Imagine the darkness of the night sky. You jump into an equally dark ocean, far from shore. Dipping your head below the surface, the only sound is your own breath, echoing through a snorkel. A light shines down, barely illuminating the watery depths below.
And suddenly, in the distance, a shape emerges from the darkness, gliding as if in slow motion, looming ever larger as it approaches. Expecting it to glide along below, you are caught unaware as it suddenly shifts and heads straight toward you, arching at the last second into a graceful back flip, it’s 12 foot wing span illuminated by the light, as it brushes past you!
This is night snorkeling with manta rays in Hawaii!
Coral Reef Snorkel Adventures
A must-do when visiting the Big Island of Hawaii, I had the privilege of checking this off my travel bucket list a few years ago. While there are a number of companies offering boat tours from Kailua-Kona (both for snorkeling and scuba diving), we went with Coral Reef Snorkel Adventures. They come highly recommended (currently #2 on TripAdvisor), and it is clear to see why. Comfort and safety of their guests (limited to 6), as well as the care and consideration of the marine life is top priority.
I had no idea what to expect outside of reviews I read online. Not being an experienced snorkeler, nor really that strong or experienced at ocean swimming, I was nervous, but determined. Booking online was simple and quick, and they answered all my questions, making me feel at ease.
We met our guides at the Honokohau boat harbour before sunset, and after a brief check-in, we were on our way out of the harbour to the ocean site, about 20 minutes away. The company provides all your gear; wetsuits, snorkel, mask and fins. While gazing at the beautiful sunset, our guide gave a safety and information presentation about the tour, the mantas and what we could expect once we were in the ocean.
One of the crew is in the water with guests, assisting everyone to the dive area. Once there, everyone floats horizontal at the surface, holding on to a surf-board style floatation device fitted with lights.
Hanging Out With Manta Rays
Rules are more for the protection of the mantas. Touching is forbidden, as it removes the protective film on their skin (although they will occasionally brush up against you…both thrilling and scary at the same time!). These beautiful creatures are harmless, and while their biggest predator is sharks, humans have the capability of inflicting much more damage.
Bright lights installed on the ocean floor, as well as the lights from our floating surf boards attract plankton. This in turn attracts the mantas, as this is their main food source. Their graceful water ballet is actually how they eat. They are filter feeders, their wide gaping mouths collecting plankton as they swim, twist and turn through the water.
Because this activity has been going on since the 1970’s, many of the local manta rays have been photographed, tracked, and named by their individual markings. Pictures helped us identify “Lefty” and “Csilla” among others.
We had at least a dozen different mantas circling us during our time in the water that night. From the smaller young rays, up to 1000 lb females with 12 foot wingspans, it is a sight to behold! You find yourself holding your breath, heart pounding, eyes wide in awe! While I couldn’t quite make out what my friend beside me was squealing through his snorkel, I’m pretty sure it was something like “HOLY SH*T!!!!”, because that’s exactly what I was squealing through my own snorkel!
(Underwater images purchased and used with permission of Martina Wing and Manta Ray Advocates, Hawaii.)
An Experience of a Lifetime
There is something so striking, yet peaceful about swimming with these majestic creatures of the deep. It just leaves you speechless (or trying to say “wow” with a snorkel in your mouth). This is definitely one of those “adventures of a lifetime”, an experience I won’t soon forget!
While pictures help capture the highlights of the tour (you’ll be offered these for purchase after your tour, and I recommend buying), you can also get a greater sense of the adventure in this video from Coral Reef Snorkel Adventures.
If you’re heading to the Big Island, add night snorkeling with Manta Rays in Hawaii to your bucket list! It’s definitely worth the trip!
Have you experienced the awesome adventure of night snorkeling with manta rays in Hawaii? Leave a comment below! I’d love to hear about it!
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