Sunday, September 4, 2011

Family Reunion in Kona

Yep, the Gerszewski family is finally at the stage where we require family reunions to get us altogether in one place. With Marissa and Dan across the country for medical school, we don't get to see them near enough as we'd like to. In fact, our entire family hadn't been together since my wedding back in 2009! We were so excited to find out that there was a week this summer where all of our schedules aligned and we could plan a family trip. And, of course, we were even more excited when we convinced my dad that Kona would be the perfect place for it. 
My dad and brother are involved with a partnership in two Kona vacation homes about five minutes from downtown. We could actually even see the temple steeple from the backyard! It was so fun for all of us to be in the same house for the week, and not all in separate hotel rooms. 
The house we stayed in had amazing views and we got to enjoy the sunset every night at the dinner table. Having the pool right outside was great too! 

It was our first time to the big island -- it is so different than the typical "tropical" Hawaiian islands we're more familiar with, but it was beautiful nonetheless. What's crazy is that you literally can see almost every climate just by driving around the island. If it were a different time of year, we probably would have seen snow at the top of the mountains, but we did get quite the climate tour. 
There's everything from miles and miles of lava fields, to barren desert land (it seriously looked like the middle of Wyoming!) -- and an hour drive later we saw beautiful tropical beaches and seaside cliffs. It was pretty incredible. 
We loved seeing the waterfalls, too. The fist one we visited, Akaka Falls, was probably one of the tallest I've seen... and so loud, too! This picture probably only captures about half of it - I think it was about 400 feet tall.
And during our second stop at Rainbow Falls, three crazy boys, along with dad, decided to take the trail to the  top. The falls looked so much bigger with them standing at the top! Crazy boys.
On our tour of the island we also stopped at the Volcano National Park. Luckily we  got there right at dusk so we could still see some of the crater -- I'm surprised this picture even turned out with how dark it was. Oh, and it was freezing, too! Hence the family huddle. 
We also got to walk through a lava tube, which was really fascinating.  We didn't really get to see any volcanoes in action, but I guess that will give us a reason to come back eventually :)
We also stopped at what is called the Place of Refuge to see some old Hawaiian temples and ruins. We learned that the island natives used to have a really specific class system with strict rules about mixing with royalty, priests, men and women, etc - and breaking these rules usually resulted in death. However, if people could make it to the Place of Refuge, they were cleared of their so-called crime. Pretty interesting. 
And while we were there, we came across these two gems. I mean, have you EVER  seen anything like them? We probably stood there laughing for a good ten minutes.  I now get that they're made to be lava rock/ beach-friendly, but wow. These things look like they belong on the moon. Haha.
And now to one of my favorite parts of the trip -- snorkeling with manta rays! Ironically Nick and I had seen something about this on the travel channel several months ago and were so fascinated by it. Apparently Kona is the only place in the world where you're able to these creatures -- mostly because they've been conditioned to show up to the dive site almost every night. For 20 or so years, people have been putting lights in the water near the coast where there is a high concentration on plankton, which is what they feed on. So now that manta rays know that when they see light, they'll get to eat. It's not 100% guaranteed that they'll show up on any specific dive, but they claim to have about an 85% success rate, which is pretty incredible.
We got to wear these (not so) awesome looking wet suits because the dive happens after the sun goes down and it gets prett chilly. It's a pretty popular attraction, so there were a lot of boats with a lot of people out there. Luckily, my little brother had his waterproof video camera with him, otherwise it would be way too confusing to explain. 
About half of the people there were actually scuba diving about 40 ft to the bottom of the ocean floor, and each one of them had a really bright light, which you can see in the video. All of the snorkelers were at the surface looking down at the divers, and the Manta rays and other fish were swimming in between. I felt like I was in an acquarium! About 30 seconds into the clip you can see a manta ray in the lefthand corner swimming in circles -- which is actually how they always swim when they're eating. We got to be out in the water for about 45 minutes and we all loved it! It was definitely a check off my bucket list.

Can't forget about the beach! This is what we spend most of our time doing. The water was incredible and there was some awesome snorkeling right by the beach.
Of course, the boys had to keep themselves busy by building sand creations. Giant pyramids have kind of become our beach tradition thanks to Aaron and his crafty skills. 
And of course, we had a blast with these little munchkins. They grow up so fast when we only get to see them twice a year!
The hardest part of vacation is having to pack your suitcases to leave, and realizing you actually have to get back to real life! We had such a great time though and already can't wait for out next family trip.