Thursday, 17 November 2011

Whale Watching in Tonga

I remembered to blog about this adventure after seeing this on twitter yesterday courtesy of Anna.  I had read the story before (although I think the picture is from elsewhere, not that actual whale - and I am slightly cynical of a whale 'shaking hands' with a diver, we were told it was far to dangerous to get that close on purpose due to their size and strength they could accidentally kill you with a quick flap of a fin/tail.)  But I LOVE the story and completely believe it!

So anyway, this was my little adventure while on my AMAZING trip down under during my student days...

While I was away working in a little place called Tonga (amazing group of islands in the Pacific Ocean) having met up with some friends from back home, we were given a long weekend to go and explore one of the other islands - Vava'u.  Tonga is the main island and we took a short flight from there north to this more touristy island where there were many excursions and more hostels/hotels.  We had 4 days there and it was bliss!  After a few weeks sleeping in dorms with random strangers getting up to all sorts in the middle of the night (YES people, this does ACTUALLY happen!!) I was with 3 friends and we splurged (all be it a minor splurge due to the cheap-ness of such a place) on one night in a hotel, an actual HOTEL with a bath!!  (I feel I should point out I had been having showers - in awful communal bathrooms in hallways of said hostels, a bath was a wonderful luxury while the 3 boys were out deep-sea fishing!)

Me & the boys having dinner one night
Anyway, back to the adventure - one of the days we had there, we booked to go on a whale watching trip to see Humpback Whales.  There is no guarantee with these trips, the whales are obviously wild and although they frequent the deep areas around the Tongan islands, they might not be that easy to find if they're not hanging around near the surface/land.  Luckily for us, we found a mother with her calf!  There were strict rules regarding the whale watching in Tonga (which pleases me, they actually care about the whales and don't want to impact on their safety - not sure that's the right word.)  There were other boats around as they radio each other if/when they find a whale to try and ensure the tourists do get to see one.  BUT, only one boat is allowed within a certain distance of the whale(s) and the others must 'wait their turn' to get close so as not to scare the whales away or stress them out!

I kept missing catching them in the air when breaching
(I blame the annoying time delay on old digital cameras!)

One of the main differences in Tonga is that you are actually allowed to GET IN THERE WITH THE WHALES!!!  Only with snorkelling gear on and only after a briefing giving you clear instructions of dos and don'ts - mainly being for your own safety of not getting too close.  We were one of the last to go in from our boat - they kept us in small groups of 4 for the same reason of not wanting to scare the whales off as to be fair, if the whales didn't like being surrounded by random humans ogling them, they have the whole ocean to bugger off to.  When we went in, we decided to pay the extra fee for a DVD of us, so the resident videographer accompanied us (there was always one member of crew with each group).

So we donned our snorkelling gear and off we went, swimming over to these whales (the boat still has to keep a certain distance).  When we got near, it was the baby one that was at the surface, it had to come up every 5 minutes or so to breath whereas it's mother was about 30m down below watching, she came up every 20 mins or so.  We swam along side the baby and it was just magical, they are SO amazing!  I could hardly believe I was there, having the adventure of a lifetime across the world and swimming in the Pacific with an actual humpback whale a few meters in front of me!  Apparently a lot of people cry when they experience this and I can understand why, I was certainly emotional but mostly concerned with snapping away on my disposable waterproof camera (useless thing - none of the photos were any good, other than memories for me)...

I am so glad we paid for the DVD although it has never played right - but by the time we were back in blighty it was too late to do anything about, grrrr.  Luckily I was able to take some screen shots of it playing in bits on my laptop and here are the (pretty rubbish, but who cares, it's ME AND A WHALE!) photos I have of the experience...

Us and the baby whale

Me and the baby whale

1 comment:

ledzepellin41 said...

I totally love this place and have to visit again this coming December for holiday season with my family.

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