There are around 2300 members in the Tongan ‘tribe’ of humpback whales that migrate to the warm, Pacific islands every year to birth, nurse, feed and mate. On our trip back south from Vava’u to the Ha’apai’s we met with scores of the tribe as they slowly moved north. Look left; whale. Look right; whales! On the horizon; whales breaching. Portside; whale’s spouting. To starboard; flapping fin and tail slapping. Over there; a pod! Right next to and under Tika; OMG!!! WHALE!!!
Above; we launched the drone a few times. This picture was captured about 50m off Tika mid-passage.
Also mid-passage, Russ slipped into the water for a paddle and a snorkel. I was bursting to join him but decided it wasn’t a good idea to have both adults jump ship leaving two kids in charge of driving the boat (and picking us up!) in the middle of the ocean…..
The humpback’s journey is the worlds largest and longest annual migration and the Tongan tribe swim 6000km from Antarctica, along the coast of New Zealand and north to reach their South Pacific, winter playground. We had some very close encounters. They were curious and almost seemed to be sizing up Tika’s hulls as a potential mate! Getting into close proximity with these majestic mammals is something we will not forget easily…simply breathtaking.
Just in case you get tired of looking at pictures of whales I have included some images of coral and, (top right) a beautiful zebra shark that we swam with just off the Matafonua Resort; a cool, family and yachtie-friendly place that sits on the tip of Faleloa Fou island….
Above left; the crown of thorn starfish feast on healthy hard or stony coral polyps and leave them bleached white and vulnerable to weather damage and climate change. Thankfully, I haven’t seen many of them in Tonga and if I had have been wearing a pair of gloves (the thorn like spines are venomous) I would have attempted to rip this monster off the reef and leave it high and dry on the beach to shrivel in the sun…
I really enjoy snorkelling and am often the last one out of the water (this may also, of course, have something to do with being the only member of the family with any extra ‘layers’ for warmth!) I have been getting into taking pictures with the go pro and playing with a red filter and a macro lens. It’s made me want to go shopping for a hideously expensive underwater camera and learn how to use it! Any encouraging comments about my pictures welcome! Hints and tips from people that know photography also appreciated
Top left; the spouting is surprisingly loud! When whales surfaced close to Tika, the sound of moist, warm air being expelled from blowholes upon massive backs was deep and sonorous. Some spouts could be seen from many miles away- a misty vapour extending high above the waterline and then slowly fading downwards.
Above right and below; I guess I look at these underwater landscapes through the eyes of an artist and love the diverse textures, shapes, geometric patterns, colour palate and exquisite intricacy of the coral. The closer I get and the longer I hang out, the more a door to a hidden world is revealed…..there is so much life on the reef!
Below; the very distinct shape of a humpback….
I am loving the alien looking seascapes with the glossy, shimmering flow of the water surface and the sunlight beyond…
Above; we shared the anchorage and sundowners with S.V Starry Horizons and SV Whistler. Photo credit S.V Starry Horizons.
Above left; I love this shot of Jaiya, who, mid ocean, decided she wanted to swim with whales- absolutely determined with no fear!
Above; whale! at one point we had to reverse because they popped up right in front of Tika’s bows and we were concerned about hitting one. They were frolicking and pushing water around and didn’t even seem to notice us.
Below right; We all got some windsurfing in the Ha’apai’s but Kai was always the first out and the last back in. He is starting to look like a mini pro!
Above and below; we were told about the resident leopard sharks in the Matafonua channel and we swam with them 3 days in a row! Although the markings did indeed look like leopard spots, the sharks body shape and tail didn’t look quite the same as the animal in my shark identification book. It was Kai who matched up the picture of a zebra shark with the animals we had been hanging out with- a perfect match. A small amount of googling later and Kai also solved the mystery of the name; it seems that the juvenile zebra shark has black and white stripes. So, a zebra shark loses it’s stripes and grows leopard spots! Their big, thresher tails were oh so graceful and 5 distinct ridges running along their bodies give them a floating, gliding space-ship quality…
The zebra shark is endangered. They grow up to 2.5m long and they tend to hang out on the seabed. I could swim with these babies all day. I love the way they move!
Female humpbacks are much bigger than the males (up to 2m longer) and their size was quite daunting when they surfaced not far from Tika’s hulls. We witnessed pods of whales cause tumultuous masses of churning water and, when they dived, large, burnished slicks on the ocean surface that hovered long after the whale’s tail had flipped and the massive body disappeared. The amount of water these mammals push around is mind-blowing and to watch their displays at such close quarters was wondrous.
Russ and I left the kids on the boat and snuck in to the Ha’apai Beach Resort for the closest thing we’ve had to a child-free date for a good couple of years… We have lived on a 55 foot floating home for 2 years now and it is very rare that we are further than 55 feet from our kids at any one time! We savored our coconut waters…
Below left; Provisioning at the markets- we found an abundance of produce not usually seen in the Ha’apais! Watermelon, carrots, papaya, cabbage and bananas.Yay!
Love this one above of Russ just about to slide into the water and say hi to a humpback
Above; at first I thought this soft coral was an old pair of yachtie’s underpants that had blown overboard and got stuck on the reef- it looked so much like fabric! But it turns out to be the egg ribbon of a ‘Spanish Dancer’ nudibranch (a sea slug) Apparently, the eggs have a high concentration of toxins to protect them before they hatch. I never imagined that a mollusk could produce something so beautiful- like the undulating whirl of a Flamenco dancer’s red skirt…
Above; we anchored off the sand spit just off Uonukuhihifo island. Whale watching was a daily activity in this anchorage and a couple of times they could be seen inside the protective reefs in shallow water very close to Tika. The kids and I were snorkelling on the reef and got very close to a mother and calf although she disappeared not long after we realised she was there. A beautiful anchorage and beach! On our last night we had our final beach fire in the Ha’apais; a place that has touched our hearts and quickly soared to one of our favourite places on our trip so far- on par with the Tuamotus!
Above; soft, spongy, mushroom leather coral…
Above; one of my favourite pictures of a whale- gives an idea of the powerful but playful nature of humpbacks…
Coraline algae adds a flash of gaudy colour to the kaleidoscope of reef.
This little yellow fluff ball is actually a ‘Christmas tree’ marine worm. Two spruce-like crowns protrude from the worms body and hair like appendages radiate from the worms body and gently waft and wave around with the current. The worm anchors itself in a burrow bored into the live coral. If you get too close they pull their crowns back and hide deep inside their host.
Below; gives you an idea how close these guys are to Tika- they were circling us! They are not bubbles you can see but the underside of a whale.
Sunrise with the moon…we are anchored inside the north west side of a lagoon looking at Meama Island.
We saw whales on our passage to the Ha’apai’s from Va’vau. We saw whales on a daily basis in the Ha’apais. We heard the mournful whale-song of the male humpback as we snorkelled and, several times, we had to alter course to avoid lolling whales. Some of these pictures are taken in the waters between Tonga and Fiji, where…we…saw…more….whales…
Below; Tika with a clear view of Kao; an extinct volcano with a 1000m elevation.
Above; sunsets in the tropics have a certain energy about them….Tofua and Kao on the horizon
Above; diving right next to Tika- so close!
Above; heading west from the Ha’apais at dawn; Fiji bound!
Next post; Tonga the movie…