The largest and most diverse of the Hawaiian islands is Hawaii, also  called Big Island. Its western coast is know as the Kona Coast, and extends more than 85 miles (135 km). This area is a Mecca for divers-calm, clear waters, massive corals, and abundant marine life. Among the many highlights are nightly manta ray "rush hours."


The open mouth of a feeding manta ray (left); and (below) the eastern coastline of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

At night, the coastal luxury hotels in the Kona and Kohala districts shine floodlights over nearby rocky points into the shallows below. The powerful beams attract swarms of plankton, the smallest of sea creatures, and the food of choice for giant, filter-feeding manta rays. With the lights and the plankton come the mantas, ready to feed.

Undoubtedly, they have been in the area for years, but "Manta Mania," the ad hoc festival of lights, people, and rays, is a recent phenomenon. While there are no guarantees that the manta rays will show up, they usually do, especially on calm, moonless nights. Those who like to stay dry can watch them from a hotel balcony, or take one of the glass-bottom boats that depart from the harbor at Kailua-Kona. Alliteratively, don snorkeling or diving gear and join these huge and graceful creatures in the water. Some snorkelers and divers are dropped off by dive operators' boats, while others simply swim out from shore. Night swims with rays can be enjoyed in many places along the coast. For a more private experience, ask a local diver.

A popular site is the area off Kona Surf Hotel at Keauhou Bay, about 6 miles (9.5 km) south of the town of Kailua-Kona. Here, the water is 15 to 20 feet (4.5 to 6 ill) deep, usually with very

little surge. Floodlights make the Iwater glow a luminous palegreen. To a diver looking up from the bottom, the lights seem to blink occasionally. The blink is really huge mantas passing overhead, their 12 foot (3.6 m) wide bodies eclipsing the light. The water is often so clear that you can see myriad tiny plankton swarming near the surface, and look into the open mouth of a feeding manta. And you can easily distinguish the gray and black spots on the ray's pure white underside as it passes 'close overhead in slow, balletic flight. It is a great temptation to touch or hold on to a passing manta, but such behavior is strongly discouraged.

Special Features

Hawaii is one of the best served and safest places to dive in the world. Dive boats cover the entire western coast, while excellent snorkeling areas also abound. Among bays, coves, lagoons, lava flows, and undersea lava tubes, an alert

Photo by James Watt

diver can find almost 600 species of fish-176 of them are found only in Hawaii. Good encounters with a number of shark and ray species .are possible. At particular sites along the western coast, you are likely to see whitetip and blacktip reef sharks, scalloped hammerheads, and eagle rays. You might also see whale sharks, tiger sharks, Galapagos sharks, way reef sharks, even the occasional oceanic whitetip.

In winter and early spring, huge humpback whales fill these waters with song, vaulting into the air off Hawaii and the nearby island of Maui. Above wound, there is the spectacle of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to be explored.


Snorkeling is the best way to see the manta ray A Lycra suit or 3 mm wetsuit affords good protection and warmth. Dive operators are based around the Kona district and the town of Kailua-Kona; most offer rentals and sell a range of equipment.


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Dive Expeditions in Kona Coast