Today we went to Hapuna Beach State Park. So BEAUTIFUL! We parked ourselves in that beautiful sand, played, snorkeled, ate, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Mark staying out of the sun...
That night was an experience that was also a favorite of our trip - a once in a lifetime experience! Our family went out on a boat at night, with the smallest sliver of a moon (pitch black out on the water) with about 9 other people. They drove the boat for about 20 minutes out on the ocean before we got to a spot that was about 200 feet off the shore. We were all in wetsuits, because even though the water is warm in Hawaii, at night, without the sun on you, it feels a lot cooler, especially since we would be floating, not swimming, on top of the water. This is the only place in the world where you can do what we were about to do.
The water where we stopped was about 20-30 feet deep. Our tour guide shone a big spotlight into the water so you could see through the clear water, all the way to the bottom. The plankton are attracted to the light. Plankton is what giant manta rays eat. They have been coming to this spot for at least 50 years, and keep coming back. When we got to the spot, there were already 3 manta rays feeding on the plankton, with more coming every minute. These things were huge (10-15 feet across from wingtip to wingtip)! They are totally harmless (no stingers on manta rays, just on stingrays). To eat the plankton they keep their mouths open (big enough to fit one of our kids in), and swoop down to the ocean floor, then turn belly up as they move toward the surface, arcing into a big circle, again and again, letting the plankton just go into their mouths.
We're watching these big things gather, and our tour guide tells us to hop in the water and swim over above where the mantas are. On one hand we're thinking, "It's pitch black out here. We can't see beyond the light. Should we be worried about sharks?". On the other hand, this is the coolest thing ever!!!
We hop in the water and move over where our tour guide has a surf board fitted with a bar going all the way around it for everyone to hold onto. We have fins on, and they don't want us kicking with our feet underneath us for fear of hurting the manta rays. We are supposed to stay horizontal and not kick, leaving our face mask in the water, breath through our snorkel, but our ears above water so we can hear our guide talk about the mantas. She wants us to lay as still as possible, because as we lay still, she says the mantas will swoop up closer and closer to the surface, until when they turn their circles, their bellies will swoop up and brush against ours. Ummmm....wowww! We are going to be in the water for 30 minutes.
We all get situated around the bar. I turn my camera on in video mode, snapping pictures every so often. We are mesmerized by these huge, gentle creatures, seemingly 'flying' through the water. It doesn't take long before there are about 15 of them underneath us, and sure enough, they start coming all the way to the surface of the water, right underneath us, until they are brushing up against us. After about 15 minutes, I was shivering, as was the rest of my family (except Mark), but no WAY was I getting out. I wanted to take full advantage of my time in the water with these creatures. Kyle swam back to the boat at that point. He was too cold to stay. Morgan lasted about 10 more minutes. We all agreed that that was the most awesome experience ever!