Manta Ray Night Snorkel – Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

In early June, Greyson and I went to the Big Island of Hawaii with his family. It was an amazing trip, and one of the highlights was definitely a night snorkeling trip to see manta rays.

Manta Snorkel Kona Hawaii // tahoefabulous.com

We had hoped to do a SCUBA dive while in Hawaii, but I had a sinus infection that made diving impossible, so I got to work looking for something to do instead. We’d planned on doing a night SCUBA dive with mantas, and I stumbled on this post by Simply Taralynn about a night snorkel with manta rays, and I knew that we had to do it. I did a little research, and I ended up booking the same company, Big Island Divers. They were a reasonable price (only $105), just down the street from our vacation rental, and had great reviews.

We had brought our own snorkel gear that we used, but the cost of the excursion includes mask, snorkel, and fins and you can rent a wetsuit for $10. We checked in at the dive shop ahead of the excursion – we were a little confused by this, but you just need to check in ahead of time to get sized for your wetsuit and get directions to the boat. There is also a ton of cute merchandise and gear and the shop, and if you show up before noon, there’s a discount! I had thought that the snorkel was near the downtown of Kailua-Kona, but it was actually a 20 minute boat ride from the marina – and you end up right by the airport.

Manta Ray Night Snorkel Kona Hawaii // tahoefabulous.com

The crew of Big Island Divers were awesome – funny and knowledgeable. While they got the boat ready, one of the SCUBA guides gave us all a lesson on mantas. Mantas are filter feeders that eat plankton, and, years ago a hotel on the water put in underwater lights to entertain hotel restaurant guests at night. These lights attracted plankton, and surprise – mantas showed up! Once this happened, tour operators realized the draw these amazing creatures have and started running night snorkel and dive tours. Now there are two spots with underwater lights – at the original hotel and at another, less busy spot near the airport where we went. I’m always a little weirded out by tourist activities that alter wild animals behavior, but, apparently these tours are really safe and low impact to the population, and humans have already had a hugely negative impact on these animals already, and the lights help provide them a steady food source.

Manta Ray Night Snorkel Kona Hawaii // tahoefabulous.com

We hopped on the boat and got the best sunset of our whole vacation. I sadly didn’t get a picture, though. It got dark quickly, and we arrived at the snorkel site. There were a few boats in the water, and it was already starting to become a bit of a zoo. This is definitely a tourist attraction, so you’re not going to have a relaxing, solo experience. One thing that I really appreciated about Big Island Divers is that they obviously really cared about the health and safety of the mantas, and we held off getting in the water until it had cleared out a bit so we didn’t overwhelm the awesome creatures.

While mantas show up most of the time, they are wild animals and their appearance isn’t guaranteed. While we geared up, our guides pointed out that the underwater lights appeared to be flashing. This was actually mantas swimming in front of the lights! I got so excited and couldn’t wait to get in the water. We did have to wait, though, until the SCUBA divers got in the water.

Manta Ray Night Snorkel Kona Hawaii // tahoefabulous.com

Finally, it was our turn to jump in! How it works is that Big Island Divers have a surfboard with a light on the bottom and a PVC pipe rack around the outside, which the snorkelers held on to. It’s a lot of just holding on and floating, you only kick when your guide directs you to move somewhere. As soon as we were in the water and situated, the mantas showed up. They corkscrew through the water, feeding on the plankton. It was such an incredible experience. In Indonesia, we saw oceanic mantas while diving. While those oceanic mantas are even bigger than the Hawaiian ones and it was one of the coolest things I have ever done, this snorkel was just as cool. Mantas are incredibly smart – they recognize themselves in mirrors, which not even dogs can do! Some have even learned that humans can help them and will go up to diver to get fishing hooks removed.

We were in the water for almost an hour, just watching their acrobatic dance. I could have stayed in the water forever, but it was time to get back on the boat. I was pretty cold at this point – my wetsuit is only a 2.5 thickness and too big for me, and we weren’t moving around at all. When we got back on, the guides had fresh towels and hot chocolates for us. As soon as everyone was aboard (they did a roll call to be sure), we headed back to the harbor.

All in all, it was such an amazing experience, and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting the Big Island. Big Island Divers was great, and be sure to bring cash to tip your guides. Also, here’s a video Greyson made of our snorkel – check it out!

