My new favorite animal. I never really had a favorite animal before, and I still really love my dogs, but after this trip to Hawai’i I now can confidently announce my favorite animal is the sea turtle.

We didn’t snorkel any on Oahu – Waikiki is terrible snorkeling and I knew we were heading to Maui for 5 days. There was one turtle that would swim around Waikiki beach near our hotel every afternoon, but with so many people around it wasn’t that big of a deal. So when we got to our condo on Maui, I went out late that afternoon just to check my snorkel gear, and I immediately found myself swimming with two of these beasts. Pretty cool!

The next morning we took a sailboat to Honolua Bay, a protected marine refuge, and snorkeled for over an hour. There were quite a few turtles around, and there was what the boat captain described as a “turtle cleaning station,” where the turtles stay on the bottom of the ocean and fish clean their shells. We watched them on the bottom, lying on the coral and rock. We swam with them, sometimes only inches away. In fact, as I was trying to find one on the bottom, I wasn’t paying close attention on the surface and swam so close one of the turtles swatted me with his flipper as he swam by.

Then it was back to our condo. I discovered the location of a “turtle cave” in Napili Bay where 5 or 6 of the turtles hung out, resting and swimming. It was magnificent, just floating there watching these gentle, graceful beasts swim and float. I would guess their size from 2 to as large as 5 feet in length, and I have no idea just how much they might weigh, but it was enchanting to watch them swim. For the most part, they couldn’t care less that we were with them – they just kept on doing what turtles do. The only time we seemed to affect them was when Wiley swam underneath one – it did a quick barrel roll to keep its shell pointing at Wiley at all times.

We were told that the next bay to the south was even better, so the next day we trekked over the lava and went snorkeling in Honokeana Bay. It only took about 2 or 3 minutes before we were swimming with 10 to 15 of the most beautiful creatures you can imagine. It was mesmerizing – I don’t think Kerry moved from the main turtle base once we found them. The swim home was fun – Wiley and Kerry went overland – I swam in the somewhat open ocean home. A little daunting at times, but fun nonetheless.

Here are some of the pictures we took of the turtles. Both of our supposedly water-resistant cameras were old enough that they didn’t completely survive the experience but we still got some great pictures.

To complete the experience, our last night in Maui we were walking around the shops of Lahaina, looking in a lot of art galleries. We found some affordable island prints we liked, and as we talked with the gallery keeper, we saw a painting of a turtle he was working on. He also showed us this picture of another painting he has done.

So, the end of the story is he is using our photos to paint a custom oil painting of our Hawaiian sea turtle that we will use as a prominent feature of our home. All in all, a pretty great adventure, don’t you think?