Well here we are with another adventure under our belts, and man what an adventure it was!!
We took Air New Zealand out of Vancouver, straight flight, 14 hours, into Auckland.
And just a shout out about Air New Zealand. It was one of the best airlines I have flown. The business class section had amazing food, drink and cabin crew. The beds lay totally flat, and they make your beds for you. Great comfy beds, pillows, etc. If you have a chance to fly it, do it, I highly recommend it. Even the economy cabin looked comfortable enough to manage for a long flight.
We then took a short flight also on Air New Zealand to The Kingdom of Tonga. Tonga is near Fiji. It has over 170 islands. It is the only Kingdom in the South Pacific. We stayed in a hotel there before catching our Dive Boat Nai’a. The boat picked us up at the hotel at 2:00 pm the next day. Another site for Nai’a, to help you understand how this adventure works.
This boat was amazing, one of the best of the dozen or so liveaboard’s, sail, yachts, etc. that I have been on. It had a great crew, the rooms were spacious and really nice. The showers big enough to move around in, plenty of room for your things in the room. The beds were pretty comfortable, nice pillows, good lighting, plugs, places to hang your clothes, shelving, drawers, etc. Even a place for a large suitcase if you need to bring one.
AC in the rooms which works really well.
Three great meals a day, plus plenty of snacks, drinks, coffee, wine, booze (extra price) water, ice, fruit. (but if you want salty you might have to bring your own chips or crackers, there were not any on the boat. Mostly just sweets, carbs, etc.)
There is a huge dive deck, with room for 16 divers. This was not necessarily a dive trip, as we were really there to see the Humpbacks, but they did have dives every afternoon and the divers said they saw some really great stuff most days.
Humpback Whale, Kingdom of Tonga, 2015
The whales come to this spot in Tonga to give birth, it’s a nice protected, quiet area and they are plentiful. There are only two places in the world you can swim with these whales, and Tonga is one of them. You cannot dive with them, but you can snorkel with them. The laws are pretty strict these days, so as to protect the whales and make sure they are always comfortable an in peace.
Here is how it works: The boat moves everyday to spots they think the whales are, and we usually spot them off the bow of the boat every day. Then if the whales seem to like staying in that spot, we say, “let’s go swimming” and we put on our wet suits, grab our cameras and snorkel gear, and on the skiffs we go.
The skiff drivers are very skilled at spotting the whales and keeping us in a spot where we can get in the water with them. Once we spot them, we put on our masks and grab our cameras and slide off the sides of the skiff like a seal, slippery and into the water. We stay together as a group and slowly swim over the whales or near the whales. No need to be fast or quick or kick madly, the whales need quiet and slow movements. They are very large, peaceful animals.
It can be a bit scary and or daunting the first time you are close to them or they come at you. You have to really be calm and follow the instructions of your leader.
This is one of the most magical things I have ever experienced. It was very emotional for both my husband and I. Its very hard to explain.
Take a camera, and or a GoPro or a water camera of some sort. Just remember that sometimes the water will be very choppy and it will be hard to not only see the whales, but even hard to take a photo of them, even though they are very large creatures. And the visibility is not always perfect. Sometimes it will be hard to see anything.
*NOTE : make sure your camera, big or small, is clipped to you, strapped to you in some way. Perhaps a float and wrist strap. Getting in and out of the skiff and the choppy ocean can easily take that camera away, and then, bye bye, no more whale shots.
Sometimes there will be that one person in the group that tries to ruin the shots for everyone. Trying to be the first one out of the boat, swimming ahead, kicking wildly. It’s not necessary to be “that person”. Take your time and remember there are plenty of you on this trip, who have all paid the same price to see the whales. No one person is more important than the other.
And remember these are huge creatures and if they feel threatened, they will let you know.
The water is a bit chilly (around 72 degrees) and the wind on the skiffs can make you pretty cold. I recommend 5mm wetsuits or 7mm or Lava core or Shark Skin. (of course if you are an experienced diver you will most likely know what you need in that temperature water) The wind can get pretty cold especially when you are wet and since you are snorkeling you are on top of the water, which, if its sunny is fine, but not everyday is sunny.
We didn’t have the best weather, the waters were very choppy and the wind was merciless. There were days where we didn’t get in the water at all because it simply was not safe to get on and off the skiffs or from the boat to the skiffs.
If you are not an experienced snorkeler this might also be difficult at first, especially if the waters are choppy. You have to just hang at the top and stay with the group. Don’t try to swim it, don’t try and kick too much, the choppy waters might make you anxious but the leaders are pretty good at keeping the group together and safe.
*NOTE: I highly recommend light snorkel fins instead of your heavy wetsuit/dry suit fins. It will def. make the experience easier.
Getting back on the skiff can be tricky. You have to pull yourself out of the water and launch yourself back into the skiff. If you have bad shoulders, or are perhaps a bit overweight, or don’t have much athletic ability, this exercise could be difficult for you.
*NOTE: when you pack, whether you have been on a liveaboard of not, here are some recommendations. Two or three bathing suits, as you will likely get in and out of the water a few times during the day. Wet suits, 7mm, 5mm, LavaCore, Shark Skin, or something of your liking. But the water is cold so be sure not to underestimate that. Lounge wear, skirts, shorts, pants, sarongs, and of course, a sweatshirt or jacket of some kind, as the wind is very cold on deck. A light rain jacket just in case. We did have many days of rain. You are allowed to wear shoes on this boat so flip-flops, or tennis shoes are fine if you want them. Sunscreen, hat, kindle, and or books, music, etc. There may be days when you are on the boat all day and never see a whale or never get into the water, so you will not want to be bored.