Packing List: An Indonesia SCUBA Trip

I am kind of an obsessive list maker when it comes to traveling. What? I just like to be organized. Since this was my first trip to Indonesia, first ever SCUBA dive trip, and first international vacation in a long time, I was seriously stumped on how to pack. I did a lot of googling phrases like “scuba trip packing list” “what to pack for Indonesia” “how many pairs of underwear for 15 days”. While I didn’t find a one stop shop for a packing list, I cobbled together my own packing list using a few different resources (including this “how many underwear to pack” chart).

IMG_1688

Here’s a screenshot of my obsessively categorized and color coded packing list:

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 5.20.59 PM

For reference, our trip was basically 5 days of travel time (2 there, 3 back) and 10 days SCUBA diving at the resort. We really didn’t do any other traveling or activities other than SCUBA/snorkel/swim. So if you’re going to be doing any hiking, temple visiting, climbing, etc., you’ll want to reference some other lists as well. I packed a lot of things I already owned and had for a long time. For items that were specifically awesome, I’ll link to them.

Clothes:

IMG_1691

  • Dresses x 2 – I find dresses from “adventure” brands like Patagonia and prAna hold up to wrinkling well.
  • Spandex shorts (to wear under the dress for anti-chafing)
  • Capri pants – love these prAna ones in charcoal.
  • Lightweight black leggings
  • Running shorts x 2 – whatever quick dry running shorts you already have will work
  • T-shirt x 2 – loved the Standard Tee from Krochet Kids. It’s got a little nicer shape than a plain t-shirt and it’s sooo soft. Perfect for the airport.
  • Tank Top x 5 – I highly recommend loose, blousy tanks. I just brought old and/or cheap Target ones. The only thing I ended up not wearing was a fitted workout tank with built in bra. It seemed too hot for something that fitted! If we had gone hiking, I probably would have worn it, though.
  • SPF Long Sleeve Shirts x 3 – it felt weird taking 3 long sleeve shirts to the tropics, but I wore them every single day for sun protection. Columbia and Patgonia have nice ones.
  • Shorts x 3 – I packed knee length stretch denim shorts and, though I wore them once, I regretted it. My other ones were cheap black and khaki ones from Old Navy.
  • Sports Bra x 3 – didn’t pack a real bra, never regretted it.
  • Quick Dry Underwear x 5 – nothing is quick dry in the tropics. Wish I packed more underwear.
  • Socks x 3 – compression socks for the plane and two extras. Didn’t need the other socks.
  • Rash Guard – I have one similar to this NRS Rash Guard
  • Swim Suits – Tops x 4, Bottoms x 3  – I talk about my favorite swimsuits in this post. My favorite swimsuit brands for active ladies are prAna, Athleta, and Calavera.
  • Sweatshirt – strictly for airplane use. I brought an old zippy that I didn’t care about losing or ruining for easy on/off.

On the plane, I wore lightweight leggings, the grey Krochet Kids t-shirt, compression socks, sweat shirt, and running shoes. I looked a little sloppy, but in the airport I ditched the sweatshirt and running shoes, put on the Sanuks and the straw hat and felt like I looked presentable. In my carryon, I packed a dress, extra underwear, running shorts and my favorite swimsuit. I figured I could get by on that for awhile if my luggage got lost.

Shoes/Accessories/Other

IMG_1690

  • Shoes x 3: Old trail runners, Chacos,  and Sanuk yoga slings
  • Hat x 2: Straw hat and one of Greyson’s dorky visors. I forgot to bring a baseball cap, which I completely regret.
  • Sunglasses x 3:  I like these ones and these ones by Sun Cloud. They have nice, polarized lenses but aren’t so expensive that I’m terrified of losing them.
  • Sunglasses Strap: I lost this in the ocean partway through. Ooops.
  • Water Bottle: I usually use a Klean Kanteen, but I wanted the lighter/bigger Nalgene for this trip.
  • Travel Pillow/Eye Mask/Ear Plugs: Necessary for long flights
  • Headlamp: Didn’t use, but glad to have it
  • Life Straw: Ditto
  • Phone/Charger/Converter: The only electronic that I brought was my iPhone. It was my entertainment/e reader/camera/contact with the outside world. I have a LifeProof Nuud Waterproof Case so I wasn’t too worried about getting it wet, but I never brought it on the daily boat rides. Other people had GoPros and dive housing for their cameras, so I let them take all the actual SCUBA pictures.
  • Passport/Drivers License/PADI Card/Insurance Card/Credit Cards/Cash/Important Copies

