Scuba diving with the Kona manta rays is one of the most magical night dives in Hawaii. As a very popular destination for tourists, this is not the most secluded manta site but a fantastic place for taking underwater photos.
This is dive destination isn’t only accessible to certified divers but is also great for snorkelers. To experience a safe, respectful, and unforgettable manta ray dive I recommend using one of the certified dive guides or tour operators on Kailua Kona.
Scuba Diving in Hawaii
Hawaii is the most recent and the 50th state to have joined the United States of America. It is the only state located within Oceania and is the only one to be composed entirely of islands. Also, Hawaii is the only state located outside of North America.
Compromised of hundreds of islands and spread over 1,500 miles (2,400 km), the state encompasses almost the entire volcanic Hawaiian archipelago. The largest island within the group is often known as and called the “Big Island” in order to avoid confusion with the state or archipelago.
Hawaii is great for tourists, biologists, volcanologists, and of course divers, due not only to its diverse natural scenery, warm tropical climate. But the oceanic surroundings, volcanoes, and an abundance of public beaches attract many people each year. With scuba diving in Hawaii being one of the main attractions.
Located in the Pacific, Hawaii is home to over a million permanent residents, along with many visitors and US military personnel. The state coastline is around 750 miles long (1,210 km) and is the fourth-longest in the US.
What is Night Diving? (What to Expect)
Many of the divers that go to Kailua Kona come for the manta ray night dive. Offering a completely different experience compared to a dive in daylight. It is, therefore, important that you make sure you talk to the local dive center about any preparations you need to make. If you are using their gear rental service then they will also advise on the correct night diving gear.
Some of the extra dive equipment that you might need include:
- Underwater dive lights
- Backup light
- Extra batteries
- Dive clothing for cooler water temperatures
If this is your first time night diving, then you will probably be asked to do a quick crash course on the necessary skills. Here the focus will be mainly on hand signals, since you’re holding a light in one hand you can only make hand signals with one hand.
You may also be briefed on the dive buddy rules and general protocol for diving in such limited visibility. A lot of divers find their first nighttime experience quite daunting so this is also great mental preparation.
Manta Ray Dive Kona, Night Diving with Mantas
Depth: 30 feet
Visibility: 75 feet
Dive Level: Intermediate
Best For: Night dive, manta rays
The mysterious giant wild manta rays are one of the world’s largest fish that swim in the oceans. Making the world-famous Kona Manta Ray Night Dive one that many a diver has on their bucket list.
Not only are the Hawaiian waters sparkling blue they have incredible visibility, so nighttime manta sightings are something truly unique. Therefore, Hawaii is one of the best places to encounter these amazing wild creatures.
How Big are Manta Rays?
Well… With a wingspan of up to 20 feet long, they can be pretty big, making swimming with a manta ray a little intimidating for some. Although great in size, these gentle giants are actually quite friendly.
Unlike their close relative’s stingrays and eagle rays, mantas do not have the same stingers. They tend to feed on microscopic plankton (some of the smallest creatures in the world), which accounts for their very large, gaping mouths.
Kona Coast is one of the world’s best places to spot big manta ray. The most famous manta ray dives are during the night. When spotlights are used to attract the mantas that feed off of the plankton illuminated under the spotlights.
You are able to see this feeding frenzy just offshore at resorts such as the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel , Sheraton Kona Resort, and Spa at Keauhou Bay. Situated just south of the historic Kailua Kona Village.
However, having said that, the very best way to experience the manta rays is to go out on a night boat tour. Most tours usually take off around sunset from Honokohau Harbor. As the sky darkens and night falls, the tour companies set up the lights on the ocean floor to attract plankton along with the reef manta rays.
Once attracted by the plankton, certified scuba divers gather along the ocean floor and snorkelers on the surface. You are then treated to an amazing show as giant mantas glide and dance in a mesmerizing way.
The Mantas will often swim within inches of snorkelers and scuba divers, always managing to avoid contact at the very last minute. Although friendly and tempting to touch, it is very important that you don’t and always obey the manta ray dive guidelines.
This experience is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity to get up close to these great friendly giants.
There is no peak season for the Manta ray diving tours as they continue all year round. Depending on plankton levels, any given day can offer anywhere from just a couple of mantas to more than a dozen.
Guidelines for Manta Ray Dive Kona Encounters
Due to the large number and frequency of divers and snorkelers in the area. Local dive organizations and The Hawaii Ocean Watch have set up guidelines for the manta ray dives and manta ray night snorkel trips. This is to ensure that the mantas are not disturbed and other marine life also stays protected.
The basic guidelines that everyone should follow are:
- Do not touch the manta rays as this can cause injury to them and wipe off their layer of protective mucus. Even if they swim close to you, resist the urge.
- Leave the water column open by hovering near the sand bottom for certified scuba divers, or, at the surface for snorkelers. Do not block the path of the manta rays with your group.
