Best Snorkel Ever, Big Island Hawaii

I have gotten very spoiled with excellent luck with animal sightings when I go on any kind of excursion, be it whale watching, bear photo safari, bird watching or whatever. It ends up I do not have the magic touch with scuba diving trips to see manta rays. Two years in a row we went on boat dives to swim with the majestic animals, confident that we will have a dozen or so swooping past us so close that it will be hard to film. Crickets. Or rather, snapping shrimp. The company we went with, Kona Honu Divers, rebounded admirably with a very nice reef dive where we were able to find some great night activity. But still, we really wanted to see those manta rays.

This year after our second fruitless dive we went snorkeling at Two Step. I had read that the dolphins come in to Honaunau Bay quite often so I wanted to go out deep into the bay and see what happened. Dan was game for that so we ignored the beautiful wildlife that was evident around the rocks in the clear water as we entered and struck out for the middle of the bay. We kept swimming, with no real destination in mind and eventually Dan looked up and started to say he hadn’t seen anything in a while. Just as I sensed his head come up next to me, I saw below us the majestic wings of a manta ray emerging from the amazing blue water. I started punching the water frantically trying to get him to look back down and then we were able to enjoy the magic of the ray together. Dan even got it all with the GoPro.

We learned that each ray has unique, identifiable markings on its back and that the couple hundred that cruise the coast of the big island are all documented and “named”. We noticed that this ray seemed to have some damage on the edge of its wing, maybe made by a shark. It was amazing to watch as it raised and lowered the cephalic fins on either side of its mouth depending on whether it was feeding or searching. At times it paused on the down current side of a cluster of rocks on the bottom and lowered the cephalic fins, appearing to hover there and feed for a bit off of the nutrients coming across the rock grouping. Those pauses were probably the reason we were able to follow it for a bit. The ray was able to flick a wing and smoothly “fly” off against the current at a seemingly effortless pace, far exceeding any speed we could maintain. After watching for a few blissful minutes we faded back and let the ray slip back into the deep blue water, leaving us wondering if that had really happened. We were absolutely euphoric and decided we were happier with that natural encounter than we would have been with the manta ray dive, where they are attracted by large lights that bring plankton in for them and divers sit in a large circle on the floor as they swim through the light over and over. It was great to see this ray, doing what rays do, which is cruising the coast finding plankton naturally occurring along the way. It came close to us of its own free will, we were able to watch it soar in its natural environment and it was just the two of us experiencing it together.

When we calmed down a bit from that amazing encounter we decided we would head over to the edge of the bay and work our way back to our exit point by snorkeling around the rocks and enjoying the usual rich life found there. At this point we were probably about 2 miles out and dead center of the bay. We put our heads down and swam, seeing nothing of consequence along the way. The bottom dropped away and all we could see was deep blue going on forever. Dan looked up again and said it was boring, maybe we should head in another direction. I looked up to see where we were, where else we might want to head and immediately noticed 4 or 5 fins about 50 feet in front of us. The snorkel had just turned from our best ever to off the charts! As soon as we put our heads back down we had pods of spinner dolphins swimming past us, around us, under us and practically through us. Check out how close this group came to Dan. He could have reached out and touched them. And be sure and look for the teeth that you can see on the closest one.

We ended up swimming with this pod of over 50 dolphins for close to an hour and a half as they split off and jumped and spun in the distance then came back to join the group, dove straight down and disappeared for a while returning suddenly from the other direction or suddenly all disappeared only to suddenly reappear underneath us a few minutes later. They were clearly comfortable with our presence and I had a chance to swim alongside a couple of them for a few seconds, maintaining eye contact and they slowed to check me out before they dove with the rest of the pod.

The whole time we spent with them we could see a bunch of people back at the snorkel entry point watching us. No one came out to swim with them. We were still quite a ways out, but nothing would have stopped me if I had been on the beach watching us out there with them. We finally headed for the beach, even though the dolphins were still there. We had been in the water for about two and a half hours, were completely blissed out and finally dragged ourselves away from our new friends.

At the entry and exit point at Two Step if you look down, stones and shells are arranged to spell out Aloha on the sea floor. It must be maintained daily by visitors and I found it completely enchanting.

No doubt we were feeling the aloha and offering a very heartfelt mahalo in return.

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