For a long time I had been thinking about it, dreaming about it, never thinking that it would ever happen. And yet it happened here, near Kona, on the largest of the Hawaiian islands.
Being able to be close to Manta rays is accessible to the general public in Hawaii, and we didn't hesitate for long to jump on the opportunity.
A word about Manta rays
Manta rays are divided into two categories: the oceanic Manta ray, the largest which reaches 7m and the smaller reef Manta ray which can still reach 5m. It is the latter that we are talking about here. The Manta ray feeds on zooplankton. They can be distinguished by the spots they have on their body, the length of their tail (which is absolutely not dangerous on the Manta ray contrary to popular belief), or the shape and size of their gills at the front.
Choice of the service provider
Two days before our arrival in Kona, we reviewed all the organizations offering an excursion to meet these famous rays. Sandrine can not dive more than a few meters under water, the option of snorkeling has imposed itself. We were afraid of not observing the large rays so well, but we were wrong!
Many providers offer this sea trip because the rays are off Kona in areas that are not easily accessible from shore. There are 3 observation points around the city, with chances of seeing Manta rays generally between 70 and 90%. The number of rays seen can also vary from 3 to 7 on average, sometimes going up to more than 10 at the same time.
After much research, we finally opt for Kona Ocean Adventures, because they offer a small group excursion (6 to 12 people) in comfortable boats, with the feeling of enjoying the event better, drinks and fruit (pineapple and watermelon) included in the price. Also included, if you don't have snorkeling gear, fins, masks, snorkels and a neoprene suit. Please note that this is not a sponsored article.
On the way to the Manta rays
We have an appointment at 18:00 at Kealakele Parkway north of the town of Kona. It is actually a small marina and it will be our starting point. A large car park awaits us, and we can park a few meters from the boats.
When we arrive, the two boats owned by the company are already on trailers, ready to be launched. We spot them quickly because the company name is written on them. We meet our guides, Danny and Sarah, who are just as enthusiastic as we are, even though they have to go on the excursion every day! Danny, the captain of our boat, tells us that we will only be 6 people on each boat. We're thrilled!
Before leaving, we are offered fins, mask and snorkel, but we prefer to bring our own snorkeling equipment that we had with us. We will only need a neoprene suit.
At 18:01, the boats are launched, we don't even have time to wait. What punctuality. Danny's taking out his red carpet to welcome us aboard. By the time we get to the front of the boat, we're already heading out to sea. We receive the first safety information on the boat, when Danny proudly announces that they could observe 7 rays the day before, which is exceptional! We hope that luck will smile on us tonight too!
We will sail at high speed for about 25 minutes to reach the "bay" of Wawaloli Beach Park. Sarah offers us cold drinks. We opt for a mango juice that we will have to drink quickly before the boat strikes the offshore waves. The sun is slowly declining and offers us a superb sunset over the water.
It's about 6:30 when we get to the bay. Dozens of boats are already on the scene and some groups are already in the water. We scan the decks of the boats and we are very happy to have chosen a small company.
Some seem packed, or tourists are crammed into a small boat, while on others, people are waiting for their observation tour, not being able to all go to the water at the same time.
For us, none of that. Sarah takes a few minutes to give us instructions in English on the various rules to follow during observation, and also to make us aware of the cause of defending these beautiful creatures. To summarize quickly :
- Do not try to touch the rays, they come close enough to observe them and are covered with a viscous substance that protects them. If you touch them, you may remove this "film" and weaken the ray.
- Make the board while holding the float equipped with handles and if you want to immortalize this moment, make sure to do so just below the surface so as not to hinder the progression of the rays.
Sarah is the first to get into the water with the board equipped with handles, a battery and spotlights pointing towards the bottom. This amazing installation is not there to decorate. These spots of blue light attract the zooplankton under the board and consequently the Manta rays!
While we put on our suits, Danny brings us a tray of fresh fruit and biscuits. The pineapple, as usual, is a real kill! Then we join Sarah in the water. The underwater festival is about to begin!
Manta Rays dance
We're hanging on the board, three on each side. We put the head under the water in order to scan the bottom. The night has not fallen yet, the water is still bright, but the lighting of the board allows us to see well under water. The depth is great and the bottom seems at several tens of meters.
After a few seconds, the first Manta ray arrives. She runs under the board, her mouth wide open, forming a beautiful looping. We are amazed! We didn't expect to see a Manta ray up close! It's just amazing. But we don't even have time to think about a second line coming, then three, four...
The ballet never ends, we are just blown away! With each new apparition we shout with astonishment, it is so incredible!
The rays perform their ballet of loops to harvest the precious micro-organisms. Some go so far as to graze us. Sarah had not lied to us, the rays pass approximately 10cm from our chest, while we are floating on the surface of the water.
A big dozen rays are in the area tonight, by the confession of regulars it is exceptional! Normally, the number of specimens observed in this area is around 5 to 6 Manta rays. Action cam in hand, we immortalize this magic moment, and we enjoy ourselves. We are out of time, head down, watching the incessant dance of these majestic animals. Their grace leaves us without a word, and I believe, do not laugh, having shed a small tear in front of this unique spectacle.
It is after 40 minutes that we come out of the water a little refrigerated, but happy. Most certainly the 260$ (for two) best invested in a tourist attraction of our life. Sarah admits that this evening was exceptional in number of rays present, and the presence of the matriarch ray measuring 4m50 is also a rare thing. I couldn't resist asking Danny if they weren't looking for someone to do the excursions ^^
We get out of the water one by one and Danny welcomes us with a hot shower. It's amazing how good it feels! By the time we find our towels, Danny is offering us a hot chocolate this time. What a great way to warm up!
As you will have understood, we were thrilled as never by this experience. If we go back to Kona, we'll do it again without hesitation!
The video of our experience
Here is the vlog of this evening swimming with rays. You will be able to better appreciate what awaits you underwater, as well as the performance of Kona Ocean Adventures. Do not forget to enable the subtitles.
Our opinion on Kona Ocean Adventures
We can only recommend Kona Ocean Adventures for the services offered, for their good humour and for the passion of the rays they have been able to transmit to us. This is a performance that I would describe as "premium", especially since we were only 6 on the boat. The price is 130$ per person, taxes included. It is higher than other companies, but the price paid is well worth the quality of the service.
Our advice to choose your provider
You will have a wide choice of companies offering snorkeling in the evening, best time to observe the rays. Some leave a little earlier than others, others bring more people for a more attractive price. None of the boats we saw at the scene appeared to be in poor condition, nor did we notice any very negative opinions when we made our choice. In the end, we all saw the same thing underwater. Then we didn't pay attention if all the companies spent so much time observing the rays.
To sum up, it is probably the price that will drive your choice, depending on the services you want.