SWIMMING with GIANTS
Join the Australian Geographic Society on an expedition to the South Pacific for one of the world’s best whale encounters.
TO LOOK A HUMPBACK in the eye and have it look back at you is like no other wildlife experience I’ve known. It’s intensely stirring and sets your heart f luttering as the enormity of the encounter sends adrenaline surging through your bloodstream. You feel paralysed and vulnerable – time seems somehow to stand still. But you cannot and will not look away. You’re transf ixed. And, as soon as the direct connection ends, a deep sense of calm washes over you and remains with you long after you return to the land.
I f irst had this remarkable experience in 2014 on a Whales Underwater expedition. It had a profound effect on me. I felt truly relaxed for the first time in years, freed from the worry of life’s myriad problems. Work, deadlines, bills and the daily grind all left my mind as a huge female humpback slipped silently through the water just metres away from me and we stared at each other, seemingly sharing an intellectual connection.
That initial encounter, in the Kingdom of Tonga, changed my life. I’m a trained rescue diver, experienced underwater photographer and exercise physiologist and I have since returned to Tonga to join the Whales Underwater expert team of skippers and guides to enable others to share the unique experience of swimming with whales. In 2018 we will partner with the Australian Geographic Society to offer a special whale trip to a small number of AG readers.
WHAT CAN YOU expect from this AG Society whale expedition to Tonga? Well, you’ll feel utterly insignificant when you swim beside a humpback. Much of that does, of course, stem from the fact that you will feel minute next to one of these massive creatures that can be up to 15m in length and weigh up to 30 tonnes. And you’ll certainly sense that it could send you spiralling through the water with a f lick of its pectoral f in. But you know it won’t because it’s aware that you’re no threat, conf ident as it is in its own size and knowledge of its habitat.
Whales Underwater has been hosting responsible swimming encounters with marine mammals for more than a decade. And, as I and the rest of the team have come to appreciate, these creatures will not only tolerate you at close quarters but will also respond to your presence in a remarkably sensitive and intelligent way. You will probably undergo, like I did, an immediate and positive change that will stay with you for a long time.
Whales Underwater’s carefully selected locations for humpback encounters are the calving and mating grounds off Tonga’s remote Vava’u islands. This tropical paradise comprises low sandy cays and high limestone cliffs, colourful reefs, white sandy beaches, sapphire blue ocean and a multitude of opportunities to swim with humpbacks.
The Vava’u whale season runs from July to late October and each day on the water will be different. The Whales Underwater team will seek out particular humpback behaviours, so you’ll be able to observe, f irst hand, the variety of personalities among these magnif icent creatures.
Cows arrive to give birth early in the season, so you’ll be able to witness the intimacy of a mother’s love for her newborn calf. You may also see sleepy adults on the sandy ocean f loor, enjoy playful juveniles interacting with you or other marine
mammals such as dolphins or hear the song of males suspended in mid-water. To feel a male humpback’s song resonate through your body is an unforgettable experience, and here in Vava’u the male humpbacks sing powerfully. To watch one of these marine giants f loat just beneath the ocean’s surface and sing only a few metres in front of you is truly awe-inspiring.
Your days in paradise will be spent safely above and below water guided by a hand-picked team of the world’s best skippers and guides. We’ll ensure you’re positioned with whales in optimal locations for what’s likely to be the greatest experience of your life. Snorkelling with humpbacks is a privilege, and the team will ensure your personal safety while maintaining respect for these glorious creatures by adhering to Tongan government regulations for whale swims.
EACH DAY, after whale encounters, lunch will be served either onboard or at picnics on secluded beaches. You can swim around a coral reef on these breaks. Afternoons include specialist photography workshops and visits to villages and towns. The time will be yours to re-energise and absorb the mornings’ intimate whale encounters. Sunday is Tonga’s off icial rest day when only essential services are open. A popular activity is visiting local churches to hear beautiful Tongan harmonies. But, for most Tongans, Sundays are about relaxing. So we’re never surprised when our expedition guests choose exactly that after the adrenaline-charged experience of swimming with whales during the rest of the week.
You’ll be able to observe, f irsthand, the variety of personalities among these magnificent creatures.
Swimming with humpback whales in Tonga is an allencompassing sensory experience where you’ll not only see these creatures just metres away in the water, but you’ll also hear their songs, which are believed to be the mating calls of males.
You could witness a humpback ‘heat run’ in Tonga – when males battle for the right to accompany a female.