Categorie archief: Tonga

Tonga: Whales, Whales, Whales…

July 2017

Every year , from June to October, the humpback whales migrate from Antarctica to the warmer waters of the Pacific to have their calves and to mate. Tonga is one of the few places in the world where it is possible to swim or snorkel with whales. We did not want to miss this opportunity. Although the end of July is still early in the season, we really hoped to have this unique experience. We checked the weather and saw that monday July 24th would be a good day, not a lot of wind, calm seas and sun. We decided to go with Vava’u whale watch at Mounu resort together with our fellow cruisers from SY North (Milike and Nejat). We made reservations for dinner on sunday evening at the resort as I had read that the food was excellent there. And it was!

Mounu resort, really an idyllic place to relax and enjoy the water.

 

Ready to enjoy a great evening, underneath the cheekbones of a whale.
Having great fun with Melike from SY North.
Celebrating Amber’s (co-owner of Mounu resort) birthday with a fantastic meal. From left to right: Nejat (SY North), Melike(SY North), Kirsten (co-owner Mounu resort), Amber (birthday girl), Evelyne (great chef), Ilse and Stefan. Julia took the picture.
We had carpaccio of tuna, a red snapper with rice and a great sauce and for dessert there was a soursop pudding. Everything was very yummy.
From left to right : Evelyne, Melike, Stefan, Amber, Julia, Kirsten and Ilse..dancing was next.

It was hard to get up the next morning at 6.30AM, but the anticipation of swimming with whales made it easier. No whale watch company will guarantee that you will swim with whales as it really depends if they can find a whale that will let you come close. There are many companies “fighting” for a whale. We were lucky to be out there very early and till about 10am did not see another whale watching boat. After about 45min motoring we encountered a mother whale with a calf. Yeah!! Before we could jump in the water Kirsten and Amber had to evaluate if this whale was going to stick around and  let us swim with her and her calf. 45 minutes it was clear this would not be the case. This early in the season mothers are hesitant and nervous because their calfs are still little. For this reason it is better to do this end of August and early september when the calfs are already bigger and the mothers are more confident. A baby whale weighs about 1ton when it is born and is between 3 and 5m long. It drinks approximately 500 liters of mothermilk per day ! The milk consists of 60% fat so they can grow quickly ready to swim to Antartica in October.

Was this the most we would see of the mother?

Here are videos taken by Mileke and Stefan. We found a whale pod with 1 female and 5 males. They gradually got used to us, and the swimming experience was fantastic, judge for yourselves:

The kingdom of Tonga

We left Niue on friday July 14th (Bastille day) late in the afternoon to the tunes of great French music. We crossed the international date line and lost the 15th completely in a flash and arrived early monday morning the 17th in Neiafu, the Vavau group of Tonga.

We only cruised the Vava’u group of Tonga (60 islands) as we did not have time enough to go more south.

After a visit from the health inspector, customs and immigration officials at the dock and paying our duties we were cleared in and free to take a mooring in Neiafu harbour.

Neiafu harbour left, Nieafu town in the middle, mooring field on the right. Picture taken from Mt.Talau (130M)

The kingdom of Tonga is the oldest and last remaining Polynesian monarchy and the only Pacific nation never brought under foreign rule. It is the first country west of the International Dateline and they call themselves “the place where time begins”. They are a very Christian nation.

Utula’aina Point, with the Tongan Flag, a cross symbolizing Christianity (97% of the people are Christian), white colour is purity and the red colour symbolizes the sacrifice of the Blood of Christ.
Typical schooluniform of girsl and boys is conservative, no knees are shown. The boys wear a wrap around skirt (tupenu) and a woven mat (ta’ovala) of pandanus leaf around the waist.
Pandanus leaves drying in the sun before it is flattened to weave mats, hats, baskets etc.
Tongans carrying pandanus to be washed and soften in the sea before it is dried.
Weaving of a pandanus mat. Usually women will get together in a weaving house to make mats or other handicrafts.
We went to a Tongan feast in the village of Matamaka and visited the school. There were 2 classrooms. One for ages 5 to 8 and one for 9 to 12 years old. This picture was taken in the class of the older group.
Happy Tongan school kids.
Typical Tongan dance, totally different from the Polynesian hip dancing we saw in French Polynesia. In Tonga the arm and hand gestures were important. During the dancing money gifts are collected in the basket on the floor. In some places Tongan dollar bills will be stuck in the belt of the dancers. The skirt is made from tapa.

The next day we motorsailed to the Coral garden anchorage and snorkeled…

The Linckia laevigata. There were many of these blue seastars.
Soft coral. It comes in very many different colours and shapes.
Anemonefish trying to hide.
Soft coral.
It was almost like being in an underwater flowershop…Acropora sp hard coral
Feather stars, they are animals! They like to be in a spot where there is a lot of current since they feed on passing plankton.
A “heart shaped” coral, I think the Acropora hyacinthus, but I am not sure.
A beautiful spider shell hiding between the coral. We did not take it with us since it was occupied.
Sanuk and Flipper in another paradise like anchorage.

Coral with, I think, polyps on it. They look like eyes …
Swallow cave. We went inside with Flipper but found only a lot of graffiti.

Stay tuned for our next blog post where we talk about our incredible whale encounter !