Humpbacks of Tonga, part IV

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Date: 4-13 September, 2004
Destination: Ha'apai, Tonga
Returning Passengers: John Sorenson, Phil Ditmanson & Donna Zimmerman, Gordon & Donna Ditmanson, Jack & Nancy Malo, Jeff Herzog

Jeff Herzog and the mighty hi-def video housing.   Carolyn Schlick listens to whalesong though the hydrophone.

Photo: Deborah Smrekar.

The 2004 Tonga whale season drew to a close with a show-stopping performance … actually more like a religious experience that only those lucky enough to have a 5-hour in-water whale encounter can fully comprehend. John Sorenson was happy with his decision to book back-to-back trips and NAI’A’s Rob and Cat couldn’t have picked a better time to make a NAI’A cameo and introduce Malia to her heirloom.

The trip kicked off with unbelievably great weather glassy seas, clear skies and warmish water further warmed first by a proud mother sharing her calf with us, and then by the aforementioned encounter to end all encounters. It all started in the traditional jump in, jump out, jump back in again” style, with up to six rowdy whales, and ended with three amazingly curious and friendly whoppers getting closer and lollygagging longer. Ultimately, it was mere inches that separated camera lenses and snorkellers from unfathomably large pectoral fins that would reach out as if to shake hands. Seriously cool.

If all good things must come to an end, then all great things must come to a screeching halt … and the great weather did just that. But, not even the 40kt gusts and drizzling rain were enough to deter chief bow rider” Carolyn Schlick and her supporters “Team Minnesota” from keeping an eagle eye out for more action, with their arsenal of Nik V’s and housed systems at the ready. The lookouts were rewarded with the season’s best pec-slapping display and some seriously close breaches – brilliantly captured by David Vik & Deborah Smrekar on video and stills respectively. Walter Navratil had a good giggle at Ingo Kurtze’s birthday celebrations”, Andrew Sigal continued his research into obscure international cuisine, and Bruce Foudree joined Josh in a mammoth island clean-up. But it was Jeff Herzog, on his second NAI’A mission, who managed the greatest feat: showing us all that too much luggage is not nearly enough…

The gang.

Show me your belly! Photo: Deborah Smrekar.   Ingo Kurtze is surprised to learn that it's his birthday.

A lionfish cozies up to a sea star. Photo: Andrew Sigal,


Thanks for a trip of a lifetime. The crew was first class, the diving and sites splendid, and the whales magnificent.
Bruce Foudree, Chicago IL

Thank you so much for trying to protect the whales and educate people about their great value alive! The crew is so genuinely friendly and helpful and work so well together. Things work out well for all sides with such great attitudes and teamwork. I’m sure NAI’A is very happy herself with her new mission since Rob acquired her. I’m so grateful to know people dedicated to opposing human’s dark side of pursuing animals to extinction. Take care and keep fighting.
Carolyn Schlick, Orlando FL

Thank you for providing the most amazing encounter of a lifetime! We loved the crew and the ship, top notch! You will always be remembered for your kind hospitality. We will most certainly return.
David Vik & Deborah Smrekar, Chicago IL

An excellent trip on an excellent liveaboard with an outstanding crew. We had some wonderful dives and unbelievable encounters with the whales of Tonga. Thank you for everything.
Walter Navratil, Austria
Ingo Kurtze, Germany

Our return to NAI’A has been wonderful. Great crew makes all the difference. Thanks for ordering some good weather and lazy whales for us to photograph – wow! We will definitely be back.
Phil Ditmanson & Donna Zimmerman, St. Paul MN

Thanks for a wonderful return trip on the NAI’A. As expected, a spectacular whale encounter, helpful and ever-ready crew, comfortable accommodation and superb cuisine. Josh and Liz are great hosts, and it was a special treat to have Rob, Cat and the buy-bee onboard. Thanks for everything.
Gordon & Donna Ditmanson, St. Paul MN


Juvenile many-spotted sweetlips. Photo: Deborah Smrekar.
Captain Johnathan and divemaster Richard teach Malia how to drive the boat.
Breach. Photo: Deborah Smrekar.
Nancy, Donna Z. and Donna D. - one half of Team Minnesota - enjoy the tropical sun.
Walter Navratil downs his kava.
Pink anemonefish. Photo: Deborah Smrekar.
Bruce Foudree takes in the view from the crow's nest.
"Thar she blows!" Nancy & Jack Malo.
Rob Barrel and Cat Holloway get Malia started in the family business.
David Vik gets some footage of the tropical scenery.
Phil Ditmanson goes for the wide-angle... those whales are BIG.
David Vik & Deborah Smrekar.
Andrew Sigal accepts a bowl of kava.