The best-laid plans of mice and men aft gang aglay…
One of the attractions of Tonga as a holiday destination is the annual migration of Southern Humpback whales. The females come to Tonga to give birth to, or conceive, the next generation of whales, and do so in the shallow waters of the greater lagoon which surrounds Tongatapu, the main island. Whale watching is organised from most of the holiday destinations. We thought we’d go along, so talked to the resort manager, who booked us in with Deep Blue Diving. “Oh, you’ve got your own rental car” she said, “just show up at the wharf at 8:30”. Later in the day, however, one of the other staff told us “No, don’t worry about that, they’ll send a taxi to collect you and take you there. Just be outside here at 7:50. There’s some other people going too so we’ll start breakfast early for you as well.”
Easy enough, so we set the alarm (who sets alarms on holiday? Bah! 😉) and had breakfast at 7:00. We were back at reception and waiting for our taxi. One turned up, and the other three piled in. “No worries, there’s another on it’s way for us” we told them as they sped off.
As I said, the best-laid plans…
The manager arrived at 8 o’clock, and was, unsurprisingly, surprised to see us still waiting. After a quick exchange of phone calls, we decided to drive ourselves in and make craven apologies for holding everyone up.
We needn’t have worried. By the time we got there, two things became apparent: the registration and payment procedures were still under way, and we were woefully ill-equipped. We paid for our trip, but then decided, on reflection, it would be better if we equipped ourselves properly. So we decided to go the next day.
On Saturday, then, we repeated the process, with rather better results. Turned up on time, met the crew, and set out for a day's whale-watching. Most of the participants were actually equipped for whale-swimming, which I had understood to be with scuba gear, from the look of all their promotional material, but turned out to be with snorkels. I was a little apprehensive as my previous experience of whale-watching, at Kaikoura, turned out mostly to be watching the bottom of a snack sack. But the water in the lagoon was much calmer, and before long we’d spotted a pod, and come up as close as allowed to them.
After some observation it turned out that the group was a mother and juvenile, and another male who was trying to get frisky with the female. She wasn’t having a bar of it, though, and so the group was moving around quite a bit. Although the snorkellers put out to sea a couple of times, it took a while for them to be satisfied with their sighting. We spent a bit more time searching for, and finding, solo whales, before a call came from another boat – mother and baby, in shallow water, not moving. Pretty much the rest of the afternoon was spent with this couple, as they were very obliging. Tonga, like New Zealand, has laws about minimum safe distances to be kept from whales, but apparently this message hadn’t got through to these two, as the baby in particular kept coming up to have a look at what these crazy humans were doing. The dive groups (there were five on our boat) went out for a second round, and then a third. Eventually, though, the whales tired of us and moved out to deeper water, and the skipper turned the boat around and headed back to dock.
All in all, we had a pretty productive day watching whales. When we met up with the group who’d gone out the day before, it turned out that we’d had much better sightings than they’d had, so delaying by a day was a win for us. One of the crew was a professional underwater photographer, so we decided that we’d buy his package of photos from the day for TOP 60 to augment my surface-view pics.