Scuba Diving on the Big Island

Scuba diving on Hawaiʻi Island is a world-class experience like no other. The colorful array of sea life offers scuba divers an escape to an underwater paradise of lava formations and clear blue waters with spectacular visibility. Location is key when it comes to diving and the Big Island of Hawaiʻi is not only an ideal destination for scuba lovers but offers ideal diving conditions as well.

Best Dive Locations and Seasons

Big Island diving locations are best on the Kona side, or the west side of the island, which boasts crystal clear waters and plenty of sunshine. Water visibility averages over 100 feet! The best seasons for diving are from spring to fall because the surf is calmer and less likely to stir up debris and affect visibility.

The Kona-Kohala coast is protected from trade winds by the island’s two majestic volcanos, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. The weather is almost always sunny, and the waters are generally calm. The coastal lava formations include beautiful archways, lava tubes, sea caves, coral belts and a colorful rainbow of marine life. It’s easy to understand why experienced divers claim the Big Island as one of the world’s best diving locations.
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Regardless of where you are on Hawai‘i Island, there will be good scuba diving spots close by. Most visitors prefer joining a dive tour with local guides who are knowledgeable about preferred locations and are familiar with changing weather patterns. However, visitors wishing to explore scuba locations on their own generally stay on the west side of the island to experience the highly recommended locations like Kealakekua Bay, Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau (Place of Refuge) and Puakō.

Most diving on the east side of Hawaiʻi Island (the Hilo side) is done from shore. Hilo has a handful of spots for beginning scuba divers such as Hilo’s Leleiwi Beach in Keaukaha and Richardson Beach Park. For more advanced divers, Richardson Ocean Park is a good location.

Night Time Manta Dive

In addition to the gorgeous and pristine diving spots on the Big Island, the most memorable and breathtaking scuba experience is a night time dive with manta rays.

The graceful and mysterious manta ray is one of the largest marine animals, with wingspans of up to 20 feet or more. Hawaiʻi Island is the number one location in the world to get up close and personal with these gentle giants. Although intimidating in appearance, manta rays are friendly and harmless. They do not have stingers like eagle rays or stingrays. Mantas feed on tiny particles of plankton, which are illuminated by the lights of the dive boats, and the Kona Coast of the Big Island is the best place to experience this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Tour boats leave just before sunset, and once they arrive at their destination, spotlights are used to attract the manta rays with plankton. Giant lights are set up on the ocean floor, and from up above, in locations where mantas frequently visit. These magnificent creatures converge upon the brightly lit waters where scuba divers and snorkelers are privy to a ballet-like performance of giant manta rays gently gliding and somersaulting through the water, often within inches of their audience. Many describe the experience as ethereal and magical.

Nighttime manta diving tours are offered year-round. There is no peak season. However, each night is different, depending upon plankton levels. Divers can expect to see anywhere from two, to over a dozen of these stunning marine animals. It is important to follow instructions carefully and not attempt to touch the manta rays, regardless of how close they come — and they can get very close.

Preparations and Precautions

Before planning your scuba diving trip to Hawai‘i Island, be sure to have proper qualifications. To rent diving gear, one must be either PADI or NAUI certified. For visitors who have not dived for an extended period of time, or are inexperienced, it’s recommended to dive with an instructor and take a refresher course. Plan ahead, rent high quality equipment and wear proper gear for protection from sharp lava rocks and coral. Also, local authorities stress the importance of not flying or traveling to high altitudes, like the summit of Mauna Kea, within 24 hours of diving.

The most important thing to remember when visiting the Island of Hawai’i for a scuba diving adventure is to have fun! Soak up the majestic beauty of Hawai‘i’s underwater sanctuary. Its spectacular crystal clear waters are about as close to diving in Neptune’s treasure trove as any diver could wish for.

Big Island Visitors Bureau (BIVB) / Kawika Singson

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