It’s a perfect tropical night in Hawaii. The temperature is warm, but not hot, and the humidity is reduced by a slight breeze off the water. Even though I’m back in our double-hulled Hawaiian canoe, the Kini Kini, making my way back to shore I still just can’t believe what I experienced. I remove my snorkel, mask, and fins, and even with salt water still dripping down my face, I can’t help but smile at Josh. We are handed hot chocolate by our guides, and sip on it as we reflect on what just happen while making our way back to shore in the darkness. Swimming with manta rays in Hawaii at night was an experience of a lifetime, one that we will never forget.

Bucket List: Night Swimming With Manta Rays, CHECK!

For many years I have dreamt of this moment, when I would be able to swim with these beautiful Manta Rays. Keaohou Bay here on the Big Island of Hawaii is one of the best places for this experience. The bay is home to a number of mantas, and the crystal clear water and calm surf make it an enjoyable experience. We were staying at the Sheraton at Keaohou Bay, which has a prime spot on the coast for manta viewing. You can even watch them from the hotel and the restaurant, Rays on the Bay. But we were lucky enough to get an up close experience by night snorkeling with them.

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Photo credit – Second Wave Ocean Images for Sheraton Kona

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Take the Night Manta Snorkel Trip on the Authentic Hawaiian Canoe, the Kini Kini

We were picked up by a golf cart at the Sheraton Kona’s lobby and whisked down the street to the dock where we boarded the Wa’a Kini Kini, a double-hulled Hawaiian style canoe. After meeting our guides and getting a quick safety briefing, we headed out into the bay. One of the reasons this location is great is that the bay is right there, so the boat ride is maybe 5 minutes, whereas other tours from town have to travel quite a distance to get to the bay.  Along the way to our snorkel spot, our guides gave us the rundown of how this would work. Basically, they outfitted a surfboard with a large LED light on the bottom and handles all the way around; this would be our home base while in the water.

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After our boat arrived at the snorkel location, I jumped in the water and got myself situated on my noodle; the foam floatation device that I would use to keep myself propped nicely on top of the water. Once floating properly, I adjusted my mask around my eyes and nose, careful to seal out the water, and placed the snorkel in my mouth.  Tonight it’s not just the moonlight that is illuminating the water, but spotlights. And when I put my face down into the water, it’s as if I’ve been transported to a different world swarming with night life, and majestic manta rays.

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Everyone Wants to See the Manta Rays at Night

By the time we arrived, there were already a number of boats in the bay, all with the same goal…to see the mantas at night! The good thing about having other boats in the bay is that all the lights from the other swimmers and boats gave off enough light underwater to illuminate a large area! We could see quite a distance in the clear water, which was perfect! The bad thing was that it was a bit noisy out of the water, luckily when our heads were submerged it muffled the sound.

We got ourselves situated in the water and took our place holding onto the surf board, all 6 of us plus our guide in the water. Then he took us out away from the Kini Kini and we took our positions. Face down in the water and we wiggled the foam noodle down under our hips, so that when we held onto the surfboard handle we could easily lay flat on our stomachs on top of the water. It was quite comfortable actually! We laid perfectly still on top of the water, and waited.

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How is Your “Mana?”

Not everyone gets to see manta rays on this excursion, but usually you will see some. However, even if you see one, that doesn’t mean that you will get an up close encounter. Manta rays have a sophisticated sensory system, and they like a clear swimming area.  So if you are flipping your legs and causing a commotion, they will not come around you. Also, they say that mantas have a sort of sixth-sense and can sense your spirit in addition to your heartbeat. In fact for marine animals, they are incredibly smart due to their size relative to their large brains.

They say that if you have a good and strong “Mana”(a Hawaiian term for spiritual energy) then the mantas will sense that and be attracted to you. Another attraction for them are pregnant women. They are not positive as to why, but they believe that it is because there are two spirits and two heart beats in one body, which is stronger. Apparently, having a pregnant woman on your snorkel tour means you are in for a show! But in our case, it must have been a strong “Mana” because we enjoyed quite the show during our night swim with the manta rays!

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Manta Rays…All Up In Our Face!

We didn’t have to wait long before we spotted a manta nearby, flying majestically in the water below. Trying to stay still and contain our excitement so it wouldn’t be scared away, we were thrilled when it came over to us. Then before we knew it, we had multiple mantas below us, swimming all around and doing barrel rolls up into our face! Quite the experience indeed!

For the next hour we had multiple up-close encounters with the enormous mantas, some with wing spans of 12+ feet! These gentle giants of the sea have no teeth and no barb / stinger. They cannot hurt you, and it seems that isn’t their intention anyway.

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Why Are Manta Rays Visible at Night?

The reason the manta rays of the bay are so visible and active at night is that they are feeding. Light attracts plankton, which attracts the mantas because that is what they feed on. So at night in this clear water, all the lights that illuminate the water are actually attracting that plankton into a small area. More plankton means the more chance you will see a manta! That’s also why some of the mantas were coming up near our faces, all the plankton was floating up toward the light source!

Learning About the Manta Rays During “Manta Talk” at the Sheraton Kona

Being the curious traveler that I am, I love learning along the way. So one of the reasons we were excited to stay at the Sheraton Kona at Keaohou Bay was that they are in the middle of the manta ray action! In fact Rays on the Bay, their signature restaurant, is positioned overlooking the water and it is wide open with spotlights that shine into the bay at night, allowing diners to see the mantas too!

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They also have a new program called “Manta Talk” that is in conjunction with the Manta Pacific Research Foundation.  This is an awesome experience for all ages. We learned that manta rays can live around 50-70 years old, and some of their residents in the bay are just that old. We also learned that manta rays have unique spots on their bellies, which are unique like fingerprints and help to distinguish the different rays.

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Photo credit – Second Wave Ocean Images for Sheraton Kona

Swimming With Manta Rays Was a Life Changing Experience!

Other people who have swam with manta rays told us that it would be a life changing experience. Of course, we knew it would be pretty amazing, but life changing?!?! We were sure that was a bit of an exaggeration, but after our experience, we totally see what they meant…and they were right! I’ve snorkeled before and seen some pretty amazing things over the years. But I can honestly say that there is something very special about swimming with the manta rays in Hawaii. Maybe they have their own “Mana” or strong spirit that radiates from inside, which affects everyone they encounter.

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Just being under water at night with the blue glow of the lights in the water, you see these huge creatures swimming around as if they own the place. Only it doesn’t look like they are swimming, but rather flying. They glide smoothly from side to side, up and down, and even flip and roll around. Watching them made me wish I could move around in the water the way that they do. Maybe this is what is so magical about them. We all wish we could glide through the sea as they do.

WATCH THE VIDEO – Swimming with Manta Rays in Hawaii

(turn up your speakers and click on the “full screen” button too!)

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