Day 4

We got up with the alarm clock at 6:30am and got dressed in our swim gear. After a very light breakfast, we set off for Maalea Harbor (and Jer saw a whale blow along the way). At Maalea, Jer, Jess and Will got checked in for the Pacific Whale Foundation's Molokini and Lanai snorkel trip. After a quick briefing, the crew led us to our boat and we were off! Almost the first thing we saw when we left the harbor were the blows of three humpback whales, but when we motored over to where we'd seen them, they'd already submerged. The crew consoled us with a continental breakfast of fresh pineapple, papaya, banana bread and zucchini muffins, as we continued on our way.

Our first snorkel spot was Molokini, a tuft cone that's mostly submerged, so the crater provides shelter for lots of fish. We were greeted by schools of black triggerfish, followed by serjeant-majors, yellow tangs, wrasses, butterflyfish, parrotfish, the Hawaiian state triggerfish and others, including one we'd never seen before, a peacock grouper. There were also cool sea urchins — in addition to the black spiny ones, there were red slate pencil urchins (so named because dead ones can be used to write on slate, like a chalkboard). Eventually, we were summoned back to the boat.

As we sailed to Lanai, some of the crew told us about the surrounding islands and marine life, while others cooked us a tasty BBQ lunch (chicken breasts, veggie burgers and hot dogs, with three-bean and cucumber salads). The fish at Lanai were largely the same as those at Molokini, but there were big schools of yellow tangs and serjeant-majors, plus we saw Hawaiian cleaner wrasses in action and a free-swimming moray eel. The corals were more colorful and sea urchins more plentiful. It's hard to believe that more snorkelers don't come there, but it's a 90-minute ride from

Though the snorkeling was excellent, the real highlights of the trip were on the ride back from Lanai. Another Pacific Whale Foundation vessel spotted something in the waters north of Maalea, so Captain Doug veered out of our way to go check it out — it was a pod of at least 200 Hawaiian spinner dolphins! They were so cool; dozens of them ran along side our boat, while others did their characteristic spin in front of us. It was amazing! Then, since we hadn't seen any Hawaiian green sea turtles while snorkeling, Captain Doug took us to a place where we could see them swimming around near the boat. They were neat, and seeing them like that just made Jess want to see them underwater even more. Although there were several whale sightings, we didn't see more than a blow from the boat, but we still counted it as a great success.

Back in Maalea, we said goodbye to the crew and met up with the mothers, who had spent the day at the Maui Tropical Planation, learning about local fruits and flowers, then at Kamaole II beach in Kihei after an excellent lunch at Cafe O'Lei. We all checked out the Maalea craft and farmers market, where the fresh mac nuts were the top draw (we got sea salt and honey-cinnamon, mmm). On our way back to Lahaina, Jer spotted several humpback whale blows offshore, so we pulled into the McGregor's Point lookout, where we were able to see blows, but also humps and tails above the waves. If they'd been any further out, we wouldn't have been able to see it, but as it was we felt quite privileged!

Having hit the trifecta of whales, dolphins and turtles, we headed back to our condo so our snorkelers could shower. We all rested and vegged out for a while, before finally pulling ourselves together and heading to dinner. We drove north to Kahana, for an excellent dinner at Roy's. Everything was superb, but highlights included blackened seared ahi; scallops with fingerling potatoes and Maui corn; and warm tomato and pancetta salad, plus the desserts (pineapple upside-down cake; molten chocolate souffle; chai creme brulee; and refreshing raspberry and mango sorbets). Stuffed, we returned to the condo and — after treating our mild sunburns — slid into bed to read for a bit.