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Read Part I of my Big Island diving experience here.

So far, our night was brimming with good fortune. Our boat’s wake became a playground for passing dolphins, and our first dive was filled with colorful coral and mysterious critters. We had even spotted a manta ray in the distance as we began to ascend — an omen, we hoped, for the dive ahead of us.

Because while this very dive site is famous as the world’s most reliable place to see manta rays, they are still wild animals without too much care for how far you traveled or how much you paid to see them. In the hilarious and puppet-assisted briefing, our dive guides Jordan and David told us that sometimes there are twenty rays, sometimes there are five, sometimes –though rare — there are none at all.

We were to be very, very lucky that night.

Manta Ray Dive

Manta Ray Dive

Kona Diving Company makes a point to enter the water last out of all the dive schools, so that they can also exit last, and have some alone time with the mantas. Even knowing that, it was hard to wait when muffled squeals came trumpeting out of the other group’s snorkels. Finally it was our turn to enter the water and because I hate jumping into dark water and waiting for my dive buddy, Heather indulged me by going in first. Once our group was all at the surface, we descended together and swam towards the large circle the other dive schools had formed. I couldn’t help but let out a squeal myself as my eyes adjusted to the darkness and I saw the elegant lines of the mantas swooping and swimming in the distance. As when I first laid eyes on a whale shark, I felt tears springing in my mask.

Manta Ray Dive

These creatures are truly magnificent — their wingspan can reach up to 20 feet. I love the photo below right for the sense of scale that it gives. Though it is strictly forbidden to touch the manta rays, you can’t stop them from touching you. We saw more than twenty individual mantas that night, and I’m positive I went to second base with at least four of them.

Manta Ray Dive

Manta Ray Dive

Because there are so many people that want to experience the mantas, and just one site to see them, all the dive companies in Kona work together. Each company has a different color of glow stick assigned to them, which is attached to the back of each diver’s tank and each snorkeler’s mask. That way everyone can stick with their group — it would definitely prove helpful with the madness below.

While the amount of people you share this experience with might seem like a burden, it’s actually necessary to attract the great creatures. These pacific manta rays feed on plankton, which are attracted to the divers’ and snorkelers’ bright lights. They feed by straining the plankton through their mouths and out of their gills as they swim, often by performing underwater back flips and somersaults.

Manta Ray Dive

Manta Ray Dive

Still, when the other dive groups started to get low on air and retreat back to their boats, I was grateful for our time alone with the mantas. It’s a good thing I had had time to get comfortable though, as when the other diver’s left so did their lights and it was truly pitch black save for the beam of our own torches.

Manta Ray Dive

I will remember this hour underwater for the rest of my life. As I watching the show these acrobats of the sea put on for us, I felt humbled by nature and by the power of the ocean.  I marvel that these were wild animals, free to come and go as they please, and felt grateful that they chose to spent time with us. I was so grateful for a guilt-free animal encounter. While I admit I’m a fairly easily impressed diver, this was without a doubt one of the best dives of my life.

Manta Ray Dive

If you are lucky enough to come experience this yourself, I can’t sing the praises of Kona Diving Company more highly. As we were forking over more than $166 per person (including all gear rental, taxes, and fees), I turned to my trusty Scubaboard, the web’s biggest diving forum, for a recommendation. It didn’t let me down. After diving in more than 10 countries I can say Kona Diving Company is one of the best operators I’ve ever had the pleasure of diving with.

The briefings were funny and thorough, though perhaps at times a bit too thorough — Heather remarked she felt she was retaking her Open Water course. The equipment was top-notch and all set up and broken down for us (and, um, did you see our awesome dive hoods?), warm water showers were provided, and as I mentioned, their late entry into the water allowed us prime solo time with the mantas. But best of all, there was more food than you can even imagine. Not only were goldfish, trail mix and sodas available and hot chocolate, tea and instant noodles provided, but wraps and homemade brownies were served on the surface interval! So yeah, you can pretty much always win me over with food. But on top of it all, Divemaster Jordan was extremely sweet to Heather and I and gave us staff towels when we stupidly brought none, and gave us suggestions of safe places to park our Jeep, also known as our hotel for the night, to sleep. Kona Diving Company made me thrilled to hand over a huge amount of cash for a dive — not an easy feat.

Manta Ray Dive

Now, photographing the mantas only captures a sliver of their essence. To really understand them, you need to see them move. You won’t regret the two minutes spent watching this movie.

What has been your most awe-inspiring animal encounter or other experience in nature? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll add it to my bucket list!

Note: Kona Diving Company in no way paid or perked me to write this review. In fact, they didn’t even know I was a blogger! Just sharing an amazing experience I had with a great company.

