Happiness Moments: Manta Ray Night Dive
If you’re a regular reader you know my penchant for adventure and travel. I have wanted to see the world since I was a little kid. As a younger adult I had to be satisfied with car trips and cross-country road trips. I scored my first professional full-time job in the early 90’s. As part of that job I got to work in Hawaii quite a bit. One of the places I used to stay at was the Kona Surf and Golf Resort. I loved that place, they had an all you can eat lunch buffet for $19.99 that included yellow tail tuna sashimi. They never made a penny off of me at that buffet. Back then, the resort was down a long dark drive outside of Kona. In the cove outside the hotel I would see divers every evening doing night dives, I would come to find out what they were doing was diving for manta rays.
Working on the big island from time to time was wonderful and I got to do a lot of minor adventures while I was there. I did some hiking at the volcano and once even got to see some active lava flows reaching the ocean. One night returning from some hiking I pulled off of the road back to the resort at a little place called turtle beach. I had a couple of hours til sunset and had my snorkeling gear in the trunk so I decided to jump in the water. The area was an old Hawaiian fish pond and I was swimming around for a while, checking out the huge schools of pipe fish and diving down to the corral heads. It was starting to get dark and so I decided to head back to shore, I spun around and came face to face with a green sea turtle. It was comical, we almost head-butted each other, both of us then suddenly paddling in reverse frantically.
After that, as long as I stayed about six feet away, the turtle just went about it’s life which was utterly fascinating. I got to watch it feed and swim around, it was absolutely beautiful. I kept swimming as long as I could and the sun went down. I pushed it a bit too long and by time I surfaced it was dark. I wasn’t worried as there was a dive shop across from the beach and so I knew I could swim back to shore by using the lights from the store. Except of course, they didn’t have any lights on. So now I was treading water trying to figure out which way shore was, because the other direction was open ocean.
You learn if you do enough of this sort of thing that the most important thing to do in this situation is to stay put. Don’t just jump into action, stop and think. So I thought through the fact that eventually a car had to come down the road. It was very dark. And it took way longer for a car to come down the road than I had hoped. In the meantime, I had decided which direction I was pretty sure was the shore and was facing that way when I heard a car coming. It was getting closer and I couldn’t see it, which is when I realized it was behind me. The direction I thought was shore, was actually open ocean. So I spun around, saw the headlights and swam to shore.
That night was well over twenty years ago and a couple of years ago I decided to return to Kona in particular to do a Manta Ray night dive. A lot had changed over that amount of time. Kona had really been developed, the road out to the hotel was no longer deserted but developed all the way to the hotel. Turtle beach was well lit by lights on the road and unfortunately I didn’t had the time to recreate my previous experience there. The Kona Surf and Golf Resort had now become the Sheraton Kona Surf Resort. I had a wonderful couple of days there including doing my first Luau. The highlight of course was my night dive.
I’d actually opted to do the Manta Ray snorkel and we started out at the marina down the street. There we were given our wetsuits, snorkels, masks and our instructions for the night. We boarded the boat and headed over to the cove outside the hotel. The way the dive works is that the group hangs onto a floating board that has lighting underneath. The lights attract algae and the rays come into scoop up the algae. Now that this has been happening for twenty years the rays have become accustomed to this process and show up pretty regularly.
We jumped into the water and swam out to the board they set up. Not my dive but the picture above is what the set up looks like. Initially it was a bit disorienting until you got used to the gear and the wave action and after a few minutes I finally go comfortable. It didn’t take long for the rays to show up.
We saw a half a dozen huge rays that night, the pictures above give you a pretty good feel for what we saw, but not how close they got. Often they would do these circular loops under the board so that they would actually pass just below us upside down. Sometimes they were no more than a foot or less below us. It was incredible having this huge sea creature cruising so close to us in the wild. I don’t remember how long we were out there but it could have been an hour and the rays just kept coming. Eventually, one by one we let go of the board and began to swim back to the boat. As we got closer to the boat some people were taking quite awhile to climb the ladder so the rest of us were treading water.
Suddenly something caught my eye in front of me and I put my mask down into the water and I was face to face with a cuttlefish. It’s little tentacles suddenly waving in my face. It was absolutely gorgeous and something I never expected to see.
It’s time for me to start planning my next adventure, nothing brings me more happiness. Of course COVID has changed things a bit, so it will certainly be somewhere I can go by car. Would love any suggestions that you have. Have a happy day my friends. ~ Rev Kane