Venturing out at night into the Pacific Ocean off Hawaii to view manta rays leaves one breathless. Diana Streak takes a plunge into the dark.
We lay face down staring down through our masks into the spooky depths of dark water, hands clutching onto a large bobbing rig.
We were snorkelling off the Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort near the west coast town of Kona on Hawaii’s Big Island in the hopes of experiencing one of life’s truly remarkable sights – giant manta rays feeding at night.
At first there was nothing, just patches of plankton lit up by the lights attached to the floating metal rig. And then a flash of white as a manta drifted into sight in the corner of my eye. I squealed with delight but that was just a curtain raiser as more and more of these graceful gentle creatures came swimming up from the deep.
Did I say swimming? No, this is something far more elegant and dramatic. It’s a dance, as they barrel roll upside down near the surface to scoop up the plankton, their six-metre wingspans effortlessly propelling them through the water.
Next to me I heard a low groan of pleasure from Jules, my travel buddy, as we watch in awe. A manta’s belly flashed past what felt like six inches under my nose! It took huge self-control not to reach out a curious hand and gently touch it but our guide’s words rang in my ears about damaging the delicate film that protects their skin. Plus it’s illegal.
Hawaii is wonderful for diving but you don’t need to don scuba tanks to experience this phenomenon, which just tops staring into a live volcano from a helicopter as a travel highlight. There are other sites to night dive with mantas but the Sheraton is the original and most convenient. It was discovered by accident when the hotel was built on the promontory and its lights attracted plankton, pursued by the manta rays.
Big Island is known for its active volcanoes and black sand beaches which are quite different to the glaring white sand of Honolulu, where tourists flock in their thousands.
Black sand is made out of tiny fragments of lava and, in contrast to white sand, most is created almost instantaneously. As hot lava enters the water, it cools down so suddenly that it solidifies, and shatters into large amounts of black sand.
There is something strangely riveting about it. Swimming earlier in the day and spotting turtles on the rocks at Kahalu’u Beach, we were amazed to see how clear the water was. Dusting black sand off your feet after a day at the beach takes a bit of getting used to.
Too soon the manta rays’ dance was over and we were hauled back onto our boat and given a welcome mug of hot chocolate as we set off back to the quay.
Later that night as we reminisced in the garden of our cottage, listening to the sweet whistles of the coqui frogs, Jules confessed that the groaning I heard was not of pleasure but warding off a brief moment of seasickness. TTW
Diana Streak travelled to Hawaii at her own expense. Photos: Diana Streak and Hawaii Tourism Authority.