Business Monday: Kona Honu Divers named best overall operation in Pacific, Indian Oceans
December 18, 2023, 1:00 AM HST
At night at a site three miles offshore and 3,000 feet deep, divers on a blackwater tour with Kona Honu Divers hang off the boat like a piece of bait attached with a line while waiting to be visited by translucent deep-water creatures.
Byron Kay, owner and operator of the West Hawai‘i dive company, said it’s the site where the largest daily vertical migration of animals occurs in the Pacific Ocean.
“You’ll see schools of squid coming through, being chased by dolphins,” Kay said. “And they’ll hide up against you and use you as cover.”
From baby marlin to pygmy seahorses to the rare cookiecutter shark, Kona Honu Divers provides a safe and unique experience beloved by divers around the world.
For the third time, readers of Scuba Diving magazine chose Kona Honu DIvers as the best overall dive shop in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The latest poll was published in November.
Diving companies from around the world were judged in seven different categories: quality of dive boats, quality of gear, quality of facilities, quality of staff, quality of training courses, attention to safety and best overall or the reader’s choice.
Kay said this award is proof they are doing a good job.
Kona Honu Divers has a 5-star rating on Google with 4,336 reviews.
“This outfit is top-notch,” wrote reviewer Rebecca Levey. “We have been diving all over Hawaiʻi and this business knows how to take care of its customers and crew. Nice, updated gear and professional dive crew that’s not overly uptight in a TSA kind of way. They are safe for sure, but they don’t choke the fun out of things.”
Quality and safety have been Kay’s focus since taking over ownership of the company in 2015, setting a foundation with values that are adhered to daily: safety, kindness, passion, stewardship of the environment and fun.
“Without all those other things, you can’t really have a good time on the boat,” Kay said.
The West Hawai‘i dive company launches from Honokōhau Small Boat Harbor.
Kona Honu has two boats: the Honu One, a 46-foot Newton custom dive vessel, and the Honu Lele, a 33-foot World Cat Power Catamaran. Kay said he’s invested thousands of dollars to make the boats comfortable, including installing foam boat flooring.
With a maximum of 18 divers allowed on Honu One, Kay said the boat’s amenities include a bathroom, hot shower, multiple decks, space for storage, a sound system, camera rinse tank and a regular rinse tank. There’s also a place for guests to set up photography.
Trips on the catamaran are more exclusive, with a maximum of six divers. This boat also has a bathroom and a cold shower. Kay said they only take guests who have experience on the catamaran, ensuring those experienced divers get their money’s worth and don’t have to end a dive earlier due to another diver needing to surface.
“When you’ve paid all this money and spent all this time to come to Hawai‘i, you want to have a really great experience,” Kay said. “You’re expecting a high level of experience.”
Seventy-year-old Rob Porter, a scuba diving instructor and guide, has worked with Kona Honu Divers for 8 1/2 years and been a diving instructor for more than 21 years.
Originally from Texas, Porter said he used to visit the Big Island regularly over the years and dive with several companies. He said he liked Kona Honu the best due to its customer service and friendly atmosphere.
Porter said customers to Kona Honu are treated to a valet service where the employees set up all their gear, dismantle it and store it while they’re on the boat. If there are repeat customers, the instructor said they make it a point not to hit the same dive spot.
Kona Honu’s signature tour highlighted in the magazine is called “Touch of Gray” at 80 feet. Porter said this dive is a bit more advanced, in depths of 80 feet, where sharks hang out inside a cavern.
“It’s almost surreal,” Porter said. “On a nice clear day the sun rays light it all up. Around the perimeter, it’s shaded and that’s where the sharks hang out with their young.”
On average, Kona Honu Divers might run three or four daily trips. They don’t run the blackwater dive every night.
Kona Honu caters to divers around the world – Brazil, Australia, Europe and more – but every Tuesday is dedicated to local, experienced divers. The dive was started during the COVID-19 pandemic and Kona Honu kept it as way to ensure residents got a chance to go out onto the water at a discounted price.
Kona Honu Diversʻ shop is at 74-5583 Luhia St. A12 in Kona, where they sell a variety of dive, free dive and snorkel products. While the shop is a great place to shop for gear, Kay said guests are not required to go there. They sign waivers online or at the boat before departure.
Click here for more information on tours.