One day we had a great time on a whale watching tour. We set off at 0815 in Vei’s taxi for the 21 Km and 45 minute drive to Nuku’alofa, the capital of Tonga. In New Zealand that would take maybe 20 minutes or so, but things are a bit different in Tonga.
For one thing, there’s a strict speed limit of 65 Kph. For another, you can’t drive straight down any road, but need to carefully weave between and over the numerous potholes, avoid people walking beside the road, and the sundry dogs, cows and pigs that may be lying on the road or wandering across at any given moment.
We eventually reached the Harbour where I, at least, was surprised by our whale watching boat. I’d imagined something where we’d roam around between cabin and deck, but in fact our boat, the Angelo Tahi, was a small 6 seater — two padded benches along the sides, a canopy to shade us from the sun, and a small covered storage area in the front.
Three crew joined the 5 passengers: Paul drove the boat, Tom swam with the group when we found whales, and another chap whose name I’ve forgotten was a general spotter and dogsbody.
After crossing to the other side of the marina to take on fuel and lunch, we set off to the open waters north of Tongatapu at around 0930.
About half an hour later we spotted our first whale, the first of many for the day. Paul explained the various laws about how close we could get, in a boat and if swimming, and told those who would swim with the whales that they had to enter the water silently — no splashes or jumping.
I’m not one for swimming and stayed in the boat for the whole trip taking photos, as did my partner, Deb. One of the party, Jono, a Kiwi from Auckland, was an experienced diver and surfer who had no trouble slipping into the water.
The other 2 passengers were Kiwis who were clearly less experienced. Several times as they entered the water they splashed and made a noise that was enough to startle the whale we were near. Then everyone would get back in the boat and either wait for the whale to approach again or we’d head off looking for another whale.
The photo above shows Tom and 2 whales, mother and calf, with an island in the distance. The zoom lens was at 33 mm, and I’ve cropped and adjusted the photo.
Lunch on a desert island
After much dalliance with quite a few whales we stopped for lunch on Malinoa Island. We hopped out of the boat and waded a metre or two to shore. This tiny island took me maybe 5 or 10 minutes to walk around. It was covered with white sand and surrounded by clear water. In the middle were coconut palms and other vegetation.
Tom headed into the midst of the trees and returned with coconuts that he split open for us to drink the milk and eat the flesh. He also distributed bottles of water and sandwiches. After lunch on the beach there was time for a bit of snorkelling or just hanging out.
Deep water whales and singing
After lunch we headed out into deeper water. It took longer this time to find whales, but they were there.
At one point Paul killed the engine and we listened to a whale singing. Those who swam said they could hear the song even better underwater.
By 4.30 pm we were back at the harbour and ready for our ride back to the Resort. It was a great day out on the boat, and we saw a lot of whales — some quite close up, others further away, and some in the distance breaching.
One specially interesting thing I learned: whales dive very quietly and smoothly considering they’re such huge animals, and they leave behind flat ‘circles’ on the ocean. These footprints show where the whale was, but the whales also move very quickly, so the footprints don’t really give any clues about where the whale may be now.
I have some other photos I’d like to include. Please check the next page of this post to see them.