need and pack out all your trash. Everyone who comes after you will appreciate it.
The photo below is of a very tiny passion fruit flower. There’s an adorable pygmy variety of the plant that grows here, and you should keep an eye out for them. They’re not big and flashy like the larger version of the plant, but there are very cool in their own way.
The flower pictured here is a little smaller than a dime, and would be easy to miss. But, it’s one of the reasons that it’s a good ideas to take some time on a hike and not rush. You end up noticing all kinds of amazing stuff.
One last thing to note: The trail ends in a different places than where is begins. If you park at the trail head; just be aware that you’ll have to hike back up to your car from the first camping area (which is where the trail lets out.)
Since the road is steep, I recommend parking by the first camping area instead and walking up to the trail head. This way, when you’re done with the hike, your car (and bathrooms) are right there waiting for you. Have a nice hike!
Ko’Olina Resort is one of the more famous resorts on the Leeward side of the island (that’s the desert side.) It’s a big place that is reserved for hotel guests, but there is a small parking lot that is open to the public.
Paradise Cove is very shallow, but there is break in the reef that you can swim through. DO NOT do this if the ocean is not calm. The break in the reef is small, and swimming in and out is hard.
I like to snorkel first thing in the morning. There are two reasons for that:
1. It’s not like when I lived in Guam. It’s very crowded here. It’s better to go early before the tourists and everyone else is up. The crowds scare away the turtles.
2. The turtles swim into the cove to eat algae off the rocks in the morning. It’s nice to catch them during breakfast. Sometimes you can even see them crawl up onto the rocks to get at the algae.
It’s really a very shallow spot so I recommend trying to go at a time when the tide is high in the morning. Snorkeling is all about watching all the factors like weather, tide, surf height, and jellyfish. Make sure to check everything before you go.
We are moving this year, and we sure are going to miss our place in Guam! I know we’ll never get a beachfront condo again (where else could we afford such a thing?)
It has been amazing to wake up and see the ocean each day, but it’s time to go back to seeing a fence and more houses behind it. Setting aside how much I will miss our home here in Tumon Bay, moving with the military involves a lot of paperwork and red tape. I thought I would write about what it is like, for those who don’t know.
People keep asking “Have you started packing yet?”
The answer is no. We aren’t allowed to pack our stuff, because then we could hide drugs or guns in it. They pack it for us (like we’re children.) We have no say over how things are wrapped or boxed. Movers come, pack our things, and take them away. We get a receipt and the vague hope that we’ll see any of it again one day.
I have also had many people ask “Are you throwing away all the trash in your house?”
Again, no. Both of us are so used to moving that we don’t keep things that we don’t need in our house anymore. Sometimes this means regretting that I threw away something that could have been useful later. However, I have moved more than twenty times in the last twenty years. Rich has moved six times in the last ten years. At this point, we just re-gift or throw away pretty much everything (I say this with the sincerest apologies to my mother, who likes to get me things like artificial snowballs.)
I feel bad, since I know that the reason people ask this stuff is because they want to relate to us and say “Oh yeah, I know what that is like.”
Believe me: I appreciate every single one of you. Thank you for trying to relate to me and make connections with me. It means so much! But the truth is that it’s this whole different world when you live a nomad lifestyle. And with the military, it’s a whole different world, plus red tape. It’s just not an easy life to relate to.
Now, I may not have to worry about packing or throwing away trash. But, there are a lot of things that I do have to worry about. With the military, we are required to fill out more paperwork than you can imagine.
We have to have a PCS (Permanent Change of Station) binder. They require special forms and appraisal information for my paintings. They require very thorough medical checks for both of us. Then there is the power of attorney forms we have to get so we can sign for each other (since he’s going to school in Japan and I am going straight to our next duty station in Hawaii.) There is also the checklist to make sure that our phones, cars, etc are all sorted, and that has to be turned in to the command. Not to mention all the paperwork we have to turn in to housing.
As to the cars: Yes, the military would pay for us to ship one vehicle. A lot of you have said that we should take what is owed to us and ship one of our cars. However, I have never owned a car nice enough that I think your tax dollars should be used to ship it. We buy beater cars because we’ll only have them for a couple years, and then we sell them when I go. It’s just easier that way, and means we don’t have to wait months on the other end for our car to show up.
There are two shipments of our stuff: Household goods and express. Both will probably take 16 weeks to get from Guam to Hawaii, so we’ll get to live without our stuff for quite awhile. As to why they call one of them “express,” many jokes are made about that in the military, but the real answer is that no one knows.
