The etiquette of swimming with whales

Whale tail

A couple of years ago, I found myself on the Vava’u archipelago, in Tonga, ready to jump into the water with a whale.

With that gigantic dark shape moving around in the water below, I confess I was pretty nervous! No, we did not cavort, the humpback mum and her humpback calf decided they weren’t in a playful move, and, in the blink of an eye, one of the world’s largest animals simply sank down to the watery depths and disappeared.

Recently, I chatted with Carmen Ellis of Majestic Whale Encounters, for the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age newspapers. She says that if they don’t want to play, whales just don’t hang around. Drawing on her experience running whale swimming tours in Tonga, French Polynesia and Norway Carmen says, “If they don’t want to be there, they just turn their pectoral fin and, within seconds, they can be gone.”

However, every experience is amazing, she has had bumbling calves simply bump into her (the calves totally ignoring each country’s exclusion rule that applies about swimming with wild animals), and says that even sub-adults and dolphins are such curious creatures, they will interact with swimmers.

She has swum with orcas in Norway and pilot and humpback whales in Tahiti, where she’s also seen the unusual Reeso dolphins, while in Tonga, she has spotted the false killer whales (which are the same dark grey as an orca, but without the white patches), and  lots of stingrays, sharks and turtles all round.

Her company’s next tour destination is Sri Lanka, swimming with blue whales. “We’re not the first, years ago, there was an industry shut down because it wasn’t being respectful to whales, but a new industry is developing in the country’s north, in Trincomalee.”

To read my story in the Traveller section of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on swimming with orcas, humpbacks, pilot and other whales, click here

See majesticwhaleencounters.com.au

 

Tonga: pitch perfect

Tongan Beach Resort  PHOTO: Belle Jackson

“We Tongans party today, and there’s nothing on the table tomorrow,” a
Tongan woman tells me as we queue at Tongatapu’s airport. It’s 2am, I
haven’t even set foot in the country and already I’ve been warned that
Tongans are hardened socialites.

Looking around, I realise it’s true. You’re nobody if you’re not
kissing a staff member. Customs officers, passport controllers, baggage
handlers – they’re all wrapped in warm, loving embraces from the
passengers from our plane, all serenade by a tuneful, live ukulele band.
I guess there’s a reason why Captain Cook called them the Friendly
Islands.

My recent story in Air Niugini’s inflight magazine, Paradise,
finds the song of Tonga, from ukulele bands at the airport to the
ancient, deep and almost mournful whalesong that reverberates through
the water and into my bones.

It’s not a country high on the tourism radar, and I can’t work out
why. Surely the great Aussie tropical getaway is the new one-two – first
stop Fiji, second stop Tonga (the whale-loving archipelago of Vava’u is
now connected by direct flights to the Fijian capital, Nadi).

Tonga: pitch perfect

Tonga Belinda Jackson.JPG
Tongan Beach Resort  PHOTO:Belle Jackson

“We Tongans party today, and there’s nothing on the table tomorrow,” a Tongan woman tells me as we queue at Tongatapu’s airport. It’s 2am, I haven’t even set foot in the country and already I’ve been warned that Tongans are hardened socialites.

Looking around, I realise it’s true. You’re nobody if you’re not kissing a staff member. Customs officers, passport controllers, baggage handlers – they’re all wrapped in warm, loving embraces from the passengers from our plane, all serenade by a tuneful, live ukulele band. I guess there’s a reason why Captain Cook called them the Friendly Islands.

My recent story in Air Niugini’s inflight magazine, Paradise, finds the song of Tonga, from ukulele bands at the airport to the ancient, deep and almost mournful whalesong that reverberates through the water and into my bones.

It’s not a country high on the tourism radar, and I can’t work out why. Surely the great Aussie tropical getaway is the new one-two – first stop Fiji, second stop Tonga (the whale-loving archipelago of Vava’u is now connected by direct flights to the Fijian capital, Nadi).

 

 

Whales, worship and weird cabaret: the Tongan triumvirate

Humpback whales bring their (very big) babies into the
safe waters of Tonga each year, from July to October.
Photo: Belle Jackson

We’ve all been lamenting the devastation in Fiji from the recent Cyclone Winston, but spare a thought for Tonga, which was in the cyclone’s frontline, and is still picking up the pieces. 

The Vava’u archipelago, where I spent most of my time on my recent Tongan visit, was hardest hit.

So if you’re not a Fiji aficionado, preferring something a little more laid back and – to use the word of the decade- ‘authentic’, why not skip one country further east from Australia for whale swimming, a spot of choral singing and the funniest drag shows I’ve seen for many a year.

And if you are a Fiji fan, from this month (April 2016) you can now fly from Australia to Nadi (Fiji) for a little five-star R&R, then fly Nadi direct to Vava’u (Tonga) for said pleasures, with Fiji Airways.

You can read my story about whales, worship and weird cabaret in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper’s Traveller section by clicking here.

