Swimming With Humpback Whales in Ha’apai

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I have always loved the ocean.

The vastness, the unknown, the depths and the colours have always seemed magical to me, but it is the creatures who call it home that truly captivate and mesmerise me.

I have mentioned before that my first career aspiration was to be a coroner (I was obviously a well adjusted child) but what I actually thought I would become for the majority of my adolescence was a marine biologist. I actually intended to go and study marine biology up until my final year of high school, when out of the blue I decided that I was going to become a baby catcher instead.

Despite not going down the path of studying marine biology (mostly because the career prospects are few and far between) my fascination with the ocean has never diminished.

I love sharks, turtles, eels, fish, dolphins, those terrifying deep water creatures that attract you with light before consuming you and of course, whales.

It is only natural that my love of whales led to me seek an opportunity to swim with them in the wild, and the best place to do this is in Tonga.

However, this bucket list adventure wasn’t exactly smooth sailing.

Thanks to the notoriously flaky Tongan Airline (Real Tonga, step up your game guys) I found that I would have to fly out of Ha’apai much earlier than anticipated, and as a result, thought that I would lose a day of ocean frolicks with humpies.

Luckily I was to be based at the Sea Change Eco Resort – and they sorted me out! I may not have had quite as many days on the island, but they made it so that I could join in on a whale watching boat trip halfway through my arrival day and still get a decent chunk of time on the water.

As soon as I arrived at Sea Change, I had just enough time to change into a wetsuit and jump on board a small boat before being whisked out onto the water.

It wasn’t long before we spotted a whale tail, and after a quick safety briefing it was time to get into the water…

…and say hello to a humpy!

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This gorgeous humpback calf may have only been a little baby by humpy standards, but this playful whale was easily 5+ metres long!

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This particular calf was super relaxed and keen to play! Her mumma whale hung out at least 30 metres below us and let us frolick with her baby for well over 40 minutes.

This next series of shots were the first photos I took with my new Canon G7x Mark II – and I gotta say, I feel pretty happy with how they turned out!

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When I say that the time went quickly whilst in the water, it is not an exaggeration at all. I honestly thought we had been swimming with this beauty for 5 minutes at most, and when we were signalled that it was time to go back to the boat I honestly didn’t believe our guide EJ when she said that it had been 40 minutes!

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I may have only gotten to spend three hours on the water, but it had been such an incredible afternoon that I honestly wouldn’t have minded if I didn’t seee another whale – I had had the kind of swim that I thought would only have been possible in my wildest dreams, how could it get any better?

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I am very glad that I had obtained this content frame of mind, because my second day out on the water was a very different experience.

It was super windy, the seas were insanely choppy, the whales seemed much more reluctant to play and I spent most of the day focusing on not trying to vomit my guts up! Seasickness doesn’t hit me often, but when it does hit, it hits me bloody hard!

However, despite the less than ideal parts of the day, it still did have some absolutely amazing highlights.

Firstly, we spotted a couple of manta rays!

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Secondly, even though the whales were playing a little harder to get, I did still manage to get a swim.

In this next picture you can see an 18 metre long mumma, and the small shape above her is a calf!

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It is a testament to the clarity of the water in Tonga that you can so clearly see these whales – even from a distance. I would have been at least 10 metres away from this duo when I snapped these next few shots.

Keeping a bit of distance between yourself and the whales serves a few purposes.

Firstly – you won’t risk spooking them.

Secondly – they may be gentle giants, but the babies don’t exactly have the most amazing depth perception yet, and it wouldn’t be hard for one to accidentally knock you with its fins or tail!

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All too soon it was time to say goodbye to the whaleys and head back to my little island home.

But, I still had one day left to spend on the water, and I didn’t know it at the time, but it would prove to be the best day yet.

Stay tuned, and as always, happy solo travelling! xx

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THE  LOWDOWN

Getting to Tonga: International flights arrive from Nadi and Auckland
Getting to Ha’apai: Domestic flights from Tongatapu are run by the airline Real Tonga
Sea Change Eco Resort: The most comfortable ‘eco’ resort I’ve ever visited – click here for more info
Whale Watching Day Trips: This trips are run by Sea Change and cost $210 NZD per day (including lunch)
Camera: Images captured with a Canon G7x Mark II and Canon underwater housing
Remember: If you are prone to seasickness, take anti nausea drugs!

Disclaimer: My stay at Sea Change was subsidised by Sea Change Eco Resort, however, all thoughts and opinions expressed on this blog are honest, unbiased and in no way influenced by the Sea Change brand, its management or its affiliates.

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20-something year old Australian backpacker writing her way around the world.

34 thoughts on “Swimming With Humpback Whales in Ha’apai

  1. What an amazing adventure! Your photos are beautiful. Although I don’t share your desire to swim with such creatures (I like to admire them from the safety of a boat), it amazes me to think that such massive beauties live in our oceans.

      1. Hahaha…oh, I love the water…I was a competitive swimmer for many many years…I just a pool person and don’t like swimming with other creatures. Guess that’s why we are all different. I look forward to hearing about your next adventure.

  2. Wow! What an amazing experience and beautiful photos. I too am enthralled with the sea and sea life. Whales have been my favorites since my first Whale Watch tour several years ago witnessing Fin Whales up close. Just incredible beautiful and graceful creatures. I will never be able to go underwater, so I loved,loved, loved this post. Thanks for sharing!!

      1. No it is a bit frightening! and I would love to be able to see the types of things you have. I would like to try snorkeling some day. Won’t be the same, but something would be better than nothing.

      2. Well, it was honestly like any other snorkel! How deep you submerge yourself is up to you, so if you can manage a snorkel one day, you’d be fine to do this too.

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