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Jun 27

Whales, Diving and some other random things about Tonga – By Karin Jnr

Tonga instantly set itself apart from the other islands we’ve been to. Not only because it’s an actual island and not an atoll, but because of the unique labyrinth you have to sail through to get to the harbour of the main island itself.
We stopped by the Tongan island named Vava’u. We came round to the harbour, sailing past the sheer cliffs on the one side of the island. An impressive sight indeed.
The mini labyrinth along the one side of Vava’u wasn’t particularly hard to navigate, but the first time I was confronted by it, it was pure confusion. One of the most fascinating things was that the islands weren’t following the usual pattern of beach, leading up to a rather flat, jungle-infested middle, that we were used to in the Tuamotos. They looked rather more like cakes sticking out of the water, with a frosting of jungle on top. Chocolate cakes, obviously, because of the brown rock colour, and mint frosting.

classic, but colourless example of a cake island

us girls standing on deck as we sailed through the cake island laybrinth

Vava’u was also rather chilly on arrival as I remember. Us four girls were sitting on deck wearing jackets on the cool, overcast day. A luxury which is classified as rare in the tropics. Even when it’s raining. But it turned out to be mostly caused only by the overcast weather of the first few days. And it really did rain on the day of our arrival. Just as luck would have it, it started pouring as we were forced on deck to moor the boat to the customs dock, so naturally we all got wet.
We anchored in the main bay for a couple of days and did some sight seeing on land. We bumped into some sailing friends we’d met in Trinidad, which was random.
And did an island tour in some guy’s Taxi. The taxi car looked more like those we get at home, but private… I guess you’d call them a van… But anyway. He took us around to some magnificent viewpoints and along some paths that rarely get used. I was wondering if we’d fit through all the jungle growth that was threatening to close the road.

not the best example, since it wasn’t taken at the right time. But imagine the growth beside the road higher and greener and wilder, and while you’re at it, just put a few wild boars dashing across it being chased by a rather fat Gaul and a rather short Gual, both with ridicoulusly large noses.

We stood at the top of the cliffs that we had looked up to when sailing past and admired the big blue ocean that stretched out for miles. My Mom always thinks it an intimidating view, seeing so much ocean and thinking “What crazy people would go out on that, with a boat!?” while knowing full well, that we are those crazy people.
But to me it’s an intriguing sight. Not necessarily because I love the sailing as such, but just the idea of there being so much world out there that I’ll never see, and I’ve seen a fair deal of it. But the world is just so large, filled with so many wondrous things….

Of course we scuba dived in Tonga as well. I mean, my Dad’s the captain. What do you expect!?
Our first dive was in the bay itself, the vision was poor and the water was cold. I wasn’t too keen on it myself. I particularly dislike not being able to see the bottom before lowering myself into the depths. A vague darker and lighter of rocks is good enough, but nothing but green water..? The worst is when you’re halfway down and you still can’t see the bottom, but you also can’t see the top anymore. And you’re just descending some more!

Despite this, however, I managed to enjoy the dive as long as I didn’t try and look up once we reached the wreck. The vision wasn’t that bad, taking into account some dives we’ve done. Nobody got lost, we could still see each other at a distance of at least five meters and we knew we’d all stick to the wreck, so you couldn’t really get lost. Although my Dad freaked me out by diving into the belly of the wreck…, ok not really, Dad always likes exploring the dark caves, I guess I can’t imagine not being claustrophobic in such a situation. But somehow, he manages not to get a panic attack, and Dad’s got a lot of diving experience, so I guess he’s allowed to do it.

we have no physical proof of my Dad’s wanderings into the deeper depths of the wrecks since he was holding the camera, so here is Marike

