Imagine a world without traffic, advertisements, hotel chains and fast food restaurants…instead genuine people, breathtaking nature and infinite tranquility. “Wake up now, you are not dreaming”, says the flight attendant, “welcome to the Kingdom of Tonga”.
After 30 hours flying, 10 Hollywood movies and 5 times airplane food I was longing for finally setting foot on this exotic faraway land which called Tonga.
What does an average European know about Tonga, not much. “Is it close to Africa? “False. “Are people wearing Thong all year around?” False (but good one). Well, to be honest I did not know much about it either, but what I did know is that one of the most amazing encounter is waiting for me, let’s just say between 2 mammals, and one of them weight more than 40 tons.
I could not sleep that night, even though our “Robinson Crusoe” like beautiful beach bungalow did not leave any wishes open. Neither our great hosts who were waiting for us with local fresh organic food, what a relief after all the junk food you get on your journey across the world.
Finally the day has arrived, such an excitement. Fins (check), snorkel (check), mask (check), wet suit (check), cameras (check), sickness pill – after a long debate – (check). All on board, it is getting real now, it was so long on my bucket list and finally it is happening.
Our boat is cruising along picturesque tiny islands surrounded by white sandy beaches and coral reefs, but my eyes are fixated on the horizon. Holding myself on my GoPro instead of the boat (not very clever), when it happens. I can see from far a couple of meter high water jetting up from the surface and then a huge fin. It was the sign that we found them, the humpback whales are HERE.
“We all wish for friendly whales”, as our tour guide explains, the ones who do not mind the company of humans and might be even a bit curious. Well, I’m damn curious I know, fully geared up to jump into the water and start the encounter right here and right now, but it was not yet our time to go. Instead the whales started to deliver an amazing acrobatic show, full body splashes and incredible screw driver movements. Mother and her calf simultaneously jumping out of the water, and with the power of 40 tons landing on the surface over and over again. Can whales really do that? Well, they can and with the lightness of a feather, breathtaking.
“Let the luck be with us and bring us a friendly whale” – become our mantra for the next days, and if the universe was listening to our request the miracle happened. We got the sign from the captain and within seconds we were in the water with our guide and 2 other guests, feeling very excited. After some paddling the shadow of a giant emerged in the deep blue right in front of our eyes. Did not take much to realise that there are not only 1 but 3 whales around, under, above us. Small hesitation and evaluation of the survival chances of being in a way of one of biggest animal in our planet, hoping my humble presence would hold them back being just to much jolly to launch their famous triple flip me on the top. But my instinct took over the control of my body and I was with full speed approaching the head of the mother whale. What a majestic animal. With its tiny eyes, one is fixated on her calf at all times and the other following my movements. I kept just enough distance to be able to observe her but respect her territory, I do not want her to be scared and swim away, I do not want this moment to end. My eyes start slowly to wander over to the calf, playful creature with no fear and full of energy. Balancing around its mother, if it would just learn right now how to become a real whale. I would love to play with it but I do not want to stress its mother, who knows what her motherly instinct would do to me. Instead I just enjoy this moment, take it all in…and I know this will not be the last time.
Every time we were in the water during the 3 days, it felt like the first time. Every day brought a new experience, a new whale, new discovery and great interaction both below and above the water. I’m very thankful that I was given the chance to see them in their natural habitat and swim side by side with these wonderful creatures.