The Big Island of Hawaii is a world-famous scuba diving destination, and a night dive with the manta rays is a must-do while on the island.
Among the three manta ray feeding stations, the site by the Sheraton Kona Resort Hotel is the most popular one. The shore dive started by the rocks and surf that sometimes made entry and exit challenging.
A short 10-minute dive over a shallow 20-feet (6-meter) deep reef led to the feeding station.
The coral was unfortunately dead due to recurring mooring activities, but we could rest there and hold our position against the potential surge that rocked us in all directions.
Sea urchins covered the reef; we had to be careful not to stick our fingers or any part of our body on any of these.
A Manta Ray Dive on Big Island is also a night dive adventure, making the experience twice as thrilling! After reaching the site, the divemaster set several dive lamps to attract the plankton, which in turn attracted the manta rays.
Shortly after setting the underwater lamps, small flashes of white appeared in the dark waters, increasing in size by the second. Soon the massive wings of the manta rays came in full view, as the gentle giants surrounded us in the artificial lights.
For about 40 minutes, we witnessed the dance of the manta rays.
They tangoed, swirled, and twisted around us. Fearless, they softly touched us with the tip of their wings. So gentle we first thought it was a dream. But so real as they repeated the same tap over and over again.
As I followed one of the manta rays swimming by, I turned my head back and suddenly faced the full open mouth of a giant manta. So large I thought it was going to swallow me whole.
For a second or two, I froze and held my breath, fearing my time was up. But the manta rays only care about plankton, and the open mouth just scraped by me. What an intense moment!
I had not expected manta rays to be so large. They were an impressive sight, with most with wingspans reaching about 15-18 feet (5-6 meters). And when three or four of them danced around us, the spectacle was magical.
Especially as the giant beasts only feed on such tiny plankton.
Watching manta rays is better done scuba-diving, but snorkeling is another good option. Several snorkelers would free-dive from the surface, enjoying their time snorkeling with manta rays as well.
As we returned slowly to the shore, we passed by other fascinating marine life. An unusual green crab with green spots, a white-and-black conger, unexpected encounters in the dark waters.
The exit was more challenging than the entry as the surf kept pushing us on the rocks, especially more so as we felt tired from the dive.
What an experience we had! A manta rays night dive is a one-in-a-lifetime experience, and a must-do while on the Big Island.
When to dive in Big Island
You can dive all year on Big Island, but note that the water conditions vary depending on the time of the year. You can expect to see between 5 to 15 Manta Rays most of the time – though as with any wildlife encounter, there is never any guarantee.
Peak Season: Winter is the busy period due to the Christmas and New Year holidays from the US. However, the months from December to March see large waves which might make diving some sites challenging.
Low Season: Spring & Fall see fewer visitors, but these are the best time to travel to Big Island of Hawaii thanks to the lovely weather and calm water.
Summer: Another busy travel season with US travelers off over the summer months.
Scuba Diving Conditions:
Water temperatures: Average 75-80°F (24-27°C) throughout the year. Slightly colder between November and March due to the rains, slightly warmer in summer.
Visibility: Average 100 feet (30 meters) though the distance can drop during the winter months with the surge
Big Island Dive Spots
Big Island offers about 50 different dive locations: lava formations, fantastic marine life like turtles and sharks. Top Sites include Two Steps, Honaunau Bay, and Harlequin among the most popular ones.
Where to Stay on Big Island
While not as developed as Maui or Oahu, Kona and Big Island, in general, offers several types of accommodation for all kinds of travelers, from budget hotels to luxury resorts.
Heading to Hawaii? Check out the Official Guide to Scuba Diving Hawaii
About the Author:
Bruno and Patricia are the French-American couple behind Ze Wandering Frogs’ adventure travel blog. They traveled to 50+ countries and are currently on a long-term world trip, exploring new destinations through thrilling outdoor activities: diving in Papua Raja Ampat, kiteboarding in Sri Lanka, horseback riding in Mongolia, trekking in the Himalayas, dog sledding Huskies in the Arctic, meeting with the Tsaatan reindeer herders in Mongolia, bowhunting with the Hadzabe tribe in Tanzania, attending Crocodile ceremonies in Papua New Guinea, and sitting with gorillas in Rwanda. Ze Wandering Frogs’ work has been published on National Geographic Daily Dozen, Dave’s Travel Corner, Activity Fan, Viator Travel Blog, and Huffington Post.