Report from the Kingdom of Tonga
We traveled over 30 hours to reach the lovely and remote Vava’u island group, the northern most islands in the Tonga Archipelago. Long famous for its remote deep water anchorages for visiting yacht cruisers in recent years the area has become more well known as a destination to experience “soft in the water encounters” with humpback whales. We had been keen to explore Vava’u for several years and finally pulled the trigger accompanied by some dear friends.
We elected to stay at a remote island boutique resort about a 40 minute (high speed) boat ride from the main village which put us closer to the whale grounds . The lodge was capable of handling just 8 guests which added to the magic of our plans. Our permit enabled us to look for whales for six days over an eight day period. (On Sundays in Tonga all businesses must close so whale watching is not permitted).
Whale watching in the water requires a government permit and a qualified operator with trained guides. Strict guidelines about approaching whales, especially mother & calf pairs, are followed with a maximum of four swimmers in the water at one time with a guide. We set out in breezy conditions on our first day and almost immediately found whales ..adults frolicing in an apparent courtship display of playfulness and showing real interest in the boat.
Note the distinctive white color on the ventricle (bottom) side of humpback flukes and bodies n the South Pacific populations. Our first looks were dramatic but it would be five more days before we found whales again. However when it finally happened it was magical!! This female surfaced well offshore with her very young calf and stayed near us for a few hours.