I don’t recall the exact moment that I decided this was on my “bucket list” but when I saw a post on facebook by Craig Parry offering a tour I knew I had to say YES!
With all things “bucket list” they cost a bit, planned well in advance, so I had a good 12 months to prepare. This has a number of benefits, budgeting, you’d be surprised how much you can save and Training, ensuring you’re fit, you don’t want to be fatigued when trying to swim along with Humpback Whales.
I’d not been to any of the Pacific Islands so I wasn’t sure what to expect, I arrived very late into the Kingdom of Tonga and had a connecting flight really early. This meant overnighting in a hotel. This is where I met a couple of other fellow travellers doing the same photography tour. Leaving all the Big City expectations behind. I was now on Island Time.
The morning saw 3 of us together already, given the late night or delirium as to lack of sleep we all instantly connected.
As we boarded our domestic flight to Vava’u we could easily guess the rest of our group as they stood out from the Tonga locals boarding the same flight.
On arrival we were greeted by Craig Parry and his partner Kate. We jump in a van and are made welcome in our temporary home beside the Harbour.
The daily routine is simple. Be ready at 7:30am on the jetty. We go find Whales.
We make the 20 minute journey out of the inner island waterways into the open ocean.
Our captain and local guide are the best in the business. Our trusty sea worthy boat “radar” also has a brilliant reputation. We’re in very capable hands from day 1 along with Craig Parry leading the workshop to ensure we all get the most out of our interactions as possible.
We can’t forget for a moment you’re dealing with mother nature, be it the ocean, weather or the humpbacks themselves, If it doesn’t all come together it simply means try again tomorrow.
Not everyone has “sea legs” and it takes a few days for me to find mine and I take onboard all the tips my seaworthy mates have to offer;-
Take the sea sickness medication the night before. Get it into your system, then have the normal dose again 30 minutes before you get on the boat.
Don’t go into hiding on the boat, you want fresh air and to be able to see the horizon.
Keep busy. (Preoccupy yourself with other things, rather than motion and feeling unwell)
I applied all these rules and 3 days in I was able to stop taking my sea sickness tablets and I became a champion Humpback spotter!
Our very first encounter unfolded within the hour we found a mother and calf happily resting and willing to accept our company.
We’re all nervous, we’re all new to this except for Craig Parry & the local guide. We’d all seen videos and heard countless stories, we’d all done our due diligence and knew the risks of swimming with 30 Tonne Humpbacks, but nothing prepares you for that initial encounter.
he Kingdom of Tonga has done an exceptional job at training and protecting the whales and these guides are certified to look after the whales from us. We’d already been briefed by our local water guide as to the rules. We slide into the water, follow the guide and await his instruction. The calf is the 1st to surface, it stays wide of us. The second accent sees both mother and calf both come to the surface, the mother nudges the calf almost as if to suggest to the calf its ok, they’re friends. The 3rd accent the calf is flying solo again and comes in close. Close enough that we lock eyes. At this stage the camera is by my side, the rest of the world has taken a very distant back seat as i’m completely overwhelmed with emotion.
??? join / bridge ???
Another highlight was free diving on a male adult sitting at the bottom with his nose down and tail up completely vertical singing his song. I got within 10 meters of his tail when i had decided oxygen was a good thing and would need to ascend. It was dark, but the singing was loud, the camera was on video to catch the audio and I experienced something really interesting. Though the sounds were clearly audible, the camera unit was reverberating intensely. With both hands on the housing it was resonated through my entire body. I could hardly keep the housing still. The octave range was clearly on other levels that i couldn’t hear. Wow.
We also experienced a heat run, this is where all the boys chase the girl. Our Captain is all over it. His eye is training to see the trajectory of the run. He drops us in a spot and we wait. Boom! One, two, three they keep coming. Seven in total. They come past fast and just when you think they hit you they move without effort ever so gracefully. A 30 Tonne whale doing a slow dance around you. We experience these drops a few times. MInd blown yet again.
Every afternoon we walk the jetty, replaying the day’s encounters. We laugh, giggle like kids, we’re high on life.
The days blend with these amazing experiences overloading your senses. Every day is exhilarating.
The addiction is real, Tonga will leave you wanting more.
It will bring you closer to the Ocean and the beauty within it. Hopefully change some old habit for new to help protect it from the threat of pollution, particularly plastic
“Nothing can prepare you for that very 1st interaction. It will stay with you forever.”
Tonga, September 2015
Approx. reading time: 3:55 minutes