On my latest visit to Oahu I had to see why Wild Side Specialty Tours has been on the top of Trip Advisor’s list of things to do on the island. Smaller boats and fewer people on the tour were attractive to me, but the comments on Trip Advisor also alluded to unique access to ‘wild’ marine mammals and sea creatures. “An unparalleled and amazing experience!” Best part of our trip” And the warning on their own site: Warning – potentially life changing. Certainly life affirming. Our award-winning cruises are intimate, ecologically friendly, nature-minded, and foster lasting connections “‘where the wild things are”.
What’s different about this experience? Seems to start with owner Tori Cullens. A USCG captain and marine biologist, Cullens has been actively involved in conservation efforts, scientific research, education, and eco-tourism related to marine mammals and their habitat for 20 years. And she makes a tasty chicken salad sandwich – lunch is offered. The day I went out my boat mates consisted of two sweet couples from Australia and the crew, Elizabeth Hartford who grew up in these waters and immediately put everyone at ease, and throughout the tour made sure we all were in the right place and properly equipped. As we boarded the 34’ yacht, with a total of seven – a floating craft with about one hundred humans chugged past us en route to a coastal snorkeling destination.
“We’re heading out to sea,” said Captain Tori. Within thirty minutes we happened upon the resident pod of pantropical spotted dolphins and one particular frisky male we named Fred, who peeled away from his friends to play with us for over an hour. The tour ended up along the coast near the shore of Makena Beach and then passed what Elizabeth told us was the smallest official mountain in the country, Mauna Lahilahi. We were back by noon and I will have to agree with their warning; my time with swimming with wild dolphins –especially Frisky Fred was definitely life changing.