Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep

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All of us aboard the Sunseeker had the same affliction. We'd been slowly, unwittingly and maddeningly bewitched by the fire goddess Pele's workshop: the big island of Hawaii. We were each, in our own way, haunted by these waters. Our dreamy looks exposed blue souls unable to resist the primal rumblings that emanate from Hawaii like slow, leaden ripples through the vast expanses of the Pacific Ocean. For years now, we'd been joining the roaming marine life that makes long-distance pilgrimages to pause off these, the most remote shores on Earth.

That day as we left the Kona Village Resort to head north up the Kohala Coast to an untamed fringe of Hawaii called Hamakua, the sun was fighting up the distant slopes of the cloud-wrapped peak of Mauna Kea. The first tentative, almost delicate fingers of early-morning light that reached over the mountain revealed miles of raw black lava fields. It was easy to discern that the Big Island still retained the strong blush of geologic youth. Beaches were rare. A ragged edge of twisted volcanic rock defied the sea and defined the coastline. It looked as if it could have flowed from the mountainside the week before, like a wound unhealed.

This, it was easy to see, was not a benign place.

Mercilessly, the goddess Pele alters and molds the Big Island even as we love, dive and dream. She's a mercurial goddess, prone to disguise, tantrums and divine whimsy. She is revealed with every eruption, every drip and flow of lava, every hiss of steam. Hawaiians today still leave offerings to appease her. But I imagined her spirit rising with the light to watch us on our long journey to a little-seen part of her playground.

The Engines Started
When Paul Warren, owner and captain, had finally started the engines of the Sunseeker that morning, three years of planning and waiting had come to the start of a conclusion. Paul and I had sat all that time ago along the black sand of the Kona Village Resort, probably after a few drinks too many, and ignited — appropriately — a fire.

"Only about 300 people have ever dived there," Paul said.

"Up the Kohala Coast?"

"No," Paul said, "around the point to Hamakua."

"Three hundred? That's it?"

"Yeah, something like that. Probably less. I'm prone to exaggeration."

I let the thought of a place such as that,on probably the most-dived of the Hawaiian Islands, soak in for a moment before a profound word eeked out of my mouth.

"Ever?"

"Well, I've been here for 30 years. It's tough to get there." Paul paused and tightened his brow, shuffling back through the years. "Until we go. About 300. For sure. Most people who go have to turn back."

"What's so special?"

"Turtles the size of dining-room tables. Lots of sharks. Especially tigers. Big ones. Loads of fish. It's wild, you never know. Plus, there's a bunch of offshore seamounts that I've been dying to dive. No one I know of has ever dived those places."

Really? I thought.

"You can only dive there about three days a year." Paul elaborated, coaxing me in. "When conditions are right. Can you do that with your schedule? Come when the winds and currents are just right? I can probably give you about three days' notice."

"No," I lied.

In the secret, villainous chamber of my saltwater heart, though, I knew if the place was that special, I'd probably kiss the kids and leave in the middle of the night to dive it.

"You're lying." Paul said. "I can see the wheels turning."

Damn.

Published: 25 Sep 2007 | Last Updated: 1 Apr 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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Best Hotels in Big Island

$239
Average/night*
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Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows
$389
Average/night*
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Mauna Kea Beach Hotel
$125-$148
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Holua Resort at Mauna Loa Village
$210
Average/night*
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Castle Halii Kai At Waikoloa

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