(Born To Be) WILD Earth Expeditions
Oh my goodness, we’re over half way through our Tonga 2017 season and it just seems to get better and better….we never want to leave! We’ve just returned from the most incredible 9 days with a stellar group of guests: an eclectic bunch of 16 Wild Earth Adventurers all led by their fearless expedition leader, Natalia, and outstanding marine biologist, Robin. What an exceptional group of people! All ages, all backgrounds, varied nationalities, but with one important thing in common…..a passion for ADVENTURE! And, boy, did the humpback whales provide them with it…
Photo Credit: Cathy
We spent the first day of our trip over on the west of the Ha’apai group, around the island of Haafeva. And right from the get-go, Momma Ocean spoilt us, treating our guests to a perfect mother-calf encounter. She was an individual we’d met previously – easily identified by a deep chunk missing from her tail, most likely from an orca attack – and seemed more than happy to see us again. She spent near on the whole day just relaxing in the shallow bay, hanging still while baby played around, making life super easy for our whale watchers: little did they know that it’s not always so easy! It was such a pleasure for us to see the genuine excitement, emotion and simple pleasure in all of our guests: they so instinctively understood the magic of what they were experiencing.
Photo Credits (Upper Left Clockwise): Eoghan, Cathy, Cathy, Cathy
The success continued straight on into our second day where we hung out in the area we nickname ‘The Playground’. Why? Coz all the rowdy guys like to hang out there and have a bit of a rough and tumble! And it makes for a SPECTACULAR show from our bow and top deck! All our guests enjoyed an amazing display of pec slaps, tail throws and breaches, cheering and whooping with each and every one! We LOVE seeing people get so into it!! In just the first two days we’d been wowed with both surface and in-water activity, the best of both worlds. What could possibly come next?!
Photo Credit: Natalia
Well, well, well! It just gets BETTER. We began our third day cruising up the chain of islands to the east of Ha’apai, towards Pangai. After a period of relative inactivity, we decided to settle into the salon for a shark presentation from Eoghan. Well, no sooner had the poor guy begun than the boat ground to a halt….a sure sign the crew have spotted something worth looking at. We started off politely checking out the window whilst still listening as best we could to Eoghan….but soon we bolted from the salon and out onto the deck as we realized we had a SAIL TAIL in our presence!!! We LOVE a good sail tail: a huge whale hanging upside down in the water with her tail sticking out for HOURS!! No one would believe us when we said she was going to stay like that long enough for them to get into their wetsuits: but stay she did and kept us highly amused all afternoon! And her little baby waiting for her to wake up was just adorable, so desperate to play and loving the attention. That evening we celebrated our success with a lovely trip to land at Sandy Beach Resort, with sunset cocktails enjoyed by all.
The following day brought further surprises as we went for a relaxing morning drift snorkel…..right over a leopard shark, a first for many of our group! Over lunch we were joined right by the boat by 2-3 sub adults…we couldn’t say no to that and jumped right on in. What a show! They were playful and active, staying with us for a good hour or so: hanging upside down, rolling and showing off their tummies, throwing their pecs around and tracking us with their tiny little eyeballs. We all left feeling like we’d really engaged with humpbacks, not just observed them. The mood was high that evening as we headed to the beach for a bonfire kava party. And it got even higher when we headed back to the boat and had an impromptu Abba party in the salon! That’s when we realized where the WILD part in the tour group name comes from….
Photo Credit: Cathy
The following couple of days were spent around the islands of Uoleva, Uonukuhahaki and Uiha, where we had some really great experiences. From the big boat we all got very excited as 6-8 huge males criss-crossed right in front of us, even directly under us, making us all take part in an endlessly entertaining guessing game of where they might pop up next, as we frantically scrambled from one side of the boat to the next! Whilst they weren’t full on fighting they were certainly starting to get a bit aggressive, with impressive threat displays of tail slashes and partial breaches, and the loud grunts hinted at their physical effort. We also later had a giggle when, on a particularly windy afternoon, we spotted a huge humpback constantly lifting his nose out the water and picking up speed: we soon realized he was body surfing over the waves! Meanwhile, in the water, snorkeling with the whales from the skiff, we were very pleased to encounter ‘White Wings’, a gorgeous female with her little calf: she has all white pectoral fins which is very unusual with the sub-population here in Tonga.
Photo Credits (Center, Upper Left Clockwise): Robin, Robin, Cathy, Robin, Robin
For our final days, we went back to where it all began; the gorgeous waters around Haafeva. The first day was a little windy but that didn’t stop us from getting out on the skiffs and pursuing our friends, the whales. They seemed to be in a teasing mood, however, as they consistently showed themselves on the surface then disappeared the second we entered the water! It truly seemed that they were holding their front line until just the last second, waiting for the funny humans to flop into the water, before gracefully ducking off where we couldn’t follow. It’s an odd feeling to be mocked by a whale! Our dear guests took it all in good humor though, and Momma Ocean rewarded them tenfold on our final day, giving us phenomenal encounters to finish up the charter. In the morning Wee Jimmy D stole the show, and our hearts! He was a gorgeous young calf (we assume male purely from his antics!) who LOVED having people to play with as momma rested below. He would come careering out of the blue below and then circle around and around us all, throwing his tail around, rolling tummy up and generally being a bit goofy! And in the afternoon we had a great surface finale, with a repetitive breacher and belly roller giving us some big pec waves goodbye.
Photo Credit: Natalia
And so an incredible charter comes to an end. It has been a true pleasure to share it with all you Wild Earth Adventurers: you are an exceptional group of people and are so fortunate to share such trips together. We feel super lucky to have been a part of this one with you! Thank you all.
“Thank you for the wonderful hospitality and an awesome trip…..A lifetime experience.” Ardynn
“Thank you for an awe inspiring trip. We were thoroughly looked and no effort was spared to ensure the most awesome whale encounters. The best crew ever!” Cathy & David
“Never had such a great relationship with a set of staff. Fantastic experiences from start ot finish. Best trip ever!” Eoghan
Back Flip by Eoghan
Momma Time by Robin
Peduncle Throw In Action by Eoghan
Rising From The Depths by Robin
Stop! I Think I Found A Whale by Robin
Getting Rowdy by Cathy
Surface Training by Robin
Upside Down and Inside Out by Steve
Dreamy Duo by Cathy
That Whale's As Big As A Boat by Robin
Wheeeeeee! by Robin
All Tucked In by Steve
“Fiji is a hot spot of biodiversity. We’re here for the rich colorful soft coral reefs as well as the unusual stuff - the strange little creatures and endemic fishes.”
~ Dr. Tim Laman, biologist and National Geographic Photojournalist