I had always imagined, since the moment we booked the flights to Hawaii, that I’d get the chance swim with a sea turtle. But I thought it was pipe-dream. The odds of finding a sea turtle, let alone swim with one, were slim to none. Even as we gathered our bags from the baggage carousel at the airport, I was holding out hope that all the turtle memorabilia found in the gift shops weren’t going to be the only ones I’d see on the trip. And some times, you don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on an excursion or guided tour to find yourself right where you want to be. And that is exactly how we got to swim with some sea turtles on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Turns out, the Green Sea Turtle, or Huno as the locals call them, are way more common that I thought they would be. Within the first hour of being in Hawaii, we made a quick stop to the beach near the Aiopio Fish Trap and believe it or not, there were two. Just a few yards where the trail dumps out onto the beach, two turtles were washed up onto the beach, sunning themselves in the afternoon’s sun. I couldn’t believe it! But I realized this must be a common place for them to beach themselves since there was a sign that said to not go within 3 yds of them. But it was still an incredible sight, even if it was only at a distance and we didn’t get to see them in the water. I still had high hopes.
As the days of the trip started to fly by, and the places we snorkeled were still Honu-less, I was beginning to feel a little disappointed. Sure, snorkeling in a tropical paradise with some of the most colorful fish in the world was incredible. But they weren’t Honus. Four days later, we reached the town of Hilo, which sits on the other side of the island from Kona where we saw our first turtles on the trip. And as the morning rain eased up, we got into the water by the Keaukaha Beach Park. Except, that snorkel didn’t last long enough to find any turtles either. But that was probably due to the frigid temps of the water due to the fresh water runoff dumping into the ocean right there. And with our day’s adventure coming to an end, we decided grab some beer and lunch to have by the ocean at the Kealoah Beach Park. We put a blanket down on the volcanic rock, and enjoyed our beers from Kona Brewery for a perfect ending to the day. And wouldn’t you know it, guess what we saw swimming in the water. A Honu!
Two turtles swam up to the rocks we were sitting on. We watched, from above the waterline, as the turtles tried to hold onto the rocks with their fins so that they could eat the vegetation that grew on the rocks. We dipped our iPhones into the water to take close up pictures of these beautiful creatures, but it wasn’t enough. I ran back to the car, as quickly as possible, to get the snorkeling gear and the waterproof cameras. But by the time I got back to the rocks, they were gone. I couldn’t believe it. They were right there, and then they were gone. Still determined to swim with one, we jumped into the clear, warm water in the lagoon and started to swim out to sea where I could only assume they’d gone. Court had found one of them, and we swam behind him to catch up to it. Finally, the two of us were swimming alongside of it, but only for a moment or two. The water got shallower over a reef and forced us to cut the swim short since we couldn’t swim any further without walking over the reef. To add to the disappointment of the fleeting turtle, when I tried to maneuver over a rock, I slipped onto a pointy shell that pierced the palm of my hand. Now I had a bloody left hand, and a camera with barely any pictures of turtles in my right hand. I thought I had missed my only opportunity.
“Ahhhh!” I remembered screaming, as I gathered myself onto a rock. Something had come up behind me and knocked into the back of my leg with serious force. As my luck would have it, guess what it was. A Honu! The little guy must have heard my thoughts, because he ran right into me as if he was saying, “Hey dude, let’s party!” I quickly obliged, and jumped back into the water and swam along side of him back towards the shoreline. They are majestic animals under the water, swimming with such grace. For “slow-moving” turtles, each of their strokes generated a tremendous thrust forward in the water. They glided just below the waterline until we got back to the rocks where we were joined by 2 more turtles.
The three of them, together, looked like one happy turtle family. There was one large female, a smaller male, and then an even smaller one we assumed to be the child (though its highly unlikely a family of turtles would stick together). I sat in the water for a half an hour as the turtles swam around me and the other people in the water, in search of seaweed to eat. My finger never left the shutter of my camera. They were so close and I tried to do my best to not touch them, but sometimes they came right up to the camera. Court shot from the rocks with her phone in the water and got probably better photos than I did. And she didn’t have to worry about a turtle coming up from behind her to take a chunk out of her back. Luckily, their bites only feel like a pinch since they don’t have teeth.
My one major goal for my trip to Hawaii was complete! I got to swim with sea turtles! And not only that day, but we went back to that same beach to swim with them again the following day and then found a few in the water near Kona as well! It was an experience I’ll never forget. I’d come all the way from the mainland thinking it was going to be a pipe-dream to swim with these, and then I got to do it multiple times. It just goes to show, you don’t always need to pay to experience something incredible. Some times you just need to get into the water and go for it!
My name is Zachary Kenney and I’m an adventure filmmaker & photographer. My passion is to tell stories that will hopefully motivate you to go live a more adventurous life. Whether that is to experience the view from the summit of a mountain, or wandering through a new town on a road trip. Currently based out of Park City, UT.