Just completed the night manta dive, and it was a spectacular experience. "Flipper" (dive master), Captain Molly, Jackie, and Zane were all highly efficient and professional. You typically check-in at the dive shop prior to 5pm, get fitted for gear (wet suit, BCD, fins, etc.--there's a nominal rental charge for gear not included in the standard package), and sign the waiver. You'll later meet at the boat at 5:45pm at the dock that's around a 5 minute drive from the shop (The shop provided a nice map of the harbor with good directions to the boat. We used the down time to get dinner and do a little souvenir shopping). After a round of introductions at the dock, we left for a 30 minute ride up the coast to a location near the Kona airport, where we passed the time with safety briefings, story telling, passing-out the gear, and then we (along with the 8 or so other boats in the area) settled-in to catch a typical beautiful Hawaiian sunset. About 15 minutes later, it was show time. Our boat had around 2:1 snorklers vs. divers, and the snorklers entered the water first and clustered around a floating light assembly that attracted the plankton that in turn attract the manta rays. As the mantas started to appear, the divers entered the water and the group descended around 30ft to the bottom and swam over to a nice flat area where other groups of divers (all with lights) settled into clusters on the bottom. While looking up at the hundreds of fish that were also attracted to the lights/plankton, it took around 10 seconds to spot the first manta ray. Soon afterwards, the show really got started with a dozen (several of them huge) mantas eventually joining the fun. From the diver's perspective (sitting on the bottom),it was not uncommon to have several of the huge creatures simultaeously looping and "flying" inches (or less) away from you. After around 45 minutes on the bottom, we got the signal to head back to the boat where snorklers and divers shared their excitement over having experienced something truly extraordinary. Wet suits were stripped-off, towels were handed-out, hot chocolate was distributed, and we headed back to the docks. We got back to the Mauna Lani (roughly at 30 minute drive from Kona) at around 10:15pm.
Some added notes:
They weighted the divers pretty heavy to help stabilize us on the bottom, so it paid to blow a little air into your BCD before stepping off the boat. You really appreciated the extra weight (I also picked up a bowling ball sized rock on the bottom to better anchor my butt) when the large mantas swam by/over/around you and the powerful blasts of water from their "wings" rocked you quite noticeably.
Our particular dive session had a videographer (Ryan) working the event, but one of our divers had his own camera and shot some great video and stills. Since it's hard to manipulate both your powerful dive light and camera, you might consider coordinating with a buddy that keeps his light (as opposed to handing it off to the divemaster so he can use them in a cluster to better attract plankton/mantas) so you can have both hands free to hold and manipulate your camera (assuming that your camera doesn't have underwater dive lights).
The seas were fairly calm on our trip, but a few people were feeling a little seasick. If you are so prone, plan accordingly. I am prone to motion sickness but have found that ginger pills (as seen on "Mythbusters") can really take the edge off of things. Transdermal scopolamine patches can also really help.
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