Toiletries

  • Sunscreen – I’m really picky about what sunscreen I’ll use. Since we were spending so much time close to a delicate reef, it was really important to me that I use reef safe sunscreen. I brought two containers of Thinksport SPF 50, which has a good Environmental Working Group rating. It had a bit of a learning curve, as I didn’t apply enough my first time out and got a little burnt on my nose. After I figured out how much I needed to use, I really liked it, especially for my face.
  • Bug Spray with DEET
  • Waterproof Mascara/CC Cream/Eyeliner – this was the only makeup that I brought. I rarely wore any, but it was nice to have and all I needed/wanted.
  • Bronners & Conditioner
  • Dry Shampoo
  • Hair Ties & Barrettes/Wide Tooth Comb – the barrettes were essential for keeping my bangs back in the water
  • Toothpaste/Travel Toothbrush/Floss
  • Face wash wipes
  • Deodorant & Body Glide – I was so sweaty all the time, and I’m so glad I brought body glide.
  • Tweezers/Nail Clippers
  • Medicine
  • Chapstick x 6 – I am also obsessively worried about losing all my chapstick.

SCUBA Gear

IMG_1693

Note: I rented a BCD and regulator from Papua Explorers Resort. The resort also provided weights and a reef hook to the guests.

  • 2.5 mm Full Length Wetsuit – Greyson, you were right. Even at the equator, a full length wetsuit was the right decision.
  • Dive computer
  • Safety sausage/whistle
  • Mask/fins– I carried by mask and snorkel in my carry on.
  • Fins/booties – I got the cheapest fins & booties package at the dive shop. I wish I’d gotten slightly nicer ones since I got pretty bad hot spots on my toes.

There’s my list! While (nearly) everything I brought got used, there were a few standout products that I have to call out specifically.

Best Of:

  • Patagonia Magnolia Dress – I bought this dress in 2011 to wear in a friend’s wedding – it’s got to be the most versatile dress of all time. It barely wrinkles, it’s so comfortable and it’s super flattering. I have it in grey, but it comes in adorable patterns now.
  • Running shorts – I just brought a couple of old pairs that I had hanging around. I like them because they’re comfortable and dry quickly. I’d recommend ones without built in underwear if possible.
  • Columbia Sun Shirt – This was on sale, light, it protected me from the sun and let me live out my paleontologist fantasies. At 5’11”, the men’s medium fit me perfectly – way better than any of the women’s shirts.
  • Smartwool Strappy Sports Bra– the wool/synthetic blend helped them not smell bad, a miracle in the tropics.
  • Calavera Core Lifeguard swim top – this top was the best one to wear under my wetsuit. It’s also great to swim around in. I never worried about falling out or it coming untied, even while pulling my wetsuit on and off. It also didn’t have bulky knots.
  • Columbia Straw Hat– this hat covered my face, my neck and my dirty hair while looking pretty stylish. It also was able to be re-shaped after I crushed it into my carry on over and over.
  • BodyGlide chafing is no joke in the tropics. I used this daily for chafe-proofing my body. When I started developing hot spots on my toes, this stuff helped as well.
  • Sea to Summit Travel Pillow– I can sleep anywhere, and it’s in part due to this awesome travel pillow. It packs down so small, but blows up big and firm enough for real support.
  • 2.5 mm Full Length Wetsuit – I bought a cheap suit from Seavenger and, while I’m not sure how long it’s going to last me, it worked great for this trip. It was easy to get on and off, didn’t stretch out too much, dried as well as other pricier suits, and never started to smell bad. Note: size down! According to their measurements, I was at the top end of a size 13. I ordered that and it was way too big. Luckily, they had an 11 still in stock and I ordered that. It fit me, and it was nowhere close to too small.
  • Suunto ZOOP Dive Computer
    This is a pretty basic model, but it was very easy to use. Greyson set it up in just a couple of minutes, and all I had to do was turn it on and jump in the water. Idiot proof!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I receive a small percentage of the sale as compensation – at no additional cost to you. I promise to only recommend products that I use and enjoy!

Back from Indonesia

Hi all, I’m back! If you were following along on my Instagram or Snapchat (username: lynnbaumgartner), you know that I just spent the last couple of weeks SCUBA diving and relaxing in Raja Ampat, Indonesia (aka tropical paradise).

Here are just a few pictures of some of the fun that I got up to while I was gone:

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset
Flying into Singapore, we saw lots of empty container ships in the harbor.
Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset
Singapore Airport had a butterfly garden.
Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset
Boats in the Port of Sorong Harbor.
Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset
The Dive Center and pier at Papua Explorers Resort, our base for the vacation.
IMG_1653
(Faint) Rainbow over Pulau Mansuar. Can you spot it?
Processed with VSCOcam with x1 preset
Getting an outdoor massage.
Sunset over Pulau Mansuar
Panoramic sunset over Pulau Mansuar.
Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset
Gorgeous sunset at the resort.
Sunset 2
Another beautiful sunset.
Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset
We saw dolphins several times on the boat rides to our dive sites.