But enough talk about diving. The next big and main event of Tonga was the Whales! Tonga is one of the two only places where it is legal to swim with Humpback whales. The other being off the coast of Australia somewhere, but’s it’s only as the whales pass the continent and you have to go far out to sea in a boat, whereas in Tonga they come to the reef protected areas between the cake islands (take note; the ‘cake islands’ are not their official names, I’ve invented it on the spot, so it won’t help in a google search) to give birth to their young. They’re right by the coast, and to boot, you’ve got a chance to see a baby whale!
Now to all you people out there gasping with dismay and sympathy for the poor baby whales and new mothers being bothered by all these pesky clumsy land fish. The rules are really strict when swimming with them, the whales are thoroughly protected by all kinds of laws, and though it may still not be the most comfortable for the whales, their alternate fate could have been much worse.
A few years ago (anything from 40 to 3 years, I can’t remember) they had a decision to make. They could continue hunting whales as they had been doing for a long time, or they could stop and make it commercial to come and swim with them. So see? The whales are safer and when they get tired of the people they just dive again. We know, they did that quite a few times.
We, as you might have guessed by now, decided to do the right thing and go on a Whale watching trip. We got to swim with them! but just so you know, they swim super fast! When the operator sees a whale, the boat goes a little ahead of them and then we all (four people and an operator) jump in the water and swim as hard as we can towards the path the whales are estimated to cross. The viz wasn’t as good as it is on the commercial photos, we didn’t get the best day, but it was still super awesome.

when chasing the whales to get a glimps, it would be like… no whale…. no whale… no whale… and then suddenly BAM! there’s a whale.

Whales, in my experience always disappoint me when I see their size. You hear they’re the biggest creatures on earth and you begin to imagine a Leviathan, but honestly they’re not that big. Then again, as this experience has taught me, When seeing them off the boat you only see their back or their tail. There’s still plenty of whale submerged underneath the water. Having seen the submerged part now as well as the back and the tail my faith in them being huge creatures has grown a little more. They’re still smaller than I always see them in my mind’s eye. But still, they’re big.

the mother whales eye

It’s amazing to see the whale. We even saw a little one. The barnacles on the mother’s back… especially with the bad viz you’d swim and look, then suddenly see this wall of whale. Amazing, to see the whale’s eye… it was magical and again eye opening. It’s mind boggling when you think that we, as humans don’t have enough imagination to invent entirely unique animals and creatures and patterns and things. No matter how original the creature of our imagination is, it’s always based and inspired by something we’ve seen or read about. A collection of known pasted together.

The whale tails. The classic veiw we would get becasue of their speed. And yes, that be a baby whale mate.

The Greeks did it super obviously in examples of their mythological creatures like centaurs and unicorns. I don’t know if they knew about the narwhal, but none the less, they weren’t the first to stick a horn into something’s forehead. but even with other stuff… We don’t have the means to invent something new. We invent a pattern and then you think you’re the first! But then you see a fish, and it has the same pattern. We have a limited scope to look for, limited puzzle pieces. We cannot create more pieces. But God created all the pieces before there were other pieces to base them on. All the uniqueness from a Kangaroo to a Whale. An ant and a lion. It’s awesome when you think about it.

We moved anchorage after that. Out to the more scenic cake islands, and small bays off the main island. We got out to clearer water and did some awesome diveing. We even made some cool friends who had rigged an awesome swing on their boat (they call it their ‘kids atractor’ or something of that sort). And we lived in a state of happiness. Perhaps, for me personally, it was because of the little internet.

Sophia and I went kayaking more than once and found the perfect place on land in which to make a ‘fort’ as we had done in the Caribbean with some other sailing friends. This location would have been ten times better, but sadly, we spotted a sea snake slowly climbing up a rock wall, pushing its head into holes, presumably to find tasty morsels of sea snake food. This ruined the place for us forever, which was sad. It would have made a truly awesome fort.
We have a glass bottom kayak named Panama Piesang (the last word is Afrikaans, if you speak only English you’re guaranteed to pronounce it wrong). It’s really amazing to paddle over the shallow snorkelling reefs and see the fish underneath you. It also, however, makes for a good view of you crushing all the corals hopes and dreams when you sometimes accidently go too shallow and hurt them.

Ok. I do believe I’ve covered everything there is to cover. Whales, diving, land tour, yep. That’s pretty much it. So yeah. Hope you enjoyed it. 🙂

1 comment

  1. Cathy Norrie

    Hi Karin (Jr)

    I love your writing. Seeing the world through your eyes makes things just a little brighter. Swimming with the whales sounds so exciting. The closest thing I have done like that was swimming with the Whale Shark in St. Helena (so many years ago!!).

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with us.

    All the best,
    Cathy Norrie

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