The Kingdom of Tonga rarely pops up on the ocean lovers bucket list. You would be forgiven for thinking that it is just another pacific island without the reputation of Fiji or Vanuatu. Tonga however for a few months a year plays home to one of the most regal and majestic animals of the ocean the Humpback Whale. If this wasn’t enough, a large proportion of them are mothers guiding young calves on their first migratory journey.
The journey to Vavau a group of over 40 islands north of the capital is taken in a small 18 person propeller plane, from the moment you check in and get weighed on the scales along with your baggage you know this is not a standard dive trip. The weather of Tonga strikes you immediately as different from a usual pacific island get away, preparing for a hot tropical island it is a pleasant surprise to find the climate cool with low humidity. The island capital Neiafu has the relaxed island vibe coupled with a respectful and proud people, with enough bars and restaurants to mix up your evening but not enough to take away from the culture.
Whale swims and Scuba diving are the main attractions and they do not disappoint. Tonga may be the only location where it feels like diving is what you do to chill out between snorkeling sessions instead of the other way around. From the instance you spot the mist from a whales spout a sense of excitement is overpowering. Watching with eager anticipation as your guide gently slips into ocean you scramble to don your fins, mask and snorkel. He raises his hand above his head giving you the signal that its time. Instead of jumping or rolling into the water you follow the guides example and try to enter as calmly as possible. Sideways kicking to avoid making surface splashes you shoot through the water staring into the deep Tongan blue for this amazing mammal. Slowly but surely she comes into view and the sheer size blows your mind, bigger than a bus relaxing about twenty metres down it is a beautiful site. The best part is yet to come though, appearing slowly from beneath their mother a young calf swims regally for the surface to take a gulp of air. After a quick breath the calf turns and swims elegantly over until your eyes meet just metres apart. A maximum of four people plus a guide are allowed in at any one time and so the young whale swims from person to person inquisitively checking you out with a friendly demeanor. A sense of peace washes over you as the calf descends back down to mum.
Taking a break from the whales to check out some of the great diving is definitely worth it. Schools of pelagic fish swim past as you check out the huge soft and hard corals, explore the many swim throughs and overhangs and attempt to get that perfect Emperor Angelfish photo. The islands plummet mostly straight down making for that perfect coral reef dive, with scores of species from Humphead wrasse to tiny whip coral shrimp it is a great place to dive. The deep blue off the island reefs often grabs your attention away with whale songs and perhaps another chance to see the epic Humpback cruise on past.