Malo a lelei from Tonga!
Country number 9 of the year is the Kingdom of Tonga – the only kingdom in the Pacific. I didn’t plan the timing of Tonga’s visit to fit right into the perfect time of year, but I guess I’m just lucky like that. Tonga is the place where you get to what you think is the end of all of your energy swimming – you just can’t kick one more time. Then, there’s a whale, so you immediately transform into the slo-mo version of Michael Phelps.
Tonga sits in the warm Pacific waters, making it the destination of choice for humpback whales on their annual migration fro the arctic to have their calves. From July to October, the waters of Tonga are populated with these massive, peaceful creatures. As it turns out, the first few weeks of September are considered the best time to go swimming with them.
Yes, I said swimming with them. And no, not in the Sea World kind of way. In the go out into open water, see them swimming and playing, and jump in kind of way. There are only a few operators licensed for the whale trips, which makes it all that more peaceful to be on the water.
Lahaina was the lead on our boat and she has learned the business from her father, who first established their operation.
She continued to talk about how lucky we all were to get to see these majestic mammals, and even luckier when we were in the water. I love when the guides are just as excited and in awe as the rest of us and this was that kind of trip.
I thought to myself, how do we just find whales though? And then one breached about half a mile away. And then its partner did. And then to the right, two more started jumping around. Closer to the horizon, mist from blowholes sprayed into the sky. Our first swim the whales were on the move, so we saw 4 (!), but it was mostly a blur. The next swim was about an hour of swimming and floating and dying a little bit of disbelief that it’s actually happening.
“They like us.” Lahaina said. Referring to the fact that they knew we were there, and they stuck around. Sometimes swimming, sometimes just floating. I swear one waved.
The day before the whale experience I explored “downtown.” On my walk back, I stopped to watch a big group playing rugby in the yard. “Do you want to play with us?” I’d been spotted. And you know that my answer was yes. I played with them for a few hours and found out that they all worked for the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources and they were practicing for a cross-government tournament on Friday. I was invited to not only come back and practice throughout the week, but to play in the tournament.
Friday we played rugby, net ball and volleyball and went 4-1-1 in all of our matches. And then we returned to the Ministry office for a BBQ and one of the geologists showed me how they monitor for earthquakes, to be prepared for tsunamis.
Tonga. Nature, exercise and education. What more could a girl ask for?