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Thursday, December 05, 2013

Whale Fairy Tale the Tongan Way

Posted by Unknown On 08:27

"For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time
Henry Beston

     There are not many places on Earth left which would offer such intense close up encounters with one of the largest, most intelligent and least understood animals on the planet hunted to the brink of extinction by human greed. And certainly many less that would enable those profound connections to happen peacefully and respectfully in their own natural environment: in pristine waters of uninhabited Pacific islands away from mass tourism, away from any western rhythms and any exploitation of the animal. 

     Every year Humpback whales migrate 5000 miles from Antarctica to warm and sheltered waters of Kingdom of Tonga in South Pacific, the longest migration taken by any mammal. They leave their Antarctic feeding grounds and come all the way here to mate and give birth, to raise their calves and teach the juvenile humpbacks some of the most complex behavior and social interactions observed in the animal kingdom.         


 Tonga is also one of the two countries in two countries in the world which legally allows swimming with whales by joining one of the scientific, photography or freediving expeditions lasting from a few days up to a few weeks, or during day trips with a small group of people led by an official guide and a licensed operator. In August 2013 we spent 4 weeks in Ha'apai, Tonga, by camping on an uninhabited Island Uoleva at Tiana's Guest House, staying at Fins and Flukes and Matafonua Lodge and taking their day trips out, as well as joining a phenomenal 10-day freediving trip with Erez and Ally from Apnea Australia and