TONGA

Go Travel The Pacific - - Contents - By Tracey Jones

Ly­ing in a shaded ham­mock at Ha’apai Beach Resort, with a gen­tle breeze on my face and the sound of the waves lap­ping the sand only me­tres away, I can see where hun­dreds of years ago; Cap­tain Cook dropped an­chor, the Bri­tish pri­va­teer ves­sel Port Au Prince was sacked by Ton­gan war­rior, her bounty of gold lost to the sea and out on the hori­zon the ac­tive vol­cano is­land of To­fua

where Cap­tain Bligh was set ashore dur­ing the mutiny on the Bounty.

From my sway­ing perch amongst the trees it’s hard to imag­ine a 280km/ h cy­clone had rav­aged this small is­land com­mu­nity in Jan­uary of 2014.

The King­dom of Tonga is a mag­i­cal 176- is­land ar­chi­pel­ago of pris­tine water­ways and se­cluded is­land getaways. The main three Is­land groups are Ton­gat­apu in the south, Vavau in the north and Ha’apai in the mid­dle. I chose to spend my time in the lesser­pop­u­lated group of Ha’apai to get away from it all only to find more than I ever thought pos­si­ble.

From mid July to the end of Oc­to­ber each year hump­back whales ( Me­gaptera no­vaean­gliae) come to birth, breed and so­cial­ize in th­ese pro­tected, warmer wa­ters. Whale watch­ing trips de­part daily, weather per­mit­ting but un­like the usual whale tour, Tonga is one of the few places in the world where you can slip qui­etly into the wa­ter with a pro­fes­sion­ally cer­ti­fied guide to view th­ese gen­tle gi­ants in their realm.

The guides gen­uinely care for the whales and your ex­pe­ri­ence with

them. th Af­ter a de­tailed briefing about safety, s what to ex­pect and how to be­have b around the whales we left Pan­gai P har­bour to be­gin our search for fo blows, breaches, tail slaps and other o ac­ro­batic be­hav­ior. To­day our o search was short and two adult whales w cir­cled the now sta­tion­ary boat b seem­ing to urge us into the wa­ter. Ap­pre­hen­sive at first with my less than av­er­age con­fi­dence in the wa­ter, Iker our guide took me by his side as I lay with mask and snorkel in the wa­ter mar­veling at what had ear­lier been but a dream. The whales ap­proached our small group, turn­ing to cu­ri­ously make eye con­tact with each and ev­ery one of us as

they glided by, barely mov­ing their pow­er­ful tails. We were left star­ing through the crys­tal clear wa­ter with shards of light dis­ap­pear­ing into the depths be­low us. The com­fort­able wet­suit pro­vided the per­fect amount of buoy­ancy to keep me afloat with­out the need to kick or wave my arms around and I could feel my con­fi­dence grow.

The spe­cial thing about Ha’apai is the limited num­ber of whale op­er­a­tors and the abun­dance of whales. We barely saw an­other boat ex­cept on the hori­zon dur­ing the whole day.

In the af­ter­noon we swam with a re­laxed 15me­tre mother with her cu­ri­ous 4m calf swim­ming closer to in­spect us while rolling and turn­ing like a play­ful child. Af­ter 6 hours of whale watch­ing and a feel­ing of tran­quil ex­hil­a­ra­tion we headed back to the resort for a de­li­cious meal and a few sto­ries around the bar.

I had only booked 3 days of whale

swim­ming and was de­lighted there was room for a 4th day out as ev­ery en­counter we had was dif­fer­ent and the in­ter­ac­tions ad­dic­tive.

The ex­pe­ri­ence leaves me want­ing to never leave this mag­i­cal place but I’ll come back to Ha’apai Beach Resort again some­time. It’s a fan­tas­tic hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion that has some­thing to of­fer all year round and maybe next time I’ll snorkel the reef, pad­dle a kayak or even try scuba div­ing.

For now though, I’m off to ex­plore the south­ern end of the is­land by bi­cy­cle, meet some of the friendly lo­cals and have lunch at the well­known Mariner’s Café.

Ton­gan Par­lia­ment Build­ing

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