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.