The Kona Manta Night Dive
Every year at the Kona Classic there's one dive that even the pros make sure they clear their schedule to experience: the Manta Night Dive. For me, this is one of the top five big-animal experiences in the world. This year when we arrived -- in fact, on the day we arrived the Kona established a new record: 36 mantas on one dive. And the subsequent two days saw the water crowded with more than 20 mantas. Now, I've done this dive a few times and seen 15 on one dive, which was mind-boggling. Honestly, just one or two pretty much blows me away. When I did the dive with 15, the water was so thick with mantas that I had to wait on the swim step for 10 minutes while a manta somersaulted in endless circles off the stern of the boat. If I'd strided in I would've landed right on top of it. But 36. Or even 20. I simply can't fathom how electric that scene would be. You could practically walk on water with that many mantas around.
The dive takes place at Garden Eel Cove, near the airport. Lights are placed on the bottom pointing straight up and divers form a ring around the lights. The lights attract plankton and the mantas sweep in from the dark water to feast on this buffet. If you hold your light up, the mantas somersault right over your head. As it is, they sweep in, mouths agape, and when they come straight at you, it seems as if you'll get swept in too, right along with the thick soup of plankton. But they veer just over your head at the last minute. At first it's unnerving, then simply breathtaking.
When we did the dive this year, we had about 12 by most counts. The mantas' sizes ranged from 12-foot wingspans to 5-footers. Both divers and snorkelers got up close to these normally elusive and skittish creatures. First-timers were rendered speechless.
It's truly one of the best shows on Earth. A privilege, really. And it occurs nowhere else on the planet and is accompanied by a laundry list of other great encounters off Kona, from pilot whales and oceanic whitetips in the open ocean, to frogfish, sea turtles and dragon morays on the reef -- all in water that rarely dips below 100 feet of viz. Best of all, you don't need to worry about a weak dollar to dive this Pacific paradise.