An adventure never to be forgotten
I have never been so brave in my life and last week I flew to The South Pacific, an island called Vava’u (pronounced Vav OW), which is part of the islands of Tonga. There are in fact 176 islands in Tonga with turquoise sea and white sands.
I was there with my daughter and boyfriend who had treated me for my BIG 70 birthday. We were to swim with whales in the wild!!
Each morning we were picked up at 7.30 – 8.00 am from our beachside resort by a speedboat and three guides and would set off looking for humpback whales. There were two spotters who were constantly searching for any sign of whales. Plus they were on the radio to other boats who had spotted one so it was very well organized. I was on a small boat with two powerful engines in beautiful turquoise waters. We had three professional guides with us and there were six of us adventurers! In Vava’u there are only 18 qualified guides and we were lucky enough to have three of them on board. They really looked after the “oldies”. Apparently the oldest person that they have ever had on board was a 93 year old man! And the youngest has been a 3 year old who clung to his fathers shoulders whilst snorkelling.
Once a mother whale and baby had been spotted we would race to the spot. Rules allow only 4 people in the water at any time with one of the guides. They are so knowledgeable and the fear disappears almost immediately as they have been doing this for years and know the behavior of whales so well. Being slightly scared one of the guides held my hand continuously. There was no scuba diving involved, just snorkelling gear which was provided as part of the package.
This area of the ocean is where the humpbacks come to breed. Once the calves have been born the males make their way back to where they come from, leaving just mothers with their babies and the odd male still looking for a female. The calves are very curious and when the mother is chilled she is quite happy for the calf to come exploring the humans who are snorkelling on top of the water. We would spend about 15 minutes with them and then back to the boat to swap over so that the others would have a chance to see them. It was incredible and an experience that I will never forget. Even just watching them from the boat perhaps only 50 yards away was amazing and we whooped with joy whenever one came to the surface “spy hopping” (nose straight out of the water.
One of my good friends emailed me calling me Superwoman and I must admit I felt like it to be part of this experience swimming with humpbacks in the wild.
For photographers of wildlife this is definitely something one should consider. Most of my photos and videos were taken on just an iphone with a waterproof casing and hung around my neck. However the guides had underwater cameras and were constantly taking photos of the whales and us in the water with them as wonderful memories.
Lunch was provided on board and every day we had a huge chilled picnic box with endless fillings for our bread rolls. We would stop in beautiful bays and do simple snorkeling around the boat and sometimes lunch on a secluded island.
We made our own arrangements regarding flying to Vava’u. I actually flew to Sydney, had a few days in Sydney, and them flew to Tonga. From there this is a 50 minute flight to Vava’u where we were met by someone who drove us across the island to our lovely cottages by the sea. The accommodation was quite basic but it didn’t seem to matter as the place was so idyllic. Mosi was our hostess and she was available to cook us breakfast and dinner if we wanted. On the first night she delivered us 6 freshly cooked lobsters and vegetables which were amazing. Her husband and daughter were also available at any time to drop us in the town about 12 minutes away and were so helpful throughout our stay. This accommodation was called “Mystic Sands” and recommended to us by our whale swimming host.
I would really recommend the company we were with called Swimming with Gentle Giants. They certainly gave us a good time and we saw dolphins, a very rare Sun Fish, turtles and at the end of each day we all snorkelled in a huge cave with thousands of fish.
Go for it. It was one of the best things I have ever done and I am so proud of my achievement. Not being a strong swimmer I was quite scared but the wet suits they provided kept you afloat and as I said there was always a guide to hold your hand. I feel very privileged to have swum with these wonderful creatures and it was a life changing experience.