I don’t have an underwater or waterproof camera, so I actually took very few pictures of this adventure. I’m waiting on pictures from Greyson and his family, and then I’ll write up some more detailed posts.

Have you ever been SCUBA diving? Ever traveled to Indonesia?

Why I Got SCUBA Certified

File_000

I’ve loved the water since before I could walk. My mom loves to tell stories about how, if there was a body of water, I was in it, despite any signs or instructions to the contrary.

scuba 1

Photo by Janet Baumgartner

Most of our family vacations growing up involved a lake, river or ocean for swimming, fishing, tide-pooling and exploring. When I was in college my parents got into kayaking, and we all tried snorkeling for the first time on a trip to Costa Rica. It was just after the rainy season, so the water was so silt filled that we had barely any visibility, but I was hooked! Further snorkeling outings off the coast of Oahu, Puerto Rico and Maui cemented my love.

scuba 2

Photo by Jodi Swobody

On a couple of these snorkel outings there were a few people SCUBA diving off the boat. I never paid that much attention, since I was having so much fun snorkeling. My mom and I occasionally talked about getting SCUBA certified “someday”, but we never did.

scuba 3

Fast forward a few years, and I started dating my boyfriend Greyson. His family is super into SCUBA diving, and they have been taking dive vacations all over the world since he was a teenager. With my love for the water, he encouraged me to get certified, but with all my other hobbies, SCUBA certification got pushed to “someday” again.

scuba 4

Photo by Kaya McAlister

This summer, however, “someday” came closer than I was expecting! Greyson’s parents planned a SCUBA diving trip to Raja Ampat, Indonesia, and they invited me along. This combined with the fact that my parents got me the SCUBA certification class and gear for my birthday meant that it was time to get certified. I signed up for the classroom, pool and open water dives needed for SCUBA certification through Sierra Diving Center based in Reno, Nevada. I bought my equipment there too, and Greyson and I spent a few afternoons practicing in the snorkel gear.

DCIM100GOPRO

Last week, I finished my open water dives. That means I’m officially open water SCUBA certified! I’ll write more about the process of getting certified, the class and the dives, so check back for more details. I’ll also write about getting ready for my (first!) SCUBA trip and (first!) trip to East Asia. I’m so excited, and I’m already counting down the days until March!

scuba 6

Photo from Sierra Diving Center

Snorkeling in Donner Lake

A couple of weeks ago, I hinted on Instagram that I have a new adventure coming up:

snorkel 1

I’m getting SCUBA certified! In the late winter/early spring, Greyson and I are going on a trip to Indonesia with his family. They’re big into SCUBA diving, and have been on a bunch of SCUBA trips all over the world. SCUBA diving is something I have always been interested in, so this seemed like the perfect excuse to learn. My parents got me the certification course for my birthday, and, hopefully, my mom will get SCUBA certified at some point too! (All photos following by Greyson Howard!)

DCIM100GOPRO

I’m doing the SCUBA certification course through a dive shop down in Reno, and I bought the “SCUBA beginner” package when I was down there signing up for the class. I now have my own snorkel, goggle, fins and booties! Greyson and I decided to get some practice with my new gear, so we headed down to one of the small beaches on Donner Lake.

DCIM100GOPRO

It’s been pretty warm out, but I decided to wear my triathlon wetsuit since the lake temperature isn’t that warm. It had been awhile since I put on my wetsuit, but luckily it still fits! I’ll be renting a thicker, long sleeve wetsuit for the open water training dive in Lake Tahoe this fall, but mine was fine for summer messing around.

DCIM100GOPRO

I practiced getting into the gear, and I discovered that it’s really, really hard to walk in fins. Note: always put them on while already in the water, then walk backwards. We swam around, and I practiced going under water and clearing my ears. Kicking with the giant fins on is definitely different than the lap and open water swimming that I’m used to.

DCIM100GOPRO

While Donner Lake is super fun to swim in, it’s not the most interesting for snorkeling. I saw a lot of: rocks, pinecones and garbage. It was really fun to see a side of the lake I don’t normally see though. I’m really excited for the SCUBA certification class, which starts soon. I’ll be writing about the process on the blog, and I’ll hopefully have fun SCUBA adventures to share in the future!

snorkel 6