Hawaii The Big Island : Diving and Exploring the Orchid Isle
So you are thinking of moving to Hawaii?

Over the last 25 years, we have made several trips to all the islands of Hawaii, mostly for the diving, but also to explore and discover. We had fallen in love with the Garden Island of Kauai many years ago and had even thought of eventually moving there. Our last dive trip to the Big Island was 15 years ago, in 1998. As time came closer for my husband to retire, we thought again of moving to the islands. Because we are such avid divers and love the outdoors, we decided to investigate the Big Island as a possibility. The diving is more extensive and varied than on the other islands, and it appeared cheaper to live there.


We booked our dive part of the trip on the Kona Aggressor, a live aboard dive boat that we had been on twice before. We planned a week of diving the Kona coast after exploring the rest of island, even looking at property. So, with real estate information at hand, maps, dive gear, cameras and a dream, we arrived with heightened expectations. Never do that, after 15 years. The Big Island is twice the size of all the other islands combined and it is the newest island, still being formed by active volcanoes. Kiluahua has been constantly active since 1983. Hawai'i is a land of old lava flows and 'Vog' - (volcanic fog that settles mostly around the Kona area), orchids, sugar cane, coffee, cattle and cowboys (paniolas). There are six different climate zones. The western (Kona)side of the island normally gets very little rain and some areas are 'moonscape-like'. The eastern (Hilo) side gets significant rain and is very lush. In the north lies one of the largest privately owned cattle ranches in the US, the Parker Ranch. One could go from the beach at 85 degrees to skiing on the volcano all on the same day. It would be hard to get island fever, the island is so large. And therein lies the problem. One must drive long distances to get where you want to go. Nothing seemed to be close by or convenient.

  • Coral Crab
  • Crown Of Thorns
  • Cushion Star
  • Dancing Mantas
  • Diver And Reef
  • Gilded Triggerfish
  • Grilled Butterflyfish
  • Hairy Lobster
  • Hairy Scorpionfish
  • Hard Coral Grey Fish
  • Hard Coral Tree
  • Jellyfish
  • Lined Butterflyfish
  • Manta
  • Manta Closeup
  • Manta Closeup
  • Manta OpenM outh
  • Mantas Dancing
  • Okinawan SnakeM oray
  • Orange Band Surgeon
  • Diver And Reef

Discovering Hawaii

The island is beautiful, and we had already decided that we did not want to live on the west (dry) side, where, if you did live up on the slopes of the mountain, it is constant cloud cover. We are not ready for condos or retirement villages with Home Owner Associations either. However, the west side of the Kona Coast offers the best diving opportunities. A small conundrum. So, we set our sights on the lusher east side, near Hilo, home of the University and seat of government.

There, we found mountain communities near the volcano, huge developments of homes of varied styles (all advertising 'ocean view'), most built on single-walled construction (held up by termites holding hands), new age small villages, rocky cliffs to the ocean, and 'beaches' of lava rock. Driving to Hilo during work traffic left you stuck in a several mile long traffic jam. They did have a super Walmart there, but it was a 3 hour drive to Costco on the west side if you needed to go there. There are lots of farmers markets for fresh fruits and vegetables around the island.

We thought we would be driving less there than we do now on the mainland, but we found that, in order to enjoy doing all the things that we would want to do, we'd be driving a lot more. We knew that the island has few real beaches, it takes time to build beaches and Hawai'i is such a young island.

The island is fringed by massive, beautiful cliffs, lovely to look at, but not very accessible. Most homes may have an ocean view, but again, no ocean access. For us to put our boat in to a boat ramp meant either long drives or access that was very dicey and not safe under high winds and waves which often batter the east side. Diving on the east side is also more problematic, given the currents and prevailing winds.

