by Dean Christener
Dolphin Swim Kona, Hawaii is not something you hear about every day, much less have the opportunity to experience. But I was lucky enough to enjoy a tour on one of the best boats based on the Big Island’s on Kona Coast, that takes visitors to swim with wild dolphins every day of the year.
While a number of boats offer swimming with wild dolphins in Hawaii, most take large groups of people, which just doesn’t give you the personal experience I enjoyed with only three others on the boat, although Captain John Float told us he could take up to six.
It was a sunny, warm morning when we departed from Honokohau Harbor, Kona with captain John Float, one of the nicest and most knowledgeable guides in Kona. The Kona Coast is the leeward side of Hawaii’s Big Island. It is somewhat remote, with an abundance of lava fields, because the Big Island still has active volcanoes.
Captain Float told us on our way out that he had been swimming with Dolphins for over 30 years. He started when he was only 20, traveling all over the world seeking them out. Hawaii dolphins migrate in large pods of maybe 30, up and down the coast of Kona Coast, he explained.
So to start off our Big Island Dolphin tour we first headed North out of the Harbor, because that’s where dolphins normally are in the mornings, he said. Our boat ride was a bit bumpy, due to a large south swell that was currently hitting the south shores of Hawaii, but this made the adventure of finding the dolphins all the more exciting, because we were able to watch the surfers along the coast catching beautiful waves that crashed against the black lava rock shores.
Cruising offshore along the amazing Kona Coast really provides a good idea of how big the Big Island really is, especially when coming from a neighboring island like Maui, that is dwarfed by it. Heading up the coast beyond Kailua-Kona, we passed the famous NELHA marine research lab with its numerous conservation and research projects like Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm.
The lab is located just at the Big Island’s western-most point, where two of Hawaii’s biggest sea currents meet, creating rough waters that are plentiful with sea life. A lobster and tuna farm are also located offshore here, as well as facilities for bottling Hawaii Deep Seawater.
Not far up the coast from here, sure enough, just as John promised, we found the dolphins. There were so many more than I ever had expected to see! At one point that’s all I could see – dolphins playing, jumping, riding swells; it was so cool to watch!
I guess they were extra playful because of the south the swell that day, and as we rode the waves on our little boat, the dolphins surrounded us nearly close enough to touch over the sides – truly one of those feelings that you cannot describe, you just have to be there and experience it.
It amazed me how fast dolphins swim. As our boat was speeding down the face of a wave, the dolphins would stick to us every bit of the way, weaving in and out of each other through the pod. Shortly, John told us he was going to lead them to a shallow reef, where we could jump in and swim with them.
The excitement was overwhelming when we leaped overboard – there were dolphins everywhere I looked. Watching the dolphins swim below me, I did a couple deep dives to see how close I could get to them, and sure enough they were almost in reach of touching.
I was amazed at how close I was able to get to them, but even more amazed to hear how loud they sound underwater. Even with my head above water, I could hear their songs vividly. The adrenaline would be so intense at times that even when I was almost out of air I would just keep pushing myself to descend further so I could get closer to the pods.
I didn’t have to always dive deep to get close to them though; it just gave me more of a thrill. There were many times when a group would fly past from behind, and I would go from seeing just the deep shade of blue from the depths, to being engulfed by dolphins. Truly no better or comparable feeling!
Captain Float provided assistance when we were in the water, pointing us in the right direction to where the dolphins were, and if we needed to catch a breather aboard the boat, gave snacks and drink that he brought along. While taking breaks on the boat, all we could see were dolphins, and John would repeatedly be on the scene, getting ready to set us up for the next dive with them.
After about three and half hours, when we had done all the swimming we could, and gotten our fill of watching dolphins for a lifetime, we headed back toward the harbor, enjoying the scenic coast once again. This activity, like I had said before, is something that everyone needs to experience first-hand, because my attempts to describe it, does not do it justice. Between the scenery, the dolphins and John’s extensive knowledge of Hawaii, it was a great and unforgettable experience!