- Shine lights upwards from the ocean floor or down from the surface. These light directions won’t avoid disturbing the microscopic plankton attracted mantas.
- Be mindful of bubbles and try to avoid breathing them out into the face of a manta ray. This can disorientate them.
- Use minimal underwater photography gear to minimize the disturbance to the mantas but also fellow divers. Also, keep your gear out of the open water column.
All respected manta ray night dive operators, including the well-known Big Island Divers, abide by these guidelines – that is how you distinguish the good from the bad. Attend the manta briefing and follow the instructions of the dive guide at all times.
You can find a list of the approved activity providers on the Hawaii Ocean Watch website.
Big Island Manta Ray Night Dive Conditions
When the ocean is still and dark enough for the plankton to form, everyone is directed to enter the water. Snorkelers from each dive boat are told to illuminate the area where the manta rays congregate and shine their lights downwards.
In a synchronizing effort, Divemasters bring along the scuba divers where they position themselves along the sea bed. Usually, this will be at around 25–35 feet deep they then shine their lights up towards the surface. With the lights shining bright, manta rays, coral reefs, and various fish species are illuminated.
This manta village event lasts about 45 – 60 minutes. Don’t worry, although only certified divers are allowed to dive down, anyone with snorkel gear can float on the surface.
The Kona Coast is the only place on the planet where you will be able to experience manta rays with almost a manta guarantee.
This is a result of over a period of years where conditioning the manta rays to associate light with plankton.
Some dive centers also offer Blackwater diving. Where you float motionless and tethered below a boat in the inky black void during a night dive. Where you wait to see what little critters float by, some that few humans have laid eyes on. For an experienced underwater photographer, this is ideal to capture fantastic footage of rarely seen specimens.
What Marine Life Can I See in Kailua Kona?
Even though we may see mantas around 90% of the time, we must remember that they are wild. Seeing them cannot be guaranteed on all manta ray dives.
If you are not lucky enough to encounter one of these friendly giants on your first trip out, no problem. You will have the opportunity to go on one of the multiple dives the rest of the week. However, this is one of the most sought-after activities so spots fill up quickly.
Although the manta night dive is the main attraction, there is also a lot more that you can come across in the warm waters of Hawaii.
The endemic marine life is another reason why this dive location is so popular. To name a few, bandit angelfish, millet seed butterflyfish, and potters angelfish.
Each year, humpback whales make their annual migration from Alaska to Hawaii to return a year later to give birth in the tropical waters. They are known to come very close to shore and can be observed from all areas of the island from November to April.
It is also common to have spinner dolphins playfully ride and spin in the wake of private charters. If you are lucky, you might get the chance to join in with them in the water.
Hawaiian sea turtles, now classified as threatened, are commonly found on the Kona Coast, either on the beach resting or underwater. Another threatened but regular visitor to the Kona Coast is the large tiger shark which is thought to migrate there for birthing.
When is the Best Time to Dive in Hawaii?
There isn’t really a best time for Big Island divers, as the Big Island season is pretty much all year round! Almost never exceeding 96 degrees, except on rare occasions, Hawaii has all-year-round good weather and great dive conditions.
In the winter, the average temperature is usually in the low 80s, while the evenings bring more comfortable temperatures within the 60s and 70s making it always great for manta diving!
The air is usually dry enough to be comfortable and hot enough for a variety of sun-orientated activities such as surfing, snorkeling, and beach visits. Should you want a complete change of scenery – the summits of the volcanoes offer just that and often receive snow.
Hawaii Travel Information
Note – Travel to any destination may be adversely affected by conditions including, but not limited to: security, entry and exit requirements, health conditions, local laws and culture, natural disasters, and climate.
Regardless of your destination, check your local travel advisory board or department for travel advice about that location when planning your trip and again shortly before you leave.
Language – Hawaiian Pidgin
Currency – Hawaiian Dollar
Major Airports – Kona International Airport
Top Attractions – Mauna Kea Summit, Hulihe’e Palace, Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park
Information link – https://www.gohawaii.com/big-island/regions-neighborhoods/kona/
People Also Ask (FAQs)
An incredible sunset on a Hawaiian beach becomes even more special when you know you will later head out for a manta ray night dive. We finish up this guide on manta ray dives in Kailua Kona with a few FAQs.
Is it safe to swim with Manta rays?
Manta rays are gentle giants and since they cannot deliver electric shocks, it is completely safe to swim with them. Still, they are wild animals and should be given respect and space as instructed by the dive guide.
Do Manta rays glow at night?
The skin on manta rays does not naturally glow at night but on a manta night dive, certain types of UV lights may give that appearance. Ask the tour operator which dive lights are safe and accepted.
Can you touch a Manta Ray?
You should never touch a manta ray as this can be harmful to them. Mantas have a protective layer of mucus on their skin which can be wiped away if touched.
Kailua Kona is one of the few places in the world that could almost offer a manta guarantee to its visitors. The nighttime manta ray dives are breathtaking and manta village is definitely worth the trip.