The whale kingdom

countryhorizons_tonga_sunset

Malo le’ le’…again. I promised I would return and I did. I fell in love with the contagious smiles and welcoming embrace of the Kingdom of Tonga last year and I do believe I left a piece of my heart drifting gently through the cerulean waters of this island paradise.

A few weeks back I journeyed again to connect and renew, if only for a short time.

The capital city Nukualofa maybe a bit more bustling, the western influences maybe slowly creeping into its veins but once you voyage to one of the outer islands the slow-paced bustle is left far far behind and you are vortexed into a postcard. The waters, every shade of blue, turquoise and aqua are as deep as forever. The sun warmed our winter weary bodies as we were resuscitated by the dashes of island breeze that fluttered in the air.

A small boat ferried us to our island escape on Kapa, just a stone throw from the main island of Vava’u, where our host welcomed us with a warmth we had grown to expect from this Kingdom. One cannot help but just relax and fall into an island way of living, the clocks are few, the technology connections to the outside world intermittent, the call of the ocean mesmerising.

As a new day was heralded with a postcard sunrise we packed way too many belongings for a day on the water to search for the regal majesties of the ocean – the humpback whales. I am an ‘in case packer’ – I packed a large backpack for the day, in case we got wet, in case we needed some food, in case we needed an extra battery, in case the boat broke down and we necountryhorizons_tonga_reefresort_sunriseeded to spend a night on the water, in case, in case, in case. And of course, used very little of it!

On the whale tour boat (Beluga Diving) we met travellers from the across the globe, all with a similar wish.

The Japanese ladies were kitted with the iPhone in water proof pouches hung around the neck. If you ever wondered if these work – they do! We dived, we snorkelled, we were in and out of the boat and the iPhone survived brilliantly.

The Intense Italian was so concentrated and really dominated the personality of the boat. He was equipped with large DLSR cameras – one he spent more time keeping dry and free of salt spray than actually using, the other enclosed in a mammoth water proof case that took several people to lift back into boat each time.

And an Australian couple from Brisbane, Simon and Allison. Seasoned travellers who dive and snorkel regularly off the coast of the Queensland. It was good to have kin folk close by, even if I did feel a novice as this was the only second time I had worn snorkel gear.

Day One was a tad windy and the waters choppy. The calming island zephyr had decided to whip up enough to make the whales head to deeper, calmer waters. We spotted a few, jumped in to observe underwater when possible but the main act hadn’t read the script.

As we farewelled our whale-seeking-friends at the end of day, our skins parched by the island sun and wind we wished them safe travels, never believing we would see them again.

Until we met the boat the next day.

To our surprise and delight we were teamed again with the Japanese ladies and our Brisbane couple, small world sometimes. And I arrived with less ‘in case’ luggage – it was me, my snorkel gear and sunscreen today. I have to admit it was liberating.

The Intense Italian had been replaced by a young French Wanderer, travelling the world post doctorate before settling into the hum drum of mature living. Yes, a small amount of envy and a great amount of admiration for solo travelling women such as she.

What a magical day.

Within a short time of leaving shore we came across a mother and her new babe. Our Tongan guide was first in the water, establishing a relationship with her in a language that seems to cross between them in silence. We are just visitors to this timeless world of the Tongan people and their whales.

In groups of four we slid softly into the water and as quietly as possible swam close the mother and baby. I felt a bond to the resplendent mother of the blue ocean as she moved slowly, buoyed by the natural currents of the water. Her baby exuded an energy that all young seem to have as it ducked and weaved, from side to side, top to under. I could not help but relate to a time when my babes were young and rarely sat quietly in my lap!

As other travellers busily clicked their cameras and jockeyed to a position to make that ‘like-worthy’ shot I was happy to just be. The desire to capture for perpetuity can take away from just taking in the experience that is unfolding in front of you. I left that for others.

The serendipity of the moment hypnotised me. A lump rose in my throat, my mask fogged with tears unchecked, a soft choir of an ocean song echoed in my ears as I was suspended in the water magnetised and connected to this mother of the ocean. As our eyes met amongst the sunbeams dancing through the water I hope she could hear me say she was doing a great job with her babe and safe journey back to the cooler waters of the world.

And then is was over. We left the new family in peace, reminding ourselves we are purely observers to the main act and our time of theatre was over.

Malo. Thank you. My heart still stays, I will return again.

 

Footnotes and travel tips:

We stayed at the Reef Resort. I highly recommend this as a place to stay. It only has 5 cabins so only a few other guests at any one time. The Japanese coral gardens on your doorstep are wonderful to discover with snorkelling. Host, Herwig is very very helpful and a wonderful host. Hannes and Julia are top chefs – the food was amazing and they are always smiling and offering to help in any way.

Herwig booked our whale swim tours for us through Beluga Diving. Biggest tip is to book these well in advance of your travels. I did not realise this and nearly missed out! Book at least two days, preferable three. Cost is about 400TOP (= ~ 235 $AUS) per person per day.

We travelled to VaVau’ via Nukualofa but have since learnt that VaVau’ is an international airport and you can travel via Fiji. The flight times are a bit more reasonable via Fiji.

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