Another fun thing is that they aren’t really going to give me enough money to stay in a hotel while I house-hunt. Rich will be off at school and they will be paying for him to have a hotel and per diem as well. But me? All I get is the housing allowance for Hawaii (enough for a two week hotel stay.) I either get to make friends to stay with really fast, or try to make it work staying in the youth hostel in Waikiki with all my stuff.
I suppose normal couples get to look at houses together, but they are not in the military. In the military, they just send the spouses ahead with a boatload of paperwork and not enough resources, and expect us to set everything up for our active duty spouses. (Then find a job and help with the mortgage because BAH -or Basic Housing Allowance- is way too low in Hawaii.)
I have been asked why we don’t just rent, and I get that. I am sure it seems like it would be easier. However, most people build personal wealth over the course of their lives by owning and paying off property. If we just rent everywhere we go for the rest of our lives (with rents everywhere being higher than mortgage payments), we’ll have nothing when we are old.
A mortgage costs less than rent in Hawaii, and that money is going to equity in the home (meaning we can get it back by selling.) Since housing will take up 70% of our total income in Hawaii, it sure would be nice to get some of it back, don’t you think?
Also, even though no one has asked: Yes, I’m nervous.
I’m scared of job hunting and house hunting and starting all over again. I am scared of having to make new friends and learn new street names. I am scared of having to buy us a house, get us two cars, set up our utilities, and get furniture off craigslist all without help. I am scared of having to deal with all the military red tape and paperwork without Rich to sort it out. I am scared that something will happen to him in Japan (he did get hit by a car the one night I left him alone in Korea- so I worry!)
But, I am also excited. This is our next adventure! Will we have a house as nice as the one in Guam? No! We really won’t. But I am hopeful that I will find a great job with fun co-workers, and that we’ll make awesome friends and find all new beaches to enjoy. I am always looking forward, and I am sure we’ll make our next adventure a good one. It just might take a while to settle in.
If any of you snorkel or dive, remember that you can always share your data with a reef monitoring project and help advance science.
I want to talk to you today about how to take pictures for reef monitoring, how to label and make notes on those pictures, and where to send them to. Hopefully some of you will find this interesting, and you’ll want to spend some time helping our oceans!
If you plan to do so, there are a few things that you want to remember:
Overall shots of the reef are more important than close-up pictures of fish or coral. The main thing that NOAA is doing is monitoring overall coral health and counting various animals/corals. For this, wide shots are best.
Make notes on the depth the photos were taken at, and of anything else that may be relevant. Remember to think like a marine biologist and note things like: The number of animals sighted and if it is higher/lower than normal, the amount of litter, any invasive species such as the Crown of Thorns, and an estimate of the water temperature. All details matter because they put the data in context (data out of context is less useful.)
You’ll want to submit the data on a flash drive with your name and contact details, and make sure to say whether or not you want credit by name if they use a photo you took for something.
Find the local NOAA office in your area and go in person, or mail the flash drive in. If you cannot find a local office, you can always do a Google search for reef monitoring in your area.
Example: I live on Guam, which is part of the Marianas Islands. So if you type in Marianas Island Reef Monitoring, you get Eyes of The Reef (which is our local outreach program by NOAA.)
If you are in the Hawaiian Islands, The Marianas Islands, or anywhere that there is coral, you should think about sending your pictures to a reef monitoring project. Even if you only go on vacation to one of these places, remember that science is about the aggregation of data and looking for patterns, and more data is always better than less.
I have been helping to share data with the Eyes of the Reef project that NOAA has in Guam for years. It’s just a drop in the bucket when you look at how big the reefs are and how many reefs there are, but every little bit helps.
This will be my last Australia post. I think I have finally covered nearly all the things I wanted to say. There are just a few loose ends that I will sum up here.
The main takeaway is that you should definitely go to Australia. I felt like I stepped into a parallel universe where everything was the same; and yet just a bit off. It’s not like England were even the recent immigrants and decidedly English.
It’s actually shockingly like the US (in that they lack an established culture), while somehow simultaneously being nothing at all like anywhere else on Earth. I know that sounds crazy, but when you get there, you will see.
The big highlights to note from the trip are:
1. Stay at YHA hostels if you are by yourself and on a budget. They are mostly wonderful, and extremely affordable. Make sure to buy through their website, and look into package deals (sometimes they run a special on a set amount of days like: 10 days for $200.)
