Snorkeling with Manta rays in Hawaii: an unforgettable experience!

Written by Flo Published on 12/08/2017

For a long time I had been thinking about it, dreaming about it, never thinking that it would happen one day. And yet it happened here, near Kona, on the largest island in the Hawaiian archipelago.

Being able to rub shoulders with Manta rays Manta is accessible to Hawaii for the general public, and we did not hesitate long to jump at the opportunity.

A word about Manta rays

Manta rays are divided into two categories: the oceanic Manta ray, the largest manta ray that reaches 7m and the smaller reef Manta ray that can still reach 5m. This is what we are talking about here. Manta ray feeds on zooplankton. The stingrays can be distinguished by the stains they have on their bodies, the length of their tail (which is absolutely not dangerous on the Manta stingray, 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 could not dive more than a few meters underwater, so the snorkeling option was self-evident. We were afraid of not observing the great rays as well, but we were wrong!

Many providers offer this trip at sea, as skates are located off Kona in areas that are not easily accessible from the shore. There are 3 observation points around the city, with a chance to see Manta rays usually between 70 and 90%. The number of lines seen can also vary around 3 to 7 lines on average. 

After much research, we end up opting 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, drinks and fruits (pineapple and watermelon) included in the price. Also included, if you don't have snorkeling equipment, fins, masks, tubas 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 6:00 p. m. at the Kealakele Parkway north of Kona City. It's actually a small marina and it will be our starting point. A large car park is waiting for us, so 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 find them quickly because the name of the company is written on them. We meet our guides Danny and Sarah, who are just as enthusiastic as we are, and they have to go on the tour every day! Danny, the captain of our boat, tells us that there will only be 6 people on each boat. We're delighted!

Before leaving, we were offered snorkeling, mask and snorkel, but we prefer to take our own snorkeling equipment with us. This way, we will only need neoprene clothing.

At 6:01 p. m., 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 offshore. We receive the first safety information on the boat, when Danny proudly announces that they were able to observe 7 rays the day before, which is exceptional! We hope that luck will also smile at us tonight!

We will sail at high speed for about 25 minutes to reach the Wawaloli Beach Park "bay". Sarah offers fresh drinks. We opt for a mango juice that we will have to drink quickly before the boat attacks the waves of the sea. The sun is slowly going down and offers us a beautiful sunset on the water. You take a lot of it and forget the time.

It's about 6:30 p. m. when we arrive at the bay. Dozens of boats are already on the scene and some groups are already in the water. We scan the pontoons and are very happy to have chosen a small company.

Some seem to be crammed full, or tourists are crammed into a small boat, while on others, people are waiting for their watchtower, not all of them being able to 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 different rules to follow during observation, and also to make us aware of the cause of defending these beautiful creatures. To summarize quickly and if you don't have the chance to find Laure who, according to the opinions we have read, speaks French, you should stick to the following indications:

  • 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 skate.
  • Make the board while holding the board (float) with handles and if you want to immortalize this moment, make sure you do it just below the surface so as not to interfere with the progress of the lines.

Sarah starts the first one in the water with the board equipped with handles, a battery and spots directed towards the bottom. This amazing installation is not there to decorate. These blue light spots attract zooplankton under the board and therefore Manta rays!

While we put on our suits, Danny brings us a tray of fresh fruit and snacks. Pineapple, as usual, is a real killing! Then we meet Sarah in the water. The underwater festival is about to start!

Manta Rays dance

We're hanging on the board, three on each side. We put our heads under water to look at the bottom. The night has not yet fallen, the water is still bright, but the lighting of the board allows us to see well underwater. The depth is great and the bottom seems to be several tens of meters deep.

After a few seconds, the first Manta ray arrives. It runs under the board, with the mouth wide open, forming a beautiful looping pattern. We are amazed! We didn't expect to see a Manta skate so close! It's just unbelievable. But we don't even have time to think about it that a second line arrives, then three, four...

The ballet never ends, we're just blown away! With each new apparition we make small cries of astonishment, it's so incredible!

