Manta Rays and Mai Tais: Classic Hawaiian Style at Outrigger Kona Resort

Outrigger Kona Resort and Spa Hawaii

Hawaii Island (formerly known as the Big Island) has been on our bucket list ever since we first set food on Hawaii's sandy shores many years ago. This very special island is revered by nature lovers as it boasts extraordinary experiences and sights. And one of the most popular resorts to stay at is the Outrigger Kona Resort and Spa. See what it has to offer guests.

Hawaii Big Island Kona Food

Just a quick note: Italy and Sicily lovers, I am travelling to Sicily in October on a Sicilian Food Tour and I would y'all to come along! Join me, our guide Carm and fellow food lovers on an amazing 5 day tour that takes you to some of Sicily's food highlights. Carm and her family are from Sicily and we will get to experience things that are normally only open to friends and family of local Sicilians. The cost for this food tour is $4,000AUD or $2649USD per person and includes all meals and accommodation. And incredibly, there is no single supplement because Carm says, "I don't discriminate against singles like me." Here is the website and the downloadable brochure and the outline of where we are going! And if you use the code NQN when booking (write it in the date field) then you'll get a bottle of Cerasuolo Wine from Vittoria, the only DOCG wine of Sicily. This cherry red wine variety is a blend of Sicily's famous Nero D’Avola & Frappato worth $80AUD.

An hour ago Mr NQN and I had touched down on Hawaii Island and the plane view upon descent was entirely different from that of O'ahu. The glittering reflections of Oahu's buildings are replaced by a tangle of grass, trees, black volcanic rocks and wild black goats. This is an island for anyone that loves ecological diversity with snow, rainforest and volcanoes all on the one island. Hawaii Island is also the home of the beach with white, black or the very rare green sand beaches. Two of Hawaii Island's volcanoes are active; Kilauea was most recently active from September 10-16, 2023 and Mauna Loa in 2022. And despite being the youngest Hawaiian island, it's almost twice the size of all of the other Hawaiian Islands combined. The name Big Island was changed to Hawaii Island as many visitors mistook the populous island of Oahu for the Big Island.

"I'll show you where I swim," says our driver Tyrone. Every Uber driver on Hawaii Island seems to be a guide of sorts. He stops the car near the entrance to our hotel and points out Keauhou Bay. "Go down there, there's an easy way to get in the water but stay in the bay," he says. Every other person that we meet during our stay is happy to point out their favourite spots for surfing or swimming. The vibe on Hawaii Island is chill and friendly.

Outrigger Kona Resort and Spa Hawaii

The Kona side of the island is where most of the hotels are located and it is also known as the dry and sunny side of the island while Hilo is the wet side of Hawaii Island. We are staying at the Outrigger Kona Resort and Spa. Located on the Kailua Kona west side of the island, the resort sits atop lava rock cliffs. It has 509 rooms, a spa, adult and kids pool and gym.

Outrigger Kona Resort and Spa Hawaii

There are 4 wings of accommodation divided into different colours. The lobby area is airy, light and grand and while we are checking in, we can't draw our eyes away from the enormous waves crashing on the rocks behind it. They pass us each a shell lei and waterproof wristband that also serves as identification for security as well as a room key.

Outrigger Kona Resort and Spa Hawaii

Our room is 1417 in the yellow Helani wing on the fourth and top floor. The room is spacious and decorated in sunny yellows with rattan furniture and frangipane paintings. The towel animal on the bed is a manta ray after the creatures that guests can see feeding on plankton at Keauhou Bay just outside the resort. Then there's the main view: the Pacific ocean outside where white fringed waves crash loudly outside the balcony doors. A half circle table and chairs are positioned so that you can watch the ocean all day long. Internet is fast and free and the air conditioning works well. The king bed is comfortable and there is also a safe, fridge and a large closet. There are complimentary refillable water bottles for each guest. The bathroom has the toilet and tub/shower in one room and the sink and mirror outside. It looks to be original and is perhaps in need of a bit of an update.

