Do you believe in magic? I do because I’ve seen it. In the clear, blue waters of Hawaii. Where angels glide gracefully from the depths of a mystical ocean and creatures, strange and beautiful, co-exist. They mesmerize the lucky few land-dwellers who are able to witness their grandeur.
My family became part of the “lucky few” recently when a friend invited us on a manta ray snorkeling excursion just off the shore of the Kona International Airport. The Kona Coast is the only place in the entire world with a high probability of regular manta sightings. This is the result of conditioning the mantas to light and plankton over the years. We knew this would be an experience of a lifetime. My husband, two daughters, and myself were all giddy as we approached the Honokohau Marina where we were to join the crew and other guests.
Upon arrival, we quickly found our boat and Captain Mike (owner and operator of Torpedo Tours), waiting to greet us. Our daughters, Grace (13) and Ella (8), had not been out on the water since moving to the island. My husband and I had gone on a similar Manta Ray adventure during a friend’s stay with us, but this was a different location. We were anxious to watch the girls experience this awesome trip and to try it again for ourselves somewhere else. A place commonly referred to as “Manta Heaven.”
Following the arrival of the rest of the tour guests, the sun was beginning it’s decent. It was time to depart the harbor. Captain Mike and his right-hand-man, Aaron, made sure all guests were comfortable and encouraged us to take a seat at the front of the bow for the trip out. Our family headed to the front and were glad that we did as the boat departed and we glided toward the setting sun with the wind in our hair and Scout (Captain Mike’s loyal canine companion) at our feet.
The trip to our destination was under 30 minutes. The view of
the sunset and the surrounding blue water was beyond breathtaking the entire way. Once we arrived, there were about 10 other boats already parked and ready to see the giant mantas perform. Although it was still light, some were already in the water, searching for the graceful giants. Captain Mike explained that going in this early was almost futile, since it was the lights in the dark water that attracted the plankton, which attracted the manta rays. They were unlikely to see much, so we may as well enjoy the view and wait until the time was ideal. In the meantime, he presented us with visuals and information about the mantas and instructed us to be careful not to accidentally kick or touch them. This could scare them or compromise their protective coating.
Shortly after the sun set, all of the guests who wished to were already suited up in their wet suits and snorkel gear (provided by Torpedo Tours) and ready to dive in. Captain Mike tossed a surf board rigged with lights to Aaron. The passengers were instructed to grab the edge and simply enjoy the view.
One piece of information we were given during the informational portion of our tour was that mantas are not always predictable. Some nights the water may be filled with the giant creatures and other nights may lead to only a couple of sightings. As we began, I thought this might be one of those nights. For about 20 minutes my family watched in awe at the sea life below, illuminated in the night waters by the lights from our board. Still, we did not see any mantas. Aaron then told us he would take us to some mantas and used the rope to pull us out further. It wasn’t long before the first graceful giant approached the lights of our board and performed somersaults as he enveloped the tiny white plankton. Nearly touching my 8-year-old daughter’s belly, I could hear her under the water squealing with delight.
For the next hour, we witnessed the performance of a lifetime, with about four to five mantas consistently tumbling and gracefully dancing, so close they touched our bellies at times. As Aaron pulled us in, we continued to watch in the waters below, seeing colorful fish and sea life and more mantas in the distance.
Once we were situated back on the boat, the crew had fresh, sliced oranges and an assortment of snacks and drinks waiting for us. The ride home was filled with some spoken reflection among the passengers regarding what they had just witnessed, but it was mostly quiet reflection as everyone considered the true magic they had just encountered. My children even seemed to recognize that this was an experience not to be taken for granted. They said it was “amazing.” I say there are no words for the magic we witnessed in the night waters of Hawaii island, so “amazing” will have to do.