There are a number of great dive spots that come to mind when you think of the Hawaiian Islands. Maui offers Black Rock and the Five Caves, Lanai has Shark Fin, and Pyramid and Kauai boasts its Tunnels on the North Shore. But none is more easily accessible for Orange County residents than Kona Village’s marine preserve at Kahuwai Bay on the Big Island.

For California-based divers, exotic South Seas diving has never been “closer,” thanks to Aloha Airlines’ flights to the Big Island of Hawaii’ and the Kona Village diving program, just 15 minutes from the Kona Airport.

You can literally take an early morning flight, arriving Kona at 10:47 a.m. and be donning your tanks for an early afternoon dive.

As many as 40 extraordinary dive sites are within a few short minutes offshore. You can experience a new site with new underwater terrain each day of your stay and waste no time in getting there. Dramatic canyons and lava archways, with coral plateaus, walls and ledges all await your discovery beneath Kahuwai’s calm waters.

On our recent dive, we left the well-equipped dive shack around 9 a.m. and climbed into a whaler that took us about a half mile off the beach. Our dive master and director of the Kona Village dive program is ocean veteran Jim Kilbride. Jim worked 13 summers with Jean-Michel Cousteau and the Cousteau Society’s Project Ocean Search before joining the society as a fulltime expedition diver. In short, Jim is a good guy to have in the water with you. When you meet Jim, you may have that “haven’t I seen you somewhere before” look on your face. That’s because you may have seen him on the Disney Channel promotional show filmed at Kona Village for their hit movie Finding Nemo.

We didn’t find Nemo that morning but we saw just about every other reef fish the Hawaiian Islands offers. Conditions could not have been more pristine with an easy 100 feet of visibility. The current runs a few knots so Jim lowered an anchor line to follow to the bottom. After performing a Lloyd Bridges backward roll into the 78-degree water, Jim helped me into my BC. Once all four of us were equipped, we drained the air from the BC for our decent.

The ocean floor below was about 55-feet deep and is 75 percent covered in coral. After flashing the OK sign all around, we set off on a leisurely pace, careful to conserve air for what was certain to be a spectacular dive. It didn’t take long to come across our first series of tunnels and natural bridges to dive through. They were not long or complicated but just exciting enough for a recreational diver like myself.

Kona Village is under new ownership by Ty Warner of Beanie Baby fame who has invested heavily in the dive program. You can bring your own mask and fins or not a thing. The dive shack provides it all and offers brand new equipment and the best that money can buy.

“I don’t have a golf course,” says Ulrich Krauer, Kona Village general manager. “So this is my golf course,” he says, pointing to the postcard perfect Kahuwai Bay. “We want to maximize our natural resources for our guests by providing Hawaii’s finest diving experience.” It’s clear to this diver they have done just that.

Kona Village resort is perhaps best described as a “five-star” Gilligan’s Island. Indeed, you half expect to see Thurston Howell III emerge from one of the huts for his morning constitution. Guest stay in their own thatched roof hut, set amongst beautiful flowering shrubs and palm trees. There are no concrete walkways but rather picturesque pathways that meander past ancient fresh water lagoons, along black sandy beaches and jet-black lava. The lush, tropical-landscaped grounds are complimented by the spectacular ocean setting. Prices include three meals a day and the cuisine is exquisite. For more information, contact Kona Village at 800-367-5290 or visit their web site at