Outrigger Kona Resort and Spa Hawaii

On site there is a market store that has everything that you would get at a convenience store and then more. There is a comprehensive range of food, drink (alcoholic or non alcoholic), ready made meals as well as coffee, boba tea and soft drinks made and mixed to order. There are also a fitness centre, shop, cafe, coin laundromats in the Helani wing and filtered water dispensers for the complimentary reusable water bottles in each room. And every morning they text you with the day's activities which is a handy reminder of what is on offer.

Outrigger Kona Resort and Spa Hawaii

The grounds of the Outrigger Kona are spectacular. You may come across a hammock stretched out and ready for two people or black volcanic rocks washed until smooth from the pounding waves. Or there are the immaculately manicured lush green lawns to sit and watch the ocean from.

Outrigger Kona Resort and Spa Hawaii

Mr NQN wanders off to the concierge to book that evening's activity of swimming with the manta rays while I sip champagne and watch the view. He returns and then curls up on the bed for an afternoon nap. An hour later I shake him awake and we go down to the pool to watch the sunset. There are two sides to the pool, an adult's side which is quieter but the family pool with the small sandy beach area for kids has the view of the ocean and whirlpools. Atop of all of this looms a 200 foot/61 metre waterfall water slide. The sun, a bright ball of flame sinks slowly on the horizon as we sip Keauhou Mule and Mai Tai cocktails.

Outrigger Kona Resort and Spa Hawaii

Later that evening it's time for Mr NQN for a night swim with the manta rays. This experience is a big draw for visitors to the island of Hawaii. This is what he had to say:

Manta Ray Encounter Set Up: I had been recommended the manta rays as a must-do by 2 people from opposite sides of the world. The operator I went with was Eka Canoes (booked by the concierge at the Outrigger Kona). They have a traditional Hawaiian catamaran that departs from a wharf about 10 minutes walk from the Outrigger. The boat has a captain and a waterman who looks after the safety of everyone while in the water. Before we set off we were fitted with a wetsuit top for warmth. Guests with valuables (primarily phones) had them placed into a waterproof box on board for safe keeping. I kept my phone with me in a water proof case to capture video.

Outrigger Kona Resort and Spa Hawaii

Conditions: Tonight there was no wind, though there was a big swell, and as we motored out from the safety of the bay, there was more than one wave that splashed over the hulls of the catamaran. After no more than 5 minutes, we arrived at the manta ray location, which was around 100m/328feet directly off the Outrigger shoreline. A long floating platform with handles all around and lights underneath was lowered into the water and guests jumped in one-by-one with pool noodles to aid with floating horizontally (the pool noodle was placed under our feet).

The Manta Ray Experience: No sooner were we in the water than we started to see manta rays. I immediately was struck by the size of them and how effortless their gliding underwater was. The lights under the platform simulate daylight, which attracts the plankton; this is what the manta rays feast on; often while doing underwater loops to better capture the plankton, the manta rays came within centimetres of me.

And coming up, where to eat on Hawaii Island!

So tell me Dear Reader, have you ever visited Kona or Hawaii Island?

Tips for the Big Island

1 - We only stayed for 2 nights but I think at least 5 nights is needed to see everything, ideally 7 if you don't want to feel rushed.

2 - Most hotels and visitors stay on the west side of the Island in Kona (the dry side) as opposed to Hilo (the wetter, east side) so make sure that you book a airline ticket to Kona Airport rather than Hilo Airport.

3 - Always bring your physical license and physical credit card or cash. American car rental places do not accept digital licenses and you really need a car on Hawaii Island.

4 - If you do not have a car or are short on time, then we recommend booking an all day tour that will show you all of the sights over an 11 hour day. We booked one with Kailani Tours which I will go into more detail on an upcoming blog post.

5 - Bring a water proof phone case along if you want to capture snorkelling or beach activities on your phone. If you spend time at the beach you may see green turtles, seals and manta rays.

6 - Manta Ray snorkelling is a real highlight. Book this as soon as possible on the first night in case the seas are too rough and it has to be postponed. Mr NQN was lucky as he got a spot the first night we were there but on the second night it was cancelled due to weather conditions.

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