When thinking about Hawaii, most of us envision sandy beaches, gently swaying palm trees, cocktails and grass skirts. The tropical island transports you as far away from the daily grind as you can go.
It’s true that relaxing on one of the many beaches, sipping exotic cocktails and tucking into fresh, juicy pineapples and Kalua Pig is the ultimate way to relax. However, it would be a crime to spend all your time on the island just doing that! Hawaii offers a wealth of activities, with diving among the top attractions.
There are countless dives around the island, for both experienced divers and newbies to enjoy. But, as the warm and pleasant sun sinks into the sea and the darkness begins to set, something else stirs beneath the waves. Hawaii offers some of the best night diving in the world, giving divers the chance to witness an underwater display like no other.
Manta Ray Diving
Thousands flock to Hawaii each year to enjoy the thrill of swimming with these giants of the sea. Hawaii is home to a number of excellent dive sites, each offering a high chance of seeing several Mantas each night. With no fangs, spikes or stings, they are the gentle giants of the sea, and swimming with them couldn’t be safer. These magnificent creatures only come out at night however, so divers must take to the murky depths in darkness.
Who Can Try Manta Ray Diving?
There are numerous dive operators throughout Hawaii, giving pretty much anyone the chance to swim with Manta Rays. However, there are limitations. All divers must be certified, and some operators will only accept you if you’ve dived within the last 6 months and have previously completed a night dive.
Don’t worry if you’re not a certified diver though, there’s still hope! The majority of operators also take groups of snorkelers out. Generally, you don’t need any prior experience, and many tours include flotation aids to ensure you can lay down and enjoy the show. All divers and snorkelers must be able to swim at least 50 yards unaided.
Where to go Manta Ray Diving?
On Hawaii’s ‘Big Island’, there are 3 major areas to see Manta Rays, all just off the coast. Known as feeding stations, this is where the Mantas come to tuck into some tasty plankton. Kona Bay offers some of the best night diving sites in the world.
- Manta Village; around 7 miles south of Kona, this is the prime site for Manta Ray Diving. It can be a bit crowded, but with over a 90% chance of a sighting, it’s no surprise.
- Manta Heaven; lies around 8 miles north of Kona, and offers some splendid day and night diving in Hawaii. The chances of sightings are still quite high, and you’re likely to see more Mantas at a time here than anywhere else.
- Kohala Coast; is more northern than the other sites, located close to the Kohala resorts and Waikoloa Village. While Mantas are less frequent here, you’re sure to avoid the crowds of the other locations.
What to Expect?
There are some fantastic tour operators willing to take you out to see Hawaii’s Manta Rays at night, all following a strict code of conduct. Expert guides and dive masters will give you a thorough briefing on the boat, explaining all the safety procedures and the do’s and don’ts. Quality equipment is available to rent, and newbies will be given full instruction.
Both divers and snorkelers are equipped with underwater flashlights, which are essential for encouraging plankton to swarm in your area. Divers will sink 30 – 40 feet to the surface, and shine their lights up. Snorkelers will float on the surface, shining their lights down. After a while, the huge Mantas – which can grow up to 18 ft – will appear.
Lured over by the masses of plankton, they will swoop and dive, mouths open in order to gobble down as much plankton as they can. Somersaulting and spinning, they’ll put on a fantastic show, and will often swim right up to you, occasionally brushing by. Any fear of night time diving will be washed away, as you float, mesmerized, by the out of this world display.
On the rare occasion that you don’t see a manta during your dive, most tour operators will re-book for free, or with a large discount. It’s a good idea to book your tour at the beginning of your stay, allowing you time to reschedule if needs be.
In general, Manta Ray diving tours in Hawaii book up quite quickly, so it’s best to book in advance to avoid disappointment. A week or 2 during high season is recommended.
Don’t worry if you prefer to travel light. The vast majority of tour operators are well stocked and can rent out all the equipment you need.
Black Water Dives
There’s more lurking beneath Hawaii’s seas than Manta Rays and plankton. As a result of the awesome underwater topography of Hawaii, deep waters are just 3 miles out to sea. Within them lurk countless creatures, of all shapes and sizes, providing a lightshow that is (almost) literally out of this world!
From squid and octopus, to jellyfish and even seahorses – we’re barely brushing the surface. All these and more migrate nightly, from the murky depths to the surface, in order to enjoy a feast. Evolved over millions of years, many of them are almost alien in appearance.
An unrivalled bioluminescent display awaits divers, who will marvel at this otherworldly lightshow. Prepare to be amazed as countless beautiful creatures dance, float and spiral through the depths, in an effort to feed, mate and survive.
Who Can Enjoy a Black Water Dive?
These dives are for fairly experienced divers, with many tour operators requiring at least 50 logged dives, including one or more night dives prior to this excursion.
Again, the Kona coast is the place to go. Most tours depart from Honokohau Marina, and take divers 3 to 4 miles out to sea. You’ll descend around 50 ft, tethered to the boat to ensure you don’t float away while you’re distracted by the beauty surrounding you.
What to Expect?
Around 3 hours of floating around in darkness, surrounded by creatures that few people on earth ever get to see. You become part of the greatest lightshow on earth, and may even run into sharks or dolphins! Professional tour operators stick to strict regulations to ensure your safety and enjoyment, as well as protecting the fragile environment around you.
Sink or Swim
There’s so much to enjoy about Hawaii, but there are stark differences between the Hawaii basked in sunlight, and the Hawaii surrounded by the darkness of night. The same is true of the surrounding ocean.
Are you ready to face the fear of the dark and the ocean depths? If you are, you’ll be left with priceless memories of a breath-taking experience. If you’ve tried night diving before, let me know in the comments below!