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55 Comments...
  • Kelly
    December 5 2012

    Wow. That is unbelievable! Love the video. Thanks again for sharing your experiences!

    • Alex
      December 5 2012

      You are so welcome Kelly! I love reliving these moments by sharing them and seeing your responses!

  • Ashley of Ashley Abroad
    December 5 2012

    Great job with the video! What extraordinary creatures.
    Ashley of Ashley Abroad recently posted..Meeting my Culinary/Literary Hero, David Lebovitz

    • Alex
      December 5 2012

      Thank you Ashley! It was definitely not idea shooting conditions, but I did what I could!

  • Annie
    December 5 2012

    its like a bunch of aliens. but cooler.
    Annie recently posted..Weekly Photo: Basilica Cistern, Turkey

    • Alex
      December 5 2012

      I frequently feel like I am on another planet when I’m underwater. Mantas are definitely a good example of that!

  • Stephanie
    December 5 2012

    Just WOW! The video is unbelievable, ud never guess that something that amazing goes on in the ocean when we go to bed!What a show:)
    It looks like they were gonna swallow you, scary…

    • Alex
      December 5 2012

      I love that way of looking at it Stephanie! I’m going to picture all these mantas backflipping around somewhere in the world as I fall asleep tonight 🙂

  • The post I have been waiting for! Ahhhhhh it’s just SO amazing!!!
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..A Photographic Look At My Adventures In 2012 + Giveaway

    • Alex
      December 5 2012

      So glad it delivered after the anticipation! 🙂

  • Olivia
    December 5 2012

    Love the video!! Still can’t believe you went underwater in the dark, I would be way too scared!

    • Alex
      December 5 2012

      Yeah night diving is still not my favorite but let’s be real, I’m afraid of the dark even on land.

  • Kathryn Allen
    December 5 2012

    So happy for you to have this truly magic experience…the video, and your reflection on the experience are both spectacular…

    • Alex
      December 5 2012

      🙂 Thanks for being my video tester!

  • Molly Yonderblog
    December 5 2012

    What beautiful and graceful creatures!
    Molly Yonderblog recently posted..Coasting in Koh Lanta

    • Alex
      December 5 2012

      Thanks Molly! By the way, love your blog design! Did you do it yourself?

  • Eric W
    December 5 2012

    Wow, I’ve seen mantas but never that many nor that close nor that active.

    • Alex
      December 5 2012

      The one we saw in the distance on the first dive was the first manta I had seen ever! It definitely made the experience extra special, though Heather had seen them before and was still as wowed as I was.

  • anita
    December 5 2012

    wow i’m really impressed by the video you made, it’s gorgeous! What camera did you use?
    also the article really translates what you felt at this moment, I love it 🙂

  • Morgan Barsi
    December 5 2012

    Fantastic review and photos. I’ve heard about this dive a bunch but never made it over there. I’ve seen Mantas in Palau, but it was brief. Very cool entry Alex!

    • Alex
      December 5 2012

      Ugh, I am SO JEALOUS you’ve been to Palau! It’s on my Life List big time! But I think it will have to wait a bit considering how difficult it is to get there.

    • Morgan Barsi
      December 5 2012

      Palau isn’t that hard to get to from SE Asia. You should check into it. I’ve been at the GBR, Fiji, Sipadan, and Turks & Caicos. Fiji is probably my favorite, but Palau runs a close second. It’s amazing.

      • Alex
        December 5 2012

        You’ve definitely hit some of the top spots in the world already Morgan! I haven’t been to any of those locations just yet… working my way up! 🙂

  • TammyOnTheMove
    December 5 2012

    OMG they are huge. Even though they look very majestic I think I would have pooped myself. 🙂 But that’s me being completely pathetic with anything to do with oceans. Shouldn’t have watched ‘Jaws’at the tender age of three…
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted..Dealing with poverty on the road

    • Alex
      December 6 2012

      Ha, Jaws definitely had a hold over me for a long time as well! I’m still not a fan of the ocean at night, though truth be told I’m not a fan of much in the darkness of night!

  • Rika | Cubicle Throwdown
    December 5 2012

    AHHHHHHHH! I squealed through the whole post and when I got to the video I nearly died. So amazing!! We RARELY get to see manta rays here… my roommate found one in 9ft of water in the boat channel a few weeks ago, but I haven’t been so lucky yet. I would love to do this in Hawaii!!
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..New home, new job, new laptop charger.

    • Alex
      December 6 2012

      Well, but you guys do have whale sharks pretty frequently on your neighboring isle! Have you seen any yet?

      • Rika | Cubicle Throwdown
        December 6 2012

        True! Apparently the season is coming, I haven’t seen any yet. Missed them during September while they were around Roatan…we chased a few in the dive boats and I saw the tuna boils around them but never actually saw one. Fingers crossed for Utila in Feb/March!
        Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..New home, new job, new laptop charger.

