Happy and healthy New Year in every hemisphere and time zone! May your 2016 travel be good times, good memories — and good for you!
With an abundance of walking and bicycle tour offers now, and kayaking trips going mainstream globally, there are numerous ways to work out trips with work-outs to get you from place to place with added health benefits. The ante has also been raised on many cruise ships' gyms, spas, and nutritious cuisine options. For me, last year, it was an "uncruise" with Un-cruise Adventures that turned a favourite destination into a floating health retreat, too.
On the first morning of a one-week, small-boat trip through the Hawaiian Islands, 10 of us breathed deeply, our arms reaching up in a yoga stretch toward white clouds. Paul, our full-time "wellness coach," was leading us in poses on top of the three-decker Safari Explorer, with the lush greens of Hawaiian islands and deep blues of the Pacific Ocean in view. We were exhaling fully when, 150 yards ahead of us, a geyser of water spouted upward — a humpback whale showed us its own exhalation. Then the multi-ton creature of grace dove and flipped its tale, so it looked like black and white wings gliding into the depths of the sea.
I've been to Hawaii many glorious times for various reasons, but I had never seen the islands from the perspective of a sea traveller. I liked the idea of going from one volcanic dollop of paradise to another without lots of packing and airport time. I wanted to wake up off-shore in the whale's home, not onshore with tourists. And I've learned from past voyages, in other parts of the world, that when nature is the entertainment, I appreciate the intimacy of a smaller ship.
We island-hopped from the Kona coast of the "Big Island" of Hawaii to Maui, to Molokai, to Lanai — with each day offering water and land activities between wholesome meals that were wickedly delicious. (There was a full-time pastry chef onboard, so we had to exercise.) The enthusiastic crew members were the counsellors you wanted for a summer camp you could only dream about — one with sea turtles, tropical fish, and daily expeditions to go look for whales. Also one with a free healing massage for each guest, suites with Jacuzzi bathtubs, and restaurant-quality food from surf and turf options to desired dishes without meat, dairy, or gluten.
I loved that the "exercise" was fun in the natural playground and cultural context of Hawaii and its great weather.
My favourite paddling was off the historic town of Lahaina on the island of Maui. For a slice of an afternoon, we could pretend we were ancient Hawaiian seafarers, as we tried digging our paddles into the sea in unison from a long double-hulled canoe. The Hui O Waa Kaulua nonprofit centre carries on traditions that honour the ancient Polynesian "wayfinders" who navigated by the stars and smells of the sea to travel vast distances.
For our modern times, the Safari Explorer carried both kayaks and paddle boards for SUP (Stand Up Paddling) and the crew was happy to drop some in the warm waters and teach various paddling techniques.
Walking rules, for both health benefits and up-close access. The week offered daily opportunities from shopping and history tours in the charming village of Kona, to cliff-side trails and windswept promontories full of Hawaiian lore told well by the guides.
On the island of Molokai, we were invited into the sacred Valley of Halawa, which may be the first Hawaiian settlement of the Polynesians more than 1,400 years ago. The blowing of a conch shell announces our arrival and a return blow welcomes us to walk further in. Our hike takes us through taro terraces, sacred lands, and tropical forests with hibiscus flowers, to a 76-metre waterfall with a natural pool that invites swimming.
The second night aboard, we night-snorkelled above a manta ray feeding station. Mostly we hung onto surfboards and watched the giant winged creatures below glide between the large lights placed to attract their supper of a sea soup of tiny organisms.
The biggest splash for the "Wow Meter" was on the way to Captain Cook's Monument in Kealakekua Bay, a renowned snorkelling location where spinner dolphins often play. In an inflatable boat, we zoomed toward some spouts on the horizon then respectfully stopped the boat the legal distance. The humpbacks, however, were not aware of those limits.
Within what seemed just moments, we were in the centre of humpback activity for an experience that truly rates the word "awesome!" I handed my trusty GoPro in its underwater case to a boatsman named Buddha, who hung over the edge to get video of a mother and baby swimming under our boat! And at the same time, I photographed topside while an enormous male escort "spy-hopped" — thrusting his sleek mass vertically to the sky to check us out as we shouted and gasped and clicked away.
My Aloha trip was both breathless and great for deep breathing. I went home a bit healthier and happier — something I wish for all travellers, all trips. To a 2016 of well-being and good-doing!
Uncruise adventures offers hawaii itineraries november through april: www.un-cruise.com/destinations/hawaiian-islands-cruises
For the whale video: www.oneminutetrip.com/pacific.php
Lisa sonne, author of My Adventures: A Traveler's Journal has previously written and produced discovery's Extreme Hawaii and Hawaii shows for your mind and body television series. The book she was working on while in hawaii is now out: The Happiness Handbook: simple steps. For more go to www.lisasonne.com