I’ve talked about beaches and snorkeling, the volcano, the botanical garden, and other activities we enjoyed. We owe some of the fun to the suggestions and planning by our visitors. Lyra’s research found Kona Style, a company that offers a sunset boat ride followed by watching manta rays feed in the dark.
The opening photo is sunset at the start of our boat ride. Above is just after sunset and before dark as we were arriving at Manta Bay.
We met at the company’s base in Kona, where we were entertained by the young man supervising check-in. He told interesting stories about Kona and the manta rays, explaining that in one particular bay where manta rays are known to feed, tour operators are allowed to shine lights into the water to attract plankton that in turn attract the rays. Manta rays are mature when they are 9-12 feet across, and weigh 800-1500 lbs. (The very largest are over 23 feet across and weigh over 2500 lb.) Overfishing is the greatest threat to the survival of these giant creatures. In recent years, the financial benefit of tourism has been recognized as greater than the benefit of killing mantas
We were a good example of manta ray tourism. Once onboard the boat at around 5:45 pm, we enjoyed the sunset on the ride to Manta Bay (30-40 minutes). Mai-tais and beer were available, and music played. It was a festive atmosphere. We arrived at the mooring just as it became dark. One particular feature of this tour is that Kona Style’s catamaran has an ingenious set of stairs that make it easy to get into the water, valuable for those of us in the creakier age bracket.
There were other boats around and we could hear the shrieks of other visitors as manta rays drifted into their lighted area and swooped upside down, flashing their white bellies as they scooped up plankton. Mantas are filter feeders and have a large central opening where they collect plankton from the water. It gives them a menacing look, but they are not interested in people. We were warned not to let any object dangle from a wrist. Should a strap get hooked on a manta’s mouth, they would pull it (and the attached person!) until the strap broke. Yikes!
After almost an hour in the water floating from the handrail around a block of lights, we’d seen a half dozen mantas, needle fish, and a few gurnard that looked like tiny wind-up toys. We’d also had a look at some of the larger pieces of plankton, tiny wiggly underwater creatures. I was content to go back on the boat. My arms were tired from holding them over my head on the rail and looking down at the sea creatures.
I wore my own wetsuit under the wetsuit jackets handed out on board, I was just starting to get cold when our time was up. Though we hadn’t noticed, it had rained while we were in the water, and most of our gear had gotten wet. I huddled under my damp towel until I was drip-dried enough to change. We cruised home chatting about what we’d seen, sipping tea, hot chocolate, or more beer and mai-tais. It was no longer raining, so the ride was pleasant. We had a great time, and I recommend Kona Style to anyone interested in the experience.
Things to think about when planning to snorkel with manta rays:
Timing: 5-9 pm from meeting at the tour company office to ending up there. You might want to eat something beforehand or bring snacks.
Cost: About $125 per person
Speaking of food: Water is provided, and tea, hot chocolate (not terribly hot water, though) on the way back. Beer and mai-tais are available to purchase. Do you get seasick? Some of the people who had cocktails on the way out spent the trip back throwing up over the rail.
You do not need to know how to snorkel: In fact, you are not given flippers because you must stay still and hold onto the float. Snorkeling around on your own isn’t allowed. You’re given a pool noodle to put under your legs. It works very well, though your arms get tired. (Try holding your arms over your head for 40 minutes straight. Even if you are lying down, it’s a challenge.)
Energetic Music: A party vibe is promoted by the music played during the cruise both directions. If you are not a fan of party music you won’t enjoy it that much. Just close your eyes and think of manta rays.
Who is on the trip: Those of us in the vicinity of age 70 were about double the age of most participants. It’s definitely something for 30-somethings who can afford the booking and enjoy snorkeling. (I definitely enjoy snorkeling, but I was a bit older than the typical passenger.) That being said, the crew was good with everyone.
Speaking of the crew: There was a boat captain and three crew members, two of whom were in the water with us, one at each end of the float. When it seemed like we weren’t seeing many mantas, they pushed the float around to try and get a better position. The people in the water worked Hard, and the captain kept his eye on their movements, the float’s position, the boat’s position in relation to the other five or so boats in the area, and communicated well with his crew in and out of the water. They were all quite skilled, hard working, and good at what they were doing.