By Kevin Stewart Padi Instructor #188980
You read about it, you heard about it from another diver and possibly you even became a certified diver just so you could one day go on the Manta Ray Dive in Kona Hawaii! If the later, maybe you were lucky like me to have been able to come to Kona and go out Night Snorkeling with Manta Rays. It was that incredible evening looking down at not only the magical manta rays of Kona but also observing the certified divers down with them as the mantas sometimes gracefully flew directly over their heads. As I have told so many before it was that night that made me want to finally become a certified diver so that I too could one day go on the Manta Ray Night Dive in Kona Hawaii. Since then not only did I eventually go on the dive but I also went on to become a Padi Instructor in Kona Hawaii and have had the pleasure of guiding hundreds of Manta Ray night dives over the years. Now that you have decided to go let’s discuss what it’s like to go on a Manta ray dive in Kona Hawaii so you know what to expect which you should expect to be amazed! First let’s go over some of the logistics and considerations about going on the Manta Ray Dive!
Obviously, you will need to make your way to Kona Hawaii which is on what is known as the Big Island of Hawaii and I would suggest staying closer to Kailua Kona where most of the dive and snorkel companies are close to. I would strongly suggest booking your dives with a local operator such as Kona Honu Divers ahead of time especially if you plan on coming during the busy seasons such as the summer and over busy holidays like Christmas and New Years as the Manta Ray Night Dive has become one of the most popular dives in the world and can fill up! Whether you are a new or experienced diver you may be wondering if you need any specialized dive training, or need to have ever done a night dive before and the answer in general is you do not though I would say for you to be really comfortable in doing the Manta Ray Dive it would be advisable to have experienced a reef night dive first or possibly even do your Padi Night Diver Specialty. Of course, if you have not been diving recently you really should do at least a day dive and if it has been a year or so a refresher is always recommended! Again, if you’re comfortable with your diving ability and have been diving recently then you are probably good to go. The fact is a vast majority of certified divers who go on a Manta Ray dive in Kona Hawaii have never done one before and do just fine. When I brief first time night divers on the dive, I tell them that as first night dives go the dive is generally a lot easier to do than a regular reef night dive. The main reasons for this are that compared to regular reef night dive the dive is very controlled for not only diver’s safety but also for that of the environment and of course the Mantas! On a regular reef night dive, you may have very few divers possibly guiding themselves around the reef with only their few dive lights to illuminate the water. In Kona Hawaii all Manta Ray Dives are escorted by dive guides who you will follow underneath the water to a designated area called the “Manta Ray Campfire”. All the dive companies have their divers gather around the campfire area due to the fact that it is a sandy rocky area in which we can kneel and sit the divers down on the bottom and not hurt corals etc. That means once you are at the campfire there is no swimming around so as to not run into other divers and the Mantas. On busy summer nights and holidays the dive can have 50 or more divers underneath the water all with dive lights which make the dive quite a bit more lit up than a regular night dive and the dive companies also put very bright lights in the middle of the campfire which actually attracts the Manta Rays while again making the dive a lot brighter than normal. Another thing that makes the Manta Ray night dive easier for newer divers is that it is conducted at fairly shallow depth averaging between 30 and 40 feet of water. Another nice thing for newer divers or those who are a bit nervous about going out and jumping right into a night dive is that most dive companies including Kona Honu Divers offer not only a one tank night dive but also a two-tank dive. With the two-tank dive you would get to do a guided reef dive at the Manta site during the day to get you warmed up for the night dive which we would want you to do if you have not been diving recently. This will get you warmed up and more comfortable when it’s time to do the night dive as yours and our main goal is for you to confidently get down and experience the amazing Mantas of Kona Hawaii.
The night has come and it is time for you to go on the Manta Ray night dive and whether you have chosen a one tank or two tank night dive you will be given a thorough briefing about the procedures of the night dive but also an ecological briefing about the amazing Manta Rays of Kona Hawaii. Most of the guides are certified Manta Naturalists who can share with you some interesting facts that you might not know about Mantas? You will have already been put into small dive groups and after suiting up and been given a dive light you enter the water and go down as a group with your guide and as mentioned before you will follow the guide at about 30 feet of depth to gather around the Manta Campfire with the other divers. On the way you will probably see eels such as yellow margins and fish such as blue trevallies hunting on the reef and once at the campfire you will be directed to kneel or sit by the guide on the bottom aligned closely to your fellow divers. The guide will have told you to more heavily weight yourselves than normal to more easily stay on the bottom but that being said some people can start moving around a bit and if your guide sees that they will hand you a rock to hold if needed so you will be more comfortable. Again, this is for your safety and others around you and as you will have been briefed your guide will be right by your group to help monitor you and your air. The dives average 45 to 50 minutes depending on air and because the dive is shallow most divers will make it to the end of the dive but do not worry if you need to go back to the boat for whatever reason your guide will take you and then come back to the other divers, no one is left alone!
If you’re lucky by the time you arrive at the campfire the Mantas will already be gliding around the dive site but sometimes, we do need to wait for their arrival as they are wild animals who are on their own time. If we do have to wait you will be enthralled, I am sure of what is a truly surreal experience with all the dive and campfire lights surrounding you while overhead the snorkelers above you who also have lights shine down on top of you. Large schools of Hawaiian Flag Tails circle above the campfire lights and underneath the snorkelers and you may even see one of our residents, a undulated eel we named “Frank” sticking his head up out of the campfire lights hoping he can jump up and snag himself a fish to eat. You will have been briefed to have your dive lights positioned above your head so that when the Mantas arrive hopefully the light will attract them closer to you and they may possibly glide right over you but please do not reach out to touch the Manta as tempting as it may be!
As far as how many Manta Rays you are going to see we never know as it is truly a wild experience and we do not keep them in cages waiting to come out for the show nor do we feed them (they only feed on their natural food source zoo plankton which gathers in our lights). Sometimes we can have double digit Manta Ray Nights and sometimes a single ray but either way the dive and the Mantas put on a majestic show. Because it is a wild experience unfortunately there are nights when the Mantas do not show at all and is really just random and not built on any particular times of year or moon cycles etc. We see the Mantas 80 percent on average and you will be briefed that if they possibly do not show up after around 30 minutes you will follow your guide on a reef night dive looking for nocturnal creatures unless we really think they are in the area and just late coming in that night. But hopefully we have enjoyed another incredible Night Dive with the Mantas of Kona Hawaii and after getting back on the boat you are sharing the excitement of the dive with your buddies on our approximately 30-minute boat ride back to the harbor.
Going on the Manta Ray Night Dive in Kona Hawaii will be one of the highlights of your diving lives I am sure as it is with most who have been lucky enough to do it. Make sure you are one of the lucky ones by contacting Kona Honu Divers who has been conducting the Manta Ray dive in Kona Hawaii for years and will take you on both an exciting and safe diving adventure!