Big Island’s Best Dive Spots

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Manta Ray Diving – Kona Coast | Big Island Visitors Bureau (BIVB) / Kirk Lee Aeder

Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano and one of two volcanic peaks that dominate the Big Island, spreads over half the landmass of the island. It rises 13,677 feet above sea level and 56,000 feet from its base in the ocean floor, which means only the tip of this massive volcano is visible above sea level. The rest of its great bulk lies fathoms below the ocean in a scuba divers’ fantasy of lava flows, submerged caves, canyons, cliffs and colorful coral reefs teeming with wildly colored sea life.

Diving the ocean off the Kona/Kohala Coast is a world-class experience. Protected from trade winds by the island’s twin mountain masses, the ocean is typically calm, the weather sunny, and visibility generally in the 100-foot range. The Kona Coast stands out for its recent lava formations with walls, archways, lava-tubes and abundant marine life. Add to that the expertise of a great variety of Big Island dive companies and the scores of diving spots along the Kona/Kohala Coast, and you’ll know why top diving publications and seasoned divers rate the Big Island one of the world’s top diving destinations.

Popular dive spots include Harlequin, near huge pinnacles, lava tubes and caves; Suck-em-up, where there are caves you can swim through; Turtle Pinnacle, a good place to find green sea turtles; Thunder Reef, a good spot for viewing deep-water animals; Casa Caves, where you can swim through a lava tube surrounded by coral and home to reef sharks; Manta Ray Village, a site where Manta Rays can be observed while feeding; Chimney, where a vertical lava tube is located. In calm weather, it’s possible to swim up or down this tube.

In East Hawaii most diving is done from shore. Lele’iwi Beach in Keaukaha is a good spot for the novice or intermediate diver. Richardson’s Ocean Park is a good location for the advanced diver. Although the entry is a protected snorkeling bay, the ocean floor drops quickly to 140 feet.

Some dive companies conduct night dives in locations where giant manta rays are commonly spotted. These giant creatures are known to swim within inches of divers and stay close for the entire drive.

Charter dive companies offer guided tours and courses in certification. Some include scuba specialty courses like photography and videography. But first things first. If the closest you’ve come to diving is a leap off a board into a swimming pool, you’re going to need a few lessons. That’s why most diving companies offer introductory courses in scuba diving. A short course will take about a half day and can range from a simple shallow water beach or pool dive to a deeper boat dive.

Many local dive shops also offer more advanced courses, ranging from rescue and dive master to specialty classes and open water checkouts. If you’ve got the time and the inclination, you can work toward full certification, or C-card, which is good indefinitely and honored worldwide. If you are experienced and certified, many shops will rent you equipment for the day or week. Be sure to check with local dive professionals and shops for their knowledge and experience of safe areas to dive. Charters with experienced guides are available.

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