HO’OKENA BEACH, BIG ISLAND OF HAWAII — I’m not much of a water person, much less a beach person, but this day would turn out to be my favorite beach day, ever. 

The nights here are 13 hours long right now (6pm until about 7am), and there isn’t much to do on a dark beach in a dark tent, so we had a good night’s sleep. Throughout the night, things were hitting our tent, but we eventually discovered that it was hard seed pods and leaves from the tree above.

Our overabundance of Costco goodies came in handy for trading: Beth gave away one of our muffins for hot water and, as a bonus, got to know the neighbors.

Standing on the beach, she heard a swimmer say he had been playing with a school of 18 very friendly dolphins — he’d counted. More people swam out, and we could see the dolphins jumping and twirling around their bobbing heads.

Beth didn’t want to miss the opportunity and swam off. I rented a boogie board and followed suit. It’s amazing how far 150 meters are in the ocean if you don’t have fins, but I eventually made it there, just in time for the dolphins to put on a show.

Groups of two or three swam about 3 feet ahead and next to me, but the real treat were their aerial acrobatics: the “corkscrew” (jumping vertically straight out of the water while spinning around their axis), the “beaver” (slapping their tail fin repeatedly on top of the water), the “flip” (picture a half somersault) and the “peek” (sticking their faces straight out of the water, as if to get a better look at their visitors).

Other swimmers gave me tips on how to be more comfortable in the water, and they offered us their masks so we could peek underwater. After a while, I relaxed, and instead of trying to chase the group, just hung out. That must have done the trick, because suddenly I was surrounded by half a dozen dolphins, peeking out of the water. One did a corkscrew about 6 feet to my left.

Again, I’m not a water person, but THAT was pretty cool.

We hung out and dried off on the beach and then decided to drive to South Point, the southernmost point in the US.

I wouldn’t describe the drive along Highway 11 as classically “scenic,” but it was a fascinating trip through natural history.  This stretch of highway is dominated by old lava flows, and the landscape resembles what I imagine a moonscape to look like. Well, a moonscape with houses, random car junk yards and some, budding vegetation. The lava flow from 1907, for example, had very little vegetation on it, just a few scattered trees here and there. A scenic pull out with a plaque described how the different flows provide different conditions, and some green up sooner than others.

View from a scenic (?) overlook at the lava flows on the southern part of the big island.

In the area of the southernmost point, there are two things people go and see: the actual point and a green sand beach. We got to the beach parking lot around 2:30pm. Turns out we had underestimated the distance to the beach, which is 6 miles round-trip. Walking in the full sun and heat was out of the questions, as was the offer to take us there and back by ATV for an easy $15 per person. We camp at a perfectly nice beach, and what’s so special about green sand anyway?

So we drove to the southernmost point instead. Historians assume that this is the place where people from Micronesia landed a long time ago after paddling their seafaring canoes across the ocean. I guess I’m too much a creature of comfort to understand what would motivate someone to set out in a canoe to look for unknown lands that might not even exist. And when you find it, do you have to go back and get your family?

The coastline was stunning, we had good light and there was a stiff wind blowing from the east. A short walk away from the parking area, there was a very large blowhole. There also was a diving platform and ladders into the ocean, and as sheer luck would have it, someone actually took the plunge while we were there.

On our way back, we stopped at a little hole-in-the-wall Hawaiian BBQ place for dinner. It sounded much better than pretzel rolls with cheese and salami — and in fact, it was. We had BBQ beef and chicken, fried scallops and shrimp with rice and steamed vegetables.

The sunset from our campsite at Ho’okena Beach

By the time we got back to our beach, the sun was low on the horizon, so we watched the sunset with all the other campers and talked to people. There was a nice young couple from Anchorage, AK.  The dolphins were again playing in the distance, and they said they heard the clicking and singing when they dove. There also was a retired couple from Oregon, a couple from Vancouver island and a group of locals, one of whom played traditional Hawaiian music. This is such a peaceful place, we hate to leave tomorrow.