For the fourth year in a row, I am organizing small expeditions to Tonga to observe, document, and photograph Southern Hemisphere Humpback Whales above and below the surface. This expereince is limited to a small group, so each person gets the experience of a lifetime.
Participants will be taught how to enter the water making as little noise as possible, When to float & when to swim, and how to swim properly in the presence of whales. Our goal is to observe the whales without changing their behavior.
I will do everything possible to help make the trip a success, but when in the water all participants must be self-sufficient. The waters are deep and those interested in coming must be good swimmers and be in good shape.
The boat chartered is small, and fast. The captains are extremely knowledgeable, have decades of experience, and uncanny intuition that helps them recognize which cetaceans are on the move, and which are curious and playful.
Just because its legal does not mean swimming with whales is easy. The fact is whales are wild and not on anyone’s time schedule. They can come or go as they see fit, and all encounters are on their terms. For the safety of the whales, and fairness to others, several protocols need to be followed.
That means we wont just motor up to the humpbacks and jump in the water. The standard is to watch the whales to observe their behavior and let them get used to our presence. If they feel we are not a threat, they will relax and that’s when good interaction happens. There will be a maximum of four people plus captain and myself.
The rules state there can be no more than four swimmers plus a guide in the water at a time. I have found that with the exception of a heat run and really relaxed mother and calf, that most encounters are best with two or three swimmers and a guide in the water. A small group of people swimming together in a parallel course not an intersecting course will have better interaction as the whales will be curious not defensive. Imagine how you would feel if large fish were swimming at you at full speed from multiple directions. I would feel threatened, so it only makes sense that the whales do too. By swimming in a group, the whales are better able to become comfortable with our presence.
When it comes to nature photography, the daily plan is to hurry up and wait. A lot of time is spent looking at the horizon for whale sign. When whales are sighted, many factors have to come together before we get in the water. These include the demeanor of the whales, good visibility, low winds, and flat seas.
In nature there are days when the sun is out, seas are calm, and whales are present but the underwater visibility is terrible. And, there are days the sky is cloudy but the water is clear. As Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate, I am planning to two back-to-back 6-day trips. Weather can be a factor so don’t be surprised if out of seven days the boat stays in for one or two. The first group starts Sept 14th, 2008 and the second group starts on September 24th, 2008 and goes till Oct 1st.
Just getting to Tonga can be an adventure as it is a remote location. From most places it takes 2 days to get to, and one long day to return. The airlines in this part of the world are safe, but follow a logic not many people understand. I tell people to bring along their sense of humor and two extra books, as the flights don’t always operate as advertised. Please make sure you purchase trip insurance and if there is any chance at all you might want to extend your vacation, be prepared to spend a day taking care of the details, and to pay change fees. Excess baggage is a reality. Tell everyone at the airline you’re a diver and ask for it to be noted on your ticket. If lucky you may get an allowance of 20 extra pounds.
The boat fee includes pick up and drop off at closest dock to hotel, lunch, bottle of water, and fuel. The price is $400 per day. Final cost is subject to change as fuel costs may increase. Hotel, and airplane tickets are additional. On average it costs about $1,600 to fly to Vavau’ Tonga.
There are three standard of hotels.
The finest accommodations is at the residence. It is one of the princesses’ homes. There are only two rooms and they are luxurious. The rooms are $250-300 per night.
The Pua International and Paradise hotels cost about $150. The Pua is in town, while the Paradise is a 12 minute walk from town. The paradise includes breakfast, the Pua does not. I have stayed in both. The bottom line is the Pua is more convenient, but the Paradise includes breakfast and is a bit nicer. The back packer hotel is about $60 per night. It is nice, clean, and in town. There ather lodging options and those interested should call 808 879 0260 or send me an email at email@example.com
A 50% retainer is required to hold space. -This fee is non refundable. -The final payment is due 60 days before the trip. -Trip insurance is required.