Most of the Kona side dive operations operate out of Honokohau Harbor, giving access to dive sites from Kailua Bay to well north of the airport. These are the operations most divers visiting the Big Island are familiar with. The diving is good around Honokohau, but can be limited, island divers know that the character of the reef is different as you move north or south.
Experienced divers will often recommend diving the Puako and North Kohala reefs. Here the shoreline is notably older, where the volcanoes have not sent lava flows into the sea for many thousands of years. The reefs have had much longer to establish themselves, resulting in heavier coral growth and rich sea life.
If you want to try the sites further north, along the Kohala Coast, you need to choose another outfit to dive with. Two local dive ops operate along the Kohala coast, Blue Wilderness and Kohala Divers. Both outfits are small businesses, locally owned and operated, the owners often on the boat with you.
There is a third operation, Ocean Sports operating out of Anaeho’omalu Bay further south, I have no experience with the business and can not give any critical comment. This is a larger operation, operating whale watching cruises with two boats in addition to a large dive boat. They offer various cruise options including snorkeling and a range of other water sport activities.
They maintain a shop in The Queen’s Shops, found in the Waikoloa Resort area. The shop was originally located in Waimea, but was transitioned to the Queen’s shops area several years ago. Unfortunately the compressors are not at the store, thus tank fills are generally a drop-off and pick-up the next day proposition.
The primary Blue Wilderness boat, A Hui Ho, is a semi-rigid design. It is fast and comfortable, providing a smooth ride to the dive site. Space is tight, but adequate, there are under seat lockers where you can stash stuff out of the way. Low to the water, entry is done by simply rolling over the side and donning the BCD in the water. A ladder at either rear corner allows re-boarding. Shade is a bit limited, found only at the rear of the boat, bring a hat or use some of the provided sunscreen. A second boat, Kyra’s Pearl, is also a semi-rigid fast design that can accommodate about six divers, notably smaller than A Hui Ho.
The boat is trailered and launched every day, allowing Blue Wilderness a good deal of flexibility in the dive sites offered each day. Using either the Puako or Kawaihae harbors they have access to the entire west coast of North and South Kohala. For a diver considering more than a couple days of diving, this opens a wide variety of sites for diving with little repetition.
Expect to stay down until your tank is empty, no problem diving your full duration. Do not try to outlast Denise! I am pretty sure she does not breathe once in the water.
Between dives there are drinks and light snacks available, often featuring of Denise’s home made lilikio bars, sweet and tart, a nice treat after salt water. During the winter they usually motor out to watch whales while you wait out a surface interval.
Kohala Divers has been operating along the Kohala Coast for over 25 years. Owned by Greg and Rebekah Kaufmann, the business is associated with Reel Pleasure, a deep sea fishing charter boat also moored in Kawaihae harbor. Kohala is also a PADI affiliated dive center.
A full dive shop provides gear and services from just above the Kawaihae Harbor. Tank fills, a service area, and retail sales offered every day of the week from 8am to 6pm. The compressors are on site, allowing while-you-wait fills.
Kohala Divers moors their 42’ Radon custom built dive-charter boat in the small boat harbor at Kawaihae. The Kohala Diver is a roomy boat, seldom crowded, with plenty of places to stash your gear out of the way. Exit and entry to the boat is done from the rear swim-deck while fully geared. The boat is fairly slow, and will often get passed by the A Hui Ho on the way to a dive site. Not a major problem, most of the dive sites are only a short run from the harbor.
Given the smaller groups on Kohala, there is a fair amount of flexibility in the dive. Photography? Going slow? Not a problem. Just get into the discussion during the dive briefing and make your needs known. For one dive, both a photographer from California and I made it known that we were after nudibranch. It was reported that there were gloomys on the rock right under the mooring, if the nudi’s were there, so were we. Both of us spent the entire hour circling the house size rock the mooring was anchored to, where we located and photographed five species of nudibranch, including gloomys.
Having been out with both operations on multiple occasions, I can personally attest that your are unlikely to be disappointed with either outfit. Both outfits feature excellent staff that have been diving here for years. They know the area well, and will lead good dives every time out.