The rays chain their ballet of loopings to harvest the precious micro-organisms. Some will even come close to us. Sarah hadn't lied to us, the rays pass approximately 10cm from our torso, while we are floating on the surface of the water.

A dozen or so rays are in the area tonight, according to regulars, it's exceptional! Normally, the number of specimens observed in this area tends to be around 5 to 6 Manta rays. Action cam in hand, we immortalize this magical moment, and we enjoy ourselves. We are out of time, head down, watching the incessant dancing of these majestic animals. Their grace leaves us without a word, and I believe so, don't laugh, having shed a little tear in front of this unique spectacle.

After 40 minutes, we come out of the water a little cold, but happy. Most certainly the 260$ (for two) best invested in a tourist attraction of our life. Sarah admits that this evening will have been exceptional in number of rays present, and the presence of the matriarchal ray measuring 4m50 is also a rare thing. I couldn't help but ask Danny if they weren't looking for someone to go on the field trips.

We go out of the water one by one and Danny welcomes us with a hot shower. It's amazing how good it feels! Time to find our napkins, this time it's a hot chocolate that Danny offers us. That's enough to keep us warm!

As you will have understood, we were thrilled as never before 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 the rays. This way, you will be able to better appreciate what awaits you underwater, as well as the performance of Kona Ocean Adventures.

Our opinion on Kona Ocean Adventures

We will only recommend Kona Ocean Adventures for the services offered, for their cheerfulness and for the passion of the rays that they have passed on to us. This is a performance that I would call "premium", especially since there were only 6 of us that night. The price is 130$ per person, taxes included. It is superior to other companies, but the price paid is well worth the quality of the service.

Our advice on choosing your service provider

You will have a wide choice of companies offering snorkeling in the evening, the best time to observe rays. Some leave a little earlier than others, others bring more people for a more attractive price. No boat we saw on site appeared to be in poor condition, nor did we notice 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.

The translation may not be accurate. If you detect any errors, please let us know , and we will correct them immediately. Thank you and sorry for this inconvenience. Sandrine & Flo

  1. Author avatar

    Salut les Smartrippers !!! Est-ce que vous auriez quelques conseils à nous donner pour ce qui est des photos et vidéos que vous avez faites lors de votre session snorkeling avec les raies manta ??? (matériel utilisé, réglages ouverture, ISO, vitesse, etc...) Nous avons bien l'intention de rapporter d'aussi beaux clichés que les votres, mais je m'interroge pas mal sur la faisabilité de la chose... Pour tout ce qui est immersion, nous avons un Gopro Hero 5 qui n'aime pas du tout l'obscurité, et pour tout ce qui est photo, nous avons Canon 6D et Canon 80D, avec des objectifs allant de 8mm à 250mm, mais nous n'avons pas l'équipement adéquate pour immerger tout ça. Est-ce que vous auriez des conseils à nous donner ? Merci d'avance, :)

    • Smartrippers avatar

      Bonjour Élodie! Malheureusement nous n’allons pas être d’une grande aide sur ce point. Nous avons filmé toutes les images sous-marines avec notre action cam Sony FDR-X1000V en mode automatique avec le caisson de plongée. Nous avons simplement fait des captures dans la vidéo pour en faire des photos. Le rendu était assez inattendu même si l'image pixelise légèrement par l'absence de lumière. Toutefois les raies passent vraiment très près (à quelques centimètres) et les ultra-violets éclairent bien leur corps.

      On ne connait pas les Gopro, donc c'est difficile à dire. Peut-être regarder du côté de YouTube pour trouver une vidéo prise avec une GoPro dans les mêmes conditions pour confirmer la qualité? On te souhaite un très bon dimanche!

  2. Author avatar

    Personnellement, je l'ai fait à Bali, c'était tout aussi incroyable, la plus belle expérience de ma vie jusqu'ici. J'en ai aussi fait un article, si ça vous intéresse :) Merci pour ce partage !

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