Swimming with Whales in Tonga – Take two
Our trip to Tonga in 2016 put us in a serious post vacation funk. We were keen to go back, but organised tours are expensive, the dates aren’t flexible, and we’ve learned that the LAST thing we want is to be in the water with a bunch of other photographers. It is a remote part of the world, so a bit of research was required as the guide, skipper, and boat make all the difference. Through word of mouth, we found Blue Lagoon Resort.
As mentioned last year, getting to Vava’u is challenging. Most people (myself included) can’t even find Tonga on a map. In case you are wondering…
This year we planned our dates around flights, so getting there was much easier. We had an overnight flight from Melbourne to Fiji, and then a 2-hour flight to Vava’u. We were supposed to have a longish layover in Fiji, but when we landed the airline had moved us to an earlier flight so we arrived in Vava’u before 11am.
A word of caution… read the customs form carefully. There’s a sneaky question that asks if you are carrying any personal items valued at more than TOP500 (which is about AUD 300). I mistakenly didn’t tick the “yes” box and being the last people through customs, we were pulled out of line. It seemed a little bit like a shakedown – I mean they can’t tax people to bring a camera on vacation ! We ended up just scratching over the incorrect answer on the form and heading on our way.
Maata was there to greet us and drove us to town (Neiafu). The boat to transfer us to the resort wasn’t until 4pm, so we spent the day in town (bought some shirts at Tropical Tease, had lunch at Mango Cafe, and used the internet at Cafe Tropicana).
Blue Lagoon Resort
Blue Lagoon Resort is on Foiata Island, about an hour boat ride from Neiafu.
The charmingly rustic resort is the only thing on the island and consists of four fales (bungalows) which accommodate a maximum of ten people. The resort is owned and run by a lovely family who make you feel like you are visiting dear friends. The food was amazing, healthy, and there was plenty of it. You can dine on your own, or combine tables with other guests. Our fale was “Moby Dick” – perched on stilts above the crystal clear water, and featuring a double bed, sitting area, ensuite bathroom, and deck with several padded lounge chairs.
With the exception of Sunday, the daily routine was basically:
- Go down to the restaurant around 7:30 and use the internet for a bit before breakfast
- Have breakfast (toast and tea given my proclivity for sea sickness) around 8
- Depart the dock at 9am
- Look for whales.
- Return to Blue Lagoon around 3 or 4pm
- Process photos, recharge batteries (both literally and figuratively)
- Dinner at 7pm
- Asleep by 8:30 most nights
Swimming with Whales
The whale swim season runs from late July through October. Last year we went in mid-late August and had six days on the water. We had one very rough day, decent visibility, and I remember being cold most of the time. This year we went in late September and had five days on the water, with one very rough day, average visibility, and plenty of sun. It’s all a bit of luck to have the weather, whales, and sea conditions align. We did have some fabulous encounters, including heat runs, mums and calfs, and singers (the feeling of the song reverberating through your body is other-worldly).
And here’s some video that communicates the experience of swimming with whales (Be sure to turn up your volume !)
A breach from the water
Yes, we’re already booked in for next year.