Since there has been so many people inquiring about 2015 whale swim and photography dedicated adventures, I have added a new expedition. The dates are Aug 10-22nd, 2015. The location is Vavau’ Tonga. It includes 11 full days of whale swimming and 12 nights accommodation in a charming B&B guest house. Breakfast and lunch on the boat are provided. Dinner is not. The price is $6,400 US. This trip is not yet listed on my website.
I am limiting the group to 4-5 people as I have learned fewer people is better when it comes to whale swimming. The regulations state a maximum of four people can be in the water along with a guide at any one time. Scuba diving is a different as there are no regulations as to how many people can dive a reef. That’s why liveaboards take as many as 18-20 people. Scuba divers tend to spread out over a site and go at their own pace. Snorkeling with whales is a completely different activity. Whales are wild animals and need to feel comfortable with our presence. A small group behaving in the right way can have extended interactions with whales. In fact, I have had swims that lasted the entire day. When there are large number of people trying to get a look at the whales, according to the rules they have to break into multiple groups and take turns in the water. The logistics of rotating several groups adds a lot of pressure to the captain, whale swim guide, whales, and even the participants. This can affect the quality and duration of whale swims. I am not trying to put down the liveaboards as they provide great service, accommodation, meals, and also offer diving. I am trying to show that the experience of going on a small boat with fewer people will be different than on a larger boat.
In order to join the Aug 10-22 adventure, you will need to be in Tonga Saturday Aug 8th. You can fly to Tonga via Fiji, or New Zealand. International flights arrive in Nukualofa Tonga, otherwise known as Tongatapu. You will need to stay in Tongatapu Saturday and Sunday night. There are inexpensive home stay guest house accommodations, and nice hotels. I suggest Noa Guest House and Waterfront Hotel.
We will all take the 7 Am flight from Tongatapu to Vavau on the morning of Monday Sept 10th. Their is only one domestic airline REAL TONGA. http://www.realtonga.to Once in Vavau, we will go to accommodations and put cameras together, gather snorkel gear and then go straight to the boat. The harbor is a five minute taxi ride.
In Vavau’ there are many islands close by and they form a series of passages that are really beautiful. The whales like these areas but visibility in this area can be limited so our plan is to go south to a series of sea mounts where the water is much clearer. I have had some epic encounters in this area over the years.
Each day we will leave around 7:30 AM. We will look for whales that are showing behaviors we know from experience might lead to extended encounters. Scuba fins that require booties are not good because booties are buoyant and will keep your feet at the surface. This is something we want to avoid. It is very important not to make a wake, froth, or splash while fining. The fins need to be under the surface. For this reason full foot fins work best.
We do not free dive on the whales so long fins designed for descending and ascending are not beneficial. I use oceanic split fins. They are small and work great. While free diving is not allowed, it is all right it to exhale from a fin down position so that you sink 4 feet below the surface. No duck diving. This means bending down and kicking fins up in order to go down.
I will be happy to share the camera settings I have found that work well for photographing whales underwater as well as for topside action. While in the water the whale guide will concentrate on finding the whales and controlling the pace of the swim. I will help people get into the right positions to create photographs as well as to manage the behavior of the swimmers. In order for everyone to have epic encounters we need to work together as a group and adopt an all about we not all about me attitude. This means making sure to maintain your position in the group and not get separated or to swim directly at the whale unless instructed to. When everyone sticks together and acts like a bunch of jellyfish floating along the whales will come by and check out each person. There is no reason to swim after them as you will never catch them. And, the whales might take that as a sign of aggression and simple descend and disappear.
For seven years I have used a crop sensor Nikon D300 camera. My lens of choice has been the Tokina 10-17 lens. At 17 mm, it is good for most whale encounters. When they come really close I open it to 10 mm. Many of the people that have joined me over the years use the same lens or a 16-35 mm lens. The 35 mm view is great for when the whales are just a bit shy. I just acquired a Nikon D810 and 14 x 24 mm lens and hope to have a housing for this trip.
The water temp in Tonga is fairly warm. I do fine using a Lava Core long sleeve hooded vest and regular swim shorts. If you get cold easily, you might want to bring a 3 mm full suit. A rain jacket and fleece is also a good thing to bring. Besides a camera, and snorkel gear you need only bring a few sets of clothes.
The domestic airline allows 20 kilos for checked in luggage and 5 kilos for carry on. International carriers allow 23 kilos for checked and 7 kilos for carry on. The domestic carrier is very strict, but the charge for excess weight is not much. They will weigh you, your carry on and check-in so be prepared. The plane does not have a lot of cabin storage above the head or under the seat and many times they will collect it from you at the plane and stow it.
Trip insurance is required. Going to Tonga is expensive and in the event of an emergency, illness, or other other issue you need to be covered. On my last trip, a client came down with an ear infection and could not travel. As he had insurance his ticket and expedition cost was refunded.
In order to secure your space a 50%- non refundable deposit is required. The balance will be due 90 days prior to the charter. This will be my 10th season organizing trips to Tonga, and I really am looking forward to it. The trip is planned for peak season, we have the right boat, captain, and whale swim guide. I hope to see you there!
Please call 808 870 3686 with any questions.