I stayed at the YHA in Bondi Beach, Railway Station Sydney, and the one in Cairns. All were good, with the usual hostel bothers (sharing a room with a stranger) and the usual perks (kitchen to cook in and knowledgeable staff.)
2. Snorkeling and diving on the reef will be warm, but if you go around Manly Beach or other popular locations around Sydney (or anywhere south of Sydney); get a wet-suit. It was freezing in the middle of summer (January.)
On a side note, it was totally worth it. I hadn’t been in a cold-water environment since middle school, and the kelp dancing in the waves was magical. So were the groupers.
3. Go to the Blue Mountains, but maybe not with a tour (so you can hike around at your own pace.) I am sorry to say that I can’t recommend the company I took a tour with, though maybe you’d have better luck?
However, I do recommend the Blue Mountains. The land is wide and open like Northern Arizona, and it has the same stark and empty beauty.
4. If you’re going to Cairns for a reef tour, it’s worth it to go to the tourist town rain forest for a day. I got great pictures in Kuranda.
If you like shopping, they have oodles of that. I am not a shopping person, so we went to the butterfly garden and the wildlife park, and ate at a restaurant. The whole thing was really very nice.
We took the Skyrail up, and the train back. I definitely recommend that. Someone here in Guam told me to take a bus up to Kuranda, but if I had, I would have missed some of the best things I saw on the trip! Don’t settle for a bus. Take the Skyrail and the train. Getting there really is half the fun.
5. I did the live-aboard through Cairns Dive Center and stayed on a boat called The Kangaroo Explorer. It was the most affordable option, but the staff was amazing and the chef was top-notch. Seriously, he blew me away with the food. I had a great time! I cannot recommend these guys enough for kindness, fun, and really creating the best experience they could for all the passengers.
However, the impression I got was that tourists only ever get to see the parts of the reef that are the most damaged, and this is both good (for the reef) and bad (for you.) So… take from that what you will. But I see better turtles and coral in Guam on a Tuesday.
6. The Big Bus Tour was good. I mean, it’s better to see stuff by just taking the regular trains, because it is cheaper and you don’t feel rushed. However, I didn’t do it to see the sights. I did it to listen to the commentary and enjoy a day of sitting down (after all the walking as a tourist, and then all the running at full speed in the Blue Mountains.) For what I wanted it for, The Big Bus Tour was perfect.
If you, too, need a day of rest; give it a shot. You can do the central Sydney area and the Bondi Beach area all for $50 for the day. Sit on top (wearing a hat and sunscreen) for good pictures, or sit below in the AC and just watch the stuff go by.
As an aside, I have also done this tour in Paris and London. Both were good. Honestly, the Big Bus Tour was the only place I picked up those fun tourist facts (like how the guy who built Oxford Street was paid in rum because that was Australia’s first currency.) The locals don’t like to repeat that stuff over and over so they just stop telling people, but the recorded voice on the Big Bus Tour will say it over and over.
Most of the places I spent money on tourist stuff were great and I have almost no regrets on that score. As for the people, they were fabulous. I found Australians to be kind, well-intentioned, and welcoming. People gave me directions and helped me book trips and purchase things with ease as long as I stuck to the tourist spots.
Now, a few of the pubs I went to refused to try my (US) card and asked for cash. They were off the beaten track, and I imagine they don’t see many Americans (only 30% of us even have passports.) So, I don’t think that was too unreasonable.
Actually, I was surprised how few Americans I ran into. With the exception of the reef tour, I didn’t actually meet any at all. Unfortunately, that did not save me from having to think about Trump. Every Australian I met had a go at me for Trump. Seriously, all of them teased me about living in a country run by a madman.
Trump actually personally screwed me while I was in Australia as well. He shut down the government so that the value of the US dollar plummeted. The exchange rate (which is usually very favorable) dipped surprisingly close to 1:1. So, I guess I can’t escape US politics anywhere in the world, even down under.
Anyway, I would recommend the crap out of Australia if you were choosing a place to visit. I know the Maldives look attractive and Europe calls to everyone. I know Japan is top on all the anime-geeks lists. But, Australia has something about it that is magical, and I am really glad I took the time to go. You should, too.
And if you are worried about those stories you heard about Australia being dangerous, let me put that fear to bed right now. I saw nothing dangerous. Not one thing. Seriously, they say it’s dangerous, but it’s super tame in the cities, in the Blue Mountains, and even out on the reef.