South Pacific Adventure – With Humped Back Whales in Tonga
Each year from July to October the waters around the Va’vau group of 61 islands in Tonga are a nursery for humped back whales and their calves.
Traveling from the Antarctic, the whales come here to give birth, feed their young ones 500 litres of milk a day and frolic in the crystal clear inky blue waters that surround these pacific islands.
We were so privileged to spend a week on Eueiki Island at the Treasure Island Eco Resort, watching and swimming with whales, snorkelling, reading books, enjoying massages and being off the grid.
If you like the sound of spending a week on a tropical island in the middle of the Pacific, here’s some considerations.
- Remote islands in developing countries equate to low fuel and bags have a habit of getting offloaded. Pack swimmers, glasses, any medications, books, essential toiletries, a long dress and a wrap in your hand luggage. Basically everything you really need in 7 kgs. Anything over will go under the plane and if your bag is on the off loaded trolley, you cannot request to take it on board as hand luggage, it must be 7 kg or under.
- Pack for Wind. A good quality waterproof wind jacket with a hood and peak to pop over wetsuits and swimmers when you are on a boat. We had a few days of 35-40 knot winds and waves. While we managed to find protected bays for whale swimming, there was a lot of wave action on the boat. At night, the breeze kept the mozzies away, but it was cool and you needed a lightweight wrap.
- Long and Loose clothing wins – I took a long silk dress, and loose pants for evening. For tops, loose and long shirts were a great cover up. Evenings were cooler especially with a breeze and after a day in the sun, you feel like something soft and light over your skin. The days were spent in wet suit and swimmers, so take a few pairs.
- Power Up. Bring power accessories, AAA batteries that fit head torches, power packs for Go Pros so you can see your footage, Mophie chargers for iphones, even though you may be off the grid for part of the day, you are used to having power. In remote areas, if the sun isn’t shining then power is used to keep fridges on and drinks cold. If you are independent then you can still check your pics of the day and read that final chapter, even if the lights go out.
- Be culturally sensitive. In Tonga, it’s illegal to do anything on a Sunday except go to church. Our hosts provided Jonathan with a traditional male Ta’ovala and me a female Kiekie. Shoulders and knees had to be covered, so my long dress came in handy.
- Choose to take organic and chemical free sunscreen. There is no need to add a film to the water or damage coral. There are a lot of new products coming onto the market. Our favourites are xx and
- Paper books and not tablets with e-books. No power, no reading.
- Whale swim licences are issued to select tour operators under a very strict and controlled system in Tonga. At no time did we feel unsafe or that the whales were under threat from tourists. The interaction was respectful and carefully orchestrated by our guide who was in the water with us at all times. There is a time restriction of 1.5 hours with each mother and calf, after which they are left by themselves. While we are strong swimmers, one of our group was assisted by a floatation device and kept up easily in the water.
- Book a year in advance if you want to swim with the whales, the season is short and it books out quickly from the beginning of July till 15 October
10. We stayed at the Treasure Island Eco Resort in the Vavau Islands, the Kingdom of Tonga https://www.treasureislandtonga.com/
We flew to Fiji on Fiji Air, stayed overnight near the airport, (dined a the Yacht Club at port Denarau), and then onwards early the next morning for a 2 hour flight to Va’vau, followed by a 30 minute boat ride. All whale swims, diving, snorkelling was done from the Island. Other friends have stayed at the Sea Change Eco Retreat in the Ha’apai Island Group https://www.seachangetonga.com/ . If you are a keen photographer, Darren Jew, is a well known Australian nature photographer who does a fabulous job of combining whale swim trips with photography, check out his underwater options here https://darrenjew.com/