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Hawaii Special: Recreation

A Few Great Dives : Below the waves, an archipelago of nether worlds

March 23, 1997|RICK CARROLL | Rick Carroll is a Hawaii-based writer

HONOLULU, Hawaii — Just off Oahu's windward coast stands a barren island with sheer 225-foot cliffs known to local fishermen as Moku Manu.

Only 15 minutes by small craft from Kailua Beach, this desert island that dots the Mokapu Peninsula is a world removed from civilization.

Until a Hawaiian fisherman took me there on his sampan I had no idea that such raw, wonderful wilderness was so close at hand.

A rookery for frigate birds and boobies, this island has a yawning cave on its sea side and its own coral reef full of bright tropical fish on the lee. Nearby, a U.S. Navy amphibious plane has remained untouched in its watery grave since Dec. 7, 1941, the day the Japanese raided Pearl Harbor.

You won't find Moku Manu in any Hawaii guidebook even though it offers experienced divers an extraordinary adventure. But you can go there on your own by renting a boat. And that's my point: almost anywhere you can get in the water in Hawaii is a great place to dive.

You can soar over coral reefs full of bright fish including the humuhumunukunukuapua'a, Hawaii's official state fish; or swim with endangered green sea turtles and spinner dolphins; and every winter encounter Pacific humpback whales on their annual Alaska migration.

While beginners tiptoe into Hanauma Bay with snorkel and mask, experienced divers probe Hawaii's reefs, canyons, caves and pinnacles or dive on sunken ships and downed aircraft.

Professional divers are helping the Smithsonian Institution recover relics from King Kamehameha II's royal yacht, which sank in Hanalei Bay in 1824. Deep water divers in submarines probe Loihi, the new volcano bubbling up off the south coast of the Big Island of Hawaii.

And here's one for the record books: aquanaut Sylvia Earle planted an American flag on the sea floor off Oahu's Makapu'u Point in 1979, on the deepest untethered dive in history--1,250 feet.

Every day in the islands, someone is disappearing below the surface of the deep blue tropical Pacific to explore the natural wonders of Hawaii's underwater world.

Here are 10 other great summer dives on six islands, including one near the privately owned and nearly inaccessible island of Niihau.

Oahu

1) Diving Mahi

In the islands, mahi may be a popular food fish but it's also a sunken ship off Oahu's rugged Waianae coast.

This little explored natural side of Oahu, far from Waikiki, offers a great underwater adventure.

In 90 feet of water about a mile off the coast, eels peer from the wreck of the Mahi, a 185-foot minesweeper that lies on its keel. Schools of yellow butterfly fish pose for photos while endangered green sea turtles glide by. Now and then a reef shark shows its pearly whites.

I have a California pal who likes to hide 50-cent pieces in secret places underwater for his friends to discover. He's hidden half a buck on the Mahi that nobody's found yet.

Aaron's Dive Shops; telephone (808) 262-2333.

Maui

2) La Perouse Pinnacle

In 1786, French explorer Jean-Francois de Galaup de la Perouse set foot near Makena Beach, but the first European to visit Maui sailed on, never to be seen again.

His stopover is memorialized by a three-foot stone cairn with a brass plaque on La Perouse Bay, just south of Makena, but another, natural monument lies hidden underwater, unseen by all except snorkelers and divers.

La Perouse Pinnacle rises 60 feet above the sea floor to about 10 feet below the surface of the azure water.

It's just off the south coast of Maui in the middle of La Perouse Bay, a scenically endowed place where black fingers of lava run to turquoise tide pools.

The submarine landmark attracts schools of damselfish, triggerfish and even the timid bird wrasse. Here, amid coral forests, the deadly fugu puffs up its porcupine quills while goatfish graze daylong in this real fantasy land.

Ed Robinson's Diving Adventures; tel. (808) 879-3584.

3) Molokini Crater

If you go to Maui and don't dive Molokini, you've missed one of Hawaii's top dive spots. The sunken 156-foot crater off Maui's south coast is famous for calm, clear, protected water, abundant marine life--and crowds.

Snorkelers splash around inside the crater basin in 35 feet of water. Scuba divers scale the sloping 70-foot ledge or explore the 350-foot vertical wall on the convex side where manta rays skim black coral trees.

This underwater park is daily visited by a flotilla of dive boats bearing neophytes. Go early, stay late or dive deep to avoid the mob.

Maui Dive Shop; tel. (808) 879-3388.

Big Island

4) Hapuna Beach

I am soaring over scores of blackfish with blue-to-purple polka dots that sparkle like neon in sun rays against a black lava point that is studded with red, blue and yellow coral heads. It's a rare, wonderful sight.

I discovered this cove on the north end of Hapuna Beach, where black lava pokes boldly into the blue water.

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