When we first chat to our guests onboard in Tonga, we explain to them that whale watching/swimming is not for the faint hearted: it’s hard work and requires huge amounts of patience and perseverance. This first trip of 2019 was testament to that: these folks worked HARD for their rewards! However, we also explain that it WILL pay off. And that it’s all about ‘magic moments’: the first time you catch even a glimpse of these incredible creatures and the heart starts pounding, the first time you see a breach up close and sense their raw power, the first time you truly lock eyes underwater with one… THOSE are the moments you will remember forever!
For the first part of this trip, our poor guests felt a little ‘doomed’: the weather was massively against us – with huge winds and crashing waves day after day – making our ambition of getting in the water with our dear ‘humpies’ near on impossible. We tried and tried but had limited success. It also seemed like the whales were displaying very strange behavior. Almost without exception, every single one was spending minimal time at the surface before diving DEEP and disappearing for 20+ minutes at a time, making it very hard to get in-water action with them. We could only hypothesize why this might be: was the rubbish weather and inherent rough surface conditions as uncomfortable for them as it was for us?!
Photo credits (clockwise from top left): Carolyn, Carolyn, Carolyn, Cindy
Everyone stayed fantastically upbeat – thank you!! - and we made sure to keep busy. While we waited for the weather to turn in our favor (surely it must, eventually?!) we kept ourselves amused with several good scuba dives. We encountered several cool creatures – including an eagle ray, a grey reef shark and a very friendly turtle – but the highlight was probably being able to hear the whales singing down there! It’s enchanting to just hang still, close your eyes and listen to their melodies. We also had great luck on our night dives, finding several octopus, two robust ghost pipefish (very unusual in Tonga!) and a cute little nudibranch riding on the back of a hermit crab!
Photo credits (clockwise from top left): Rayhannah, Toni, Toni, Toni
Slowly but surely our luck began to change, beginning with a slight improvement in the weather and a marked increase in surface activity. We began to encounter several more whales seemingly feeling inquisitive towards NAI’A and coming right on up to her: swimming around and under and around and under…. Fabulous! We were also lucky enough to witness the beginnings of a bull run; where multiple males come together and fight it out to ‘get the girl’. We had 6-7 individuals at one point, thrashing around in the water and grunting with the exertion.
Photo credits (clockwise from top left): Toni, Toni, Cindy, Cindy
Eventually, the weather did a complete one eighty – from utterly nasty to blazing sun and glass calm seas – and, after much patience, we finally began to find chances to get in the water with our dear humpbacks. Our very first encounter was super peaceful, observing a resting adult who was hanging upside down in the water column. Our following encounters were faster ‘fly-bys’: a little less peaceful but much more ‘up close and personal’ and allowing us to get really good views of the whole whale and all the detail that makes up such a massive creature. We were also lucky enough to encounter a couple that were a little more inquisitive and passed by nice and slowly, quite clearly checking us out as much as we were checking them out! Several of our guests had that heartwarming eye to eye connection we’re always hoping for.
Photo credits (clockwise from top left): Jia, Jia, Jia, Jia, Yves
Rather exceptionally, we saw pods of dolphins day after day, playing alongside NAI’A but also swimming with the whales. It seemed the dolphins were keen to play: the whales not so much! We couldn’t believe our luck when on at least two occasions we actually managed to see humpbacks and dolphins together during our in-water sessions: cetacean overload!!
Photo credits (all photos): Carolyn
On the very last day we had two most fortunate experiences. First up, we came across whale song so loud we could hear it clearly from the surface on the skiff. And once we got into the water we could even FEEL it, vibrating through our bodies. That is something special indeed, a rare occurrence. And then, at the final hour, just as we thought about calling it quits and heading for anchorage we were treated to a spectacular show from a ‘serial breacher’. This energetic individual must have launched itself out of the water at least 20 times over, including a couple of times VERY close to NAI’A! It made for quite the finale.
We were delighted to overhear one of our guests on the final day as she declared ‘My heart is now full’. Wonderful! What a way to end a challenging but oh so rewarding trip.
"We thank you for welcoming us as a family, introducing us to your beautiful hospitality, music, sense of humor and love & passion for not only your amazing whales, but of the love for the sea... You have touched our souls in so many wonderful ways!" Cindy
"What an amazing trip! Great company, great food, great crew..." Carolyn & Michael
"We appreciate each of you like family! Such a wonderful experience to be with you!" John & Clara
“Thank you to everyone on NAI’A who makes NAI’A what it is – an exceptional operation and a gateway to underwater wonders. What a fantastic crew! Thanks for an incredible life experience!”