There are so many unique things to experience on the Big Island, so many adventures that await on both land and sea that the opportunities are almost endless. Even for those who live here, there’s always something new to explore. But perhaps one of the most amazing encounters one can enjoy in sunny Hawai’i happens after the sun goes down. Imagine floating just a foot or two above a giant (up to 5,000 pound) sea creature as he gently glides up near the ocean’s surface from the depths of its floor, constantly in search of his sole diet of plankton (of which he must consume up to 13% of his body weight each week). His sleek black cape yielding to a glistening white underbelly as he rolls upward, upside-down to seemingly within arm’s length, over and over, his menacing-looking, gaping maw posing a threat only to the millions of tiny, often microscopic sea life on his menu.
That’s right, we’re talking about swimming with manta rays! Unlike the better-known sting ray (the creature that brought naturalist Steve Irwin to his untimely end), mantas are completely harmless to humans. In fact, they’re so revered by locals that each school member is named, chronicled, and greeted by crew members as they’re spotted! And guests can be heard to squeal with delight behind snorkel masks as each manta approaches – it never gets old, and each close encounter is as thrilling as the first.
Belly to belly with them
A popular feeding spot is “Manta Heaven,” a shelf off of Garden Eel Cove north of the Kona airport. Several tour companies carry guests from Honokohau Harbor to this spot before dusk, in time to get into wetsuits as the water can get chilly after the sun goes down, during an hour long manta encounter, and while exploring the coral reef.
What Are You Waiting For?
If you’ve never done a “manta dive,” you owe it to yourself to enjoy this most unique and special of Big Island excursions. And if the reason you haven’t is a lurking trepidation of monsters of the deep, fear not. These immense beauties are happy to see you, but it’s because your dive light attracts a tasty concentration of plankton - not because you’re on their menu.