The last couple of years we’ve been trying to get the kids to become more confident snorkelers and have been met with some resistance especially from our 7-year-old. We continue to provide the opportunity, but don’t force it because we don’t want them to hate it. I am happy to report that our trip to the Big Island may have been a turning point!
Night Snorkel with Manta Rays
When I was researching things to do in Hawaii, I came across what I thought was a pretty amazing experience: a night snorkel with manta rays. I really struggled with booking this trip because it seemed a bit scary and I had little hope that our youngest would actually get in the water and do it. I decided to go for it anyway. We arrived in Kona at sunset to meet our guides, put on wetsuits, and take a 30-minute boat ride to the manta ray feeding area.
Once we got to our snorkeling spot our guides put a surfboard, fitted with lights on the bottom, into the water. The lights on the surfboard illuminated the water below us which attracted plankton. The manta rays feed on the plankton so they would swim up towards us with their mouth wide open to catch the plankton and then belly roll just before they hit the surfboard. These creatures were HUGE! 10-12 feet wide with mouths open wide enough to fit a football inside! Manta rays have no stingers and no teeth so they are not harmful to humans, but seeing them swim right up underneath us was scary and also completely amazing! It was important that we floated as straight as possible on the top of the water as any movement would disturb the plankton and keep the mantas away. We also didn’t want to touch them (as tempting as it was) since they have a protective coating on their skin that we didn’t want to disturb.
The ride to the feeding area was quite choppy and when we arrived the boat was rocking back & forth in the waves making it hard to stand. Our captain hurried us out of the boat and we jumped into the dark water and swam to the surfboard. All 3 kids jumped out and found a space around the board. Then we waited……
We brought our GoPro and captured the mantas swimming underneath us. About 1:30 into the video you can see how close they got to us. One even knocked into our GoPro at one point!
We ALL stayed in the water about 45 minutes and by that point we were pretty cold and the mantas seemed to be gone. We climbed back on the boat where we dried off and drank hot chocolate on the ride back to the dock. I was so proud of the kids for being so brave and they absolutely LOVED the experience!
Snorkeling in Kealakekua Bay
I did feel like I was pushing it a bit by booking a second snorkeling excursion. This one was basically all day (9:30am – 2:30pm) and left from Kona which was a 30-45 minute drive from the Kohala Coast where we were staying and made for a very early morning. Any time I wake the kids up early while on vacation there is a decent amount of grumbling, but these two snorkeling trips ended up being the highlight of their vacation (Mom win!). We went on the Hula Kai with Fair Wind Ocean Guides and it was probably the best executed snorkeling excursion we’ve ever been on. The boat was big with plenty of seating, the crew was extremely friendly and knowledgeable, the food was actually really good – even the kids complemented the chef (they served us breakfast & lunch), the process of getting everyone their snorkeling gear and into/out of the water was very smooth, and the snorkeling was just over the top amazing!
The cruise made two snorkeling stops. The first one was along this calm shoreline in South Kona.
The Hula Kai also offered SNUBA and Sea Rocket tours. These were separate and limited availability which I didn’t know. The kids were eager to try them out, but they were all filled up by the time we asked about them so call ahead if you want to try them.
We snorkeled for about 45 minutes and then headed off to our next destination. On the way we made a small detour out to sea in search of whales. We were there at the very beginning of whaling season so we only ran into one type of whale that I’d never heard of before. But the guides brought out books and showed them to everyone so we could see. These particular whales (whose name I’m blanking on) are able to hold their breath for 45 minutes so they were back under the water and gone before we could get a good look at them. We did, however, run into a pod of spinner dolphins who stuck around and put on quite a show. We also came across a very large manta ray (our guides guesstimated it was 15 feet across) which was even bigger than the manta rays we saw during our night snorkel!
Our second snorkel stop was Kealakekua Bay, the sight where Captain James Cook died. Access to this bay is limited so we were thrilled we were able to stop here.
After this snorkeling trip, our 7-year-old was completely converted to snorkeling! I attribute this to a couple of things:
- Even though he’s a decent swimmer, having a floatation device is key. This way he can focus on snorkeling and not staying afloat.
- Calm waters. Snorkeling in this bay was like snorkeling in a bathtub – the water was very flat and minimal currents pulling us around. The first time we took him snorkeling in Turks & Caicos, there were decent sized waves, he was getting tossed around and just didn’t feel safe. On our most recent trip to Mexico, we snorkeled in slightly rougher waters with strong currents and he did great.
- Lots of fish & coral. It’s much easier to engage in snorkeling when you don’t have to search for fish or colorful things to look at. This water was so clear with vibrant fish everywhere and the sea floor was covered with coral and rocks. It was truly like swimming in an aquarium!
- GoPro. We let the kids have turns using the GoPro and they love it! It makes them excited to jump in and search for fish.
Here are the kids having fun with the GoPro:
**We are finishing up an actual snorkel video and will add that as soon as it’s done!
I highly recommend both of these snorkeling adventures. They were hands down the kids favorite activities on the Big Island.
For more things to do with kids & teens, check out this Ultimate Guide to the Big Island of Hawaii