You have qualified, trained hard and now you have arrived. You are in the hub of the Ironman world. You are in Kona, Hawaii for the World Championships.
For virtually every competitor, getting here has meant at least a five hour plane trip up to a 36 hour journey. Some will be alone, others with their partners and some with their families. To come all this way and just rest and train seems a shame. A number of competitors will have arrived early to acclimatise and others later with a vacation planned for after the race. Which ever option you have chosen there is a myriad of things to do here on the Big Island. The tourist information website is a great resource, but if you want a quick guide, here are my favourite excursions in three price brackets.
Explore the coast line along Ali’i Drive. White Sands beach, four miles from the Kona is exceptional. Small, beautiful and with a lifeguard on duty it offers the perfect spot to relax and soak up the Hawaiian sunshine.
Mid Price – Swimming with Dolphins at Kona Ocean Adventures
Just a short ride from Kona in Honokohau Harbour you can join Kona Ocean Adventures whose clients have included mega stars such as Tom Cruise. I was welcomed by Momi and the company owner and boat captain Danny. Vastly experienced having spent 17 years doing this, Danny knows where to find these most magnificent of creatures and will speed off down the coast line to find them. We were given a quick few tips such as to look the opposite way the dolphins are swimming as more are likely to be coming and do not touch. This is not an aquarium where antibiotics are given but the Pacific Ocean and these are wild animals.
The first time you dive in and see them it is incredible. Full snorkelling equipment is provided and even though you are out at sea the visibility is exceptional. The dolphins swim around you and beneath you with an elegance and grace you have to see. They have spent the night in the deeper waters hunting and have come back inshore to find a a place to rest, usually a sandy bottom as their sonar is constantly working. The sandy bottom gives them some reprieve. We were also lucky enough to see a Moon Jellyfish which Danny suggested was a once every three years find.
You repeat the above 3 or 4 times in differing locations and depending on where they have gone you might stop off at another focal point for some snorkelling. We happened to be a short cruise away from Captain Cooks Bay so Danny took us there for what turned out to be a magical experience with all the crystal clear waters and tropical fish in abundance.
After our snorkel, lunch was served comprising of turkey wraps, veggie rice wrapped vine leaves, crisps, crudites, pineapple and chocolates. Drink were supplied readily throughout the whole trip.
I thoroughly enjoyed this excursion and it offers great value for money too lasting around four hours.
High Price – A helicopter ride around the island with Paradise Helicopters
This has to be the ultimate excursion on the island and worth every penny. Having arrived at the Paradise Helicopters airport offices we were given a safety briefing and talk by the pilots on the course we would be taking. To my delight it would take in the vast majority of the island and over the volcanoes that created the island itself. The thought of seeing lava flowing is something that I have been wanting to see again for two decades – I was truly excited.
The flight initially took us down the coast past the beautiful White Sands beach which gave us a taste of things to come. At every major site our pilot, one of the most experienced on the island, circled around in both directions so everyone in the aircraft had a clear view. From here we continued down passing over huge macadamia nut farms interspersed with lava fields. The first time we saw the glow of lava was quite spectacular. Our pilot hovered so we could truly take in the view looking down into he crater and the orange glow emanating from it.
Crossing over the island we climbed to 8500ft to rise above the cloud hovering above the mountains. This had quite a surreal feel about it – literally like we were floating above the world.
Having descended we witnessed a lava field with lava coming up from the flat surface and cooling into a shape reminiscent of a seashell. For me this was a real highlight and I could feel the heat of the lava rise to the elevation of the helicopter.
Moving on the landscape transformed into a lush green rain forest. We had arrived at the wet side of the island. Here, high cliffs rose from the ocean and due to the recent rainfall had spectacular waterfalls consistently flowing along the length of the cliffs. Our pilot was very informative giving us a good commentary with the two way headsets and microphones. His knowledge was unsurpassed and every question was met with a knowledgeable answer.
I loved flying past the deep valleys and along one to see a spectacular waterfall that could boast being the highest on the island. Remarkably, there were a number of houses in the area albeit towards the perimeter of where it started getting dry again. We were told that the locals all live in the hills where the temperature is cooler and more easy to live with.
As quickly as the wet area began it stopped and we were back on the west of the island. Here the hotels dot the coast and the beaches stretch out before you. There was so much to take in on the ride that the only way to truly experience it is to take a ride yourself.