  • Gaelyn
    December 5 2012

    They are Huge, and so breathtakingly beautiful. What a privilege. Almost makes me want to learn to dive. Naw, I’ll just keep following you into the water.
    Gaelyn recently posted..Returning to Tsitsikamma Garden Route National Park

    • Alex
      December 6 2012

      Haha, I’m supposed to be inspiring people to dive, not giving them an excuse not to! 🙂 Glad I can give you a glimpse!

  • John
    December 7 2012

    Wow…perfect timing checking back in at your website. I’m diving with these guys tomorrow night! I’m so stoked and this post just amped up my excitement! Thanks for sharing.
    John recently posted..Framing The Holy City – Photography In Charleston, South Carolina

    • Alex
      December 11 2012

      John that’s awesome, I hope it went well! Did you take your camera? I’d love to see someone else’s photos!

      • John
        December 11 2012

        Unfortunately I don’t have an underwater camera so I left it safe and dry onshore! Definitely got up close and personal with Big Bertha and several other rays though.
        John recently posted..Framing The Holy City – Photography In Charleston, South Carolina

        • Alex
          December 13 2012

          Sometimes in diving it’s even better not to have a camera so you can really live in the moment and enjoy yourself. I am a photo obsessed psycho though so I would obviously never actually do that, ha.

  • Dad
    December 7 2012

    The video is fabulous. My most vivid animal encounter was finding a snapping turtle doing laps in our swimming pool when we lived in Averill Park

    • Alex
      December 11 2012

      Hah! If only I had been old enough to remember that encounter.

  • Raymond @ Man On The Lam
    December 9 2012

    Now that’s pretty cool! I got to snorkel with whale sharks in South Africa, so I would say that’s been one of the best experiences for me.
    Raymond @ Man On The Lam recently posted..UAE to Canada: Give to me your Tit, Take from me my Tat

    • Alex
      December 11 2012

      That’s amazing! I got to dive with a whale shark in Thailand, and I’m hoping to head to a hotspot for snorkeling with them when I visit the Philippines in March. I can’t get enough!

  • Emily in Chile
    December 10 2012

    SO cool! I am imagining something that big swimming over me, and it doesn’t even seem real. I can understand why you enjoyed it so much.
    Emily in Chile recently posted..Taking a Bogota bike tour

    • Alex
      December 11 2012

      When we were sitting on the boat and they were explaining that the ray’s wingspans were wider than the boat, I couldn’t even picture it then — moments before we jumped in! You’ve got to see it to believe it.

  • Camels & Chocolate
    December 11 2012

    Most amazing dive ever. I had really wanted to do this when we were there last year, but alas it was the week after the tsunami and the dive operations were shut down.
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted..Heaven Shines a Wee Bit Oranger

    • Alex
      December 11 2012

      That’s a shame Kristin! You’ll be back again I’m sure. I would like to return and do this again with a better grasp of night photography (maybe some video lights), and also I’d like to do some daytime reef dives.

  • Erica
    December 11 2012

    Night dives really freak me out but I think that I would be able to get over it for that experience. Seriously awesome pics chica.
    Erica recently posted..Exposure: I Like to Pretend I’m a Model

    • Alex
      December 13 2012

      We are totally in the same boat Erica. I am NOT a night dive fan (I’m not a darkness fan anywhere really… land based situations included!) but I will force myself to overcome it for things like this and the UV night dive I did in Thailand.

  • John white
    December 18 2012

    OMG!

    Amazing!

  • CarlaZ
    August 26 2013

    Really amazing this dive. If one day I go to Big Island I’ll definitely do!
    I’ve never seen Mantas (but I hope one day), my indescribable dive was with like 30 dolphins (in Fernando de Noronha, an island here in Brazil). They appeared in the end of my dive, it was a really surprise. It was difficult to breath with them around. I will never forget it!

    • Alex
      September 5 2013

      I am dying to go to Fernando de Noronha someday! I have seen plenty of dolphins from the surface but haven’t made it underwater with any yet!

  • Elaine
    March 16 2016

    Awesome! We plan to do this exact manta ray night dive in Kona in July! So excited! =)

    • Alex
      March 17 2016

      Would absolutely love to go back and do it all over again, Elaine! Enjoy every moment — it’s magic!

  • JR Knows
    May 24 2016

    One of the best dives to experience is with Sam’s Tours in Palau. Called an Extreme Dive Experience, there are two open water spawn events each month. Gigantic schools of BIG fish reproducing in the open ocean. It’s amazing.

    • Alex
      May 24 2016

      Wow! That sounds unreal. Palau in general does, though 🙂 Definitely on the bucket list!

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