TRAVEL DEALS: 22 July 2012

Hong Kong kids do masterclass

Everyone loves a bargain, even if the transport to your resort is a luxury speedboat. It’s the Maldives, of course. Or why not swim with whales in the Kingdom of Tonga? As you do… it’s all here in this week’s travel deals.
NORTHERN TERRITORY
With the MacDonnell Ranges as your
hotel’s backdrop, there’s no mistaking you’re in the Territory. The Alice in the Territory hotel is close to
the airport and 2km from town, with a complementary shuttle bus to Todd Mall.
There are also free in-house movies and a kid-pleasing pool, where we white
southerners can show off our office tans. Normally $165, costs from $110 a
night until August 31, 1800 002
333, quickbeds.com

SOUTH AUSTRALIA

August means
Arts in across the state, with the massive South Australia Living Arts (SALA)
visual arts festival running from August 3-26. Oaks Embassy, in downtown
Adelaide, is throwing in free breakfast when you stay two nights or more.
Normally $194 a night, a one-bedroom apartment, which includes use of the pool,
gym, sauna and spa, costs $139 a night until August 31, two-night minimum stay,
 1300 721
514, oakshotelsresorts.com

Victoria’s Yarra Valley

VICTORIA

With frosty nights and sparkling days, the Yarra Valley
glistens in winter, and its chief drawcards – cellar doors, art galleries and
country walks – are perfect cold-weather activities. Overlooking Healesville, hip
little hideaway Mt Rael’s winter special knocks $100 off two-night midweek stays
(Sun-Thurs) until August 31. Normally from $175 a night, costs from $250 for
two nights, (03) 5962 1977, www.mtrael.com.au

WESTERN
AUSTRALIA
Cape Lodge, Margaret River

Dripping with awards, including best boutique hotel in
Australia, the five-star Cape Lodge has the best neighbours: Margaret River, Voyager
Estate (with its new wine room) and the whale-filled Indian Ocean. Surrounded
by vineyards, it has just 22 fabulous rooms, a stand-out restaurant and top
cellar doors nearby, but bless, you can still do a twilight kangaroo safari. Normally
from $475 a night, book before August 26 and pay from $349 a night on midweek
stays, 1300 130 485, travel.com.au

Peppers Ruffles Lodge
QUEENSLAND
The Gold Coast hinterland is laid at your feet when you stay at
Peppers Ruffles Lodge & Spa, which is set on the hills overlooking this
magnificent stretch of Australia’s coastline. Peaceful and lush, the new one
and two bedroom owners’ villas’ midweek special includes gourmet breakfast, a
fruit basket and nightly turn-down service with chocolates and port. Normally
from $750 a night, costs $1318 for two midweek nights until end September, 1300
987 600, peppers.com.au

NSW

Learn the art of directing
a perfect plume of wine (aka: spitting) on a weekend away in Mudgee. Trelawney
Farm is throwing in six bottles of Logan’s wine for guests staying the weekend in
the 1880s farmhouse. Set 4km out of Mudgee on 25 acres, each room in the Coach
House and Barn End Cottage has its own style, and is
kitted out with home theatre, open fireplaces and linen. Costs $2500 for two-night
weekend for up to 10 guests. Or stay three, pay two nights on midweek stays
(Sun-Thurs) before December 15, costs $1600 for three nights, 0423 330 833, www.trelawneyfarm.com

THAILAND

The new Centra Coconut Beach Resort Samui is set on Thong
Tanote Beach, a quiet corner on happening Koh Samui. Comprising 53 rooms and
villas, the resort is celebrating with opening specials. A superior pool view
room costs from $58 a room a night, including breakfast, until October 31, +662
101 1234, centarahotelsresorts.com

HONG KONG

Let the kids conquer Hong Kong with a family summer
getaway at the SkyCity Marriott Hotel, on Lantau island, near Hong Kong
Disneyland and the Giant Buddha. Kids can do a junior masterchef or master
housekeeper class (help with the housework!), and the hotel is adding $60 of
dining credits, 10 percent off spa treatments and 6pm checkout. Costs from $250
a room (2 adults, 1 child), 1800 251 259, hongkongskycitymarriott.com 

BALI

Anantara Seminyak Bali is celebrating a Three Day Weekend
Getaway from August 16-19 with a poolside breakfast, side-by-side hour massage
or perhaps a chocolate facial for the kids, and a dance party at the resort’s
SOS Supper Club, one of the most happening hotspots on the island. Those with
kids will get a half-day free babysitting and daily ice cream. Save $180 (and
get a whole lot of extras) costs from $ 1,239++ a room for three nights, +62 361
737 773, anantara.com

USA
If
you’re up for the great American roadtrip, kick off with Contiki from LA on the
Southern Adventure, and cross the country from California to Louisiana. The
13-day tour ticks off the Grand Canyon and Vegas, baby, and shows how they do
barbies in Texas and cruise in New Orleans. Book 6 months in advance, save $105, costs
$2034, book 12 months in advance, save $209, costs $1930 a person, contiki.com.au
MALDIVES
Synonymous with luxury, the
tiny islands of the Maldives have got it all: white sand beaches, tropical
palms, baby blue lagoons. Stay seven nights at the Taj Exotica Resort &
Spa, and pay for six. Fifteen minutes by luxury speedboat from Mali airport,
the hotel is located on its own private island, naturally. The deal is also laden
with extras, including a romantic beach dinner, a la carte breakfast, a sunset
cruise and 15 percent of spa treatments. Travel until November 30, book by 15
November, costs from US$5223 (A$5097) for seven nights. (02) 9957 4511,
maryrossitravel.com

TOURWATCH
Snorkelling with whales, Tonga
Snorkelling with humpback whales not on your bucket list?
Perhaps it’s because you thought you never could. The Kingdom of Tonga is a
favourite hang for the massive mammals between July and mid-October. Like many
humans, they are lured by the warm waters for romance, using it as a stopover for
love on their migration from Antarctica. Stay one night at the Scenic Hotel
Tonga, in Nuku’alofa, six nights in the Puataukanave Hotel, Vava’u, and have
two day’s whale watching with the chance of getting up close and personal. The
tour also includes four dives over two days including all diving gear, return
airport transfers and a guide. For travel between August 14-21 and September
4-11, costs $2003 a person, twin share, 1800 044 066, travel-associates.com.au
Source: Belinda Jackson, Sun Herald newspaper