When looking at property on the island, you must be aware of climate. There are micro climates that can be a few feet of elevation change away, That means your neighbor can grow tomatoes, but you cannot. Be aware of the Lava Zones - as this can mean the banks will not loan nor will insurance companies insure. Lava Zone 1 is an example. Some areas in Lava Zone 1 have not had a lava flow for decades. Then we see unpermitted houses built on new black lava, because the owners own the land under the lava (and the old house that got consumed by the volcano). These houses are pretty much 'off the grid', using solar panels for power and catchment systems to obtain water. Cesspools are also prevalent throughout the island. Solar power on the island is becoming more and more popular, especially in the rural areas. Electricity is more expensive here than most anywhere in the US and because of the geology of the island, catchment for water is also the norm.

Lava rock is very porous, and fresh water is very deep and wells hard to dig, and by the same token, the cesspools seep into the rock, with the waste and nitrates eventually reaching the ocean.

This island is beautiful, raw and explosive. There is much to do on the island. For example, getting up at 3 a.m. to go up to film the glow of the lava and watch the sunrise was spectacular. We were blessed with a clear night, and the VOG winds had shifted toward Hilo, making for impressive cloud shots. Going south of Pahoa to the end of the road, where the lava has crossed the road devouring quite a few homes, is where the lava flows to the sea, and one can observe the lava coming down on the mountain at night. We took every road possible on the island, from Volcanoes Chain of Craters Road to the sea, to Pololu Lookout Valley in the Northwest, and Waipio Valley in the Northeast. We stopped along the way where there were waterfalls, Botanical Gardens, rocky beaches, views of lava fields from old flows, huge expanses of grasslands where cattle grazed, and on the Saddle Road, went up to 14000' to the observatories on Mauna Kea.

We met people with similar interests as ours of old time/bluegrass music, photography groups and scuba diving. We would have had no problem making friends and fitting in.

  • Orangespine Unicornfish
  • Racoon Butterflyfish
  • Reef Fish
  • Saddle Wrasse
  • Juvenile Rockmover Wrasse
  • Spanish Dancer Eggs
  • Spotted Boxfish
  • Stonefish
  • Stonefishes
  • Three Spot Dascyllus
  • Triggerfish
  • Triton Eating Urchin
  • Turtle
  • Urchin With Shells
  • Whitemouthed Moray
  • Whitleys Boxfish
  • Yellow Margin Eel
  • Yellowtail Coris IP
  • Yellow Tang
  • Turtle

Diving, Dreams And Life

Of course, there was the diving. The last trip in 1998 on the Kona Aggressor showed a remarkable diversity and numbers of fish, turtles, mantas, whales and sharks. Remember that these waters are volcanic, so there are no soft corals, but you do have hard corals and encrusting sponges. The waters were rich with massive schools of fish, many only endemic to the islands. So,what it lacks in color on the reefs, made it up in the fauna.

However, much has changed in fifteen years. We were dismayed to find at least an 80% decrease in not only the number of fish, but the species as well. A fine silt covered the reefs, and we learned that overfishing and a big jump in nitrates from the increase in population, cesspools and runoff were to blame. Climate change is evident with water temperatures increasing, as it is all over the world. Trade winds are also changing, not as consistent as in times past. In some places, where you had cooling trades, you now need air conditioners.

Prices of real estate and homes have almost doubled from the time we started looking at ads in early 2013 to the end of the year. Taxes there are no worse, and in some cases better than taxes here in Florida. It is more expensive to live there, but not out of the question. You would live in a smaller home, use solar for electricity, catchment for water, cesspool for septic. Shop at farmers markets, Costco and Walmart to help keep costs down. With no winters and if you don't live too high on the mountains, then you don't need heat. You don't need large amounts of different seasonal clothes, you would want to keep a coat for those mountain trips.

Be aware that the infrastructure is not keeping up with population growth.

So, sadly, in the end, we decided not to add to the problems the Islands are and will be experiencing. We will probably enjoy the islands a few weeks or longer at a time, coming home to our own little paradise, with our springs and rivers, seeing Bald Eagles, alligators, wild Bison and horses, great flocks of birds, from Sand Hill Cranes to Storks, Herons, Ibis every day. We would miss the foxes, coyotes, raccoons, deer, wild hog, and monkeys that we have in our area.

Sometimes you have to go out in search of Paradise, only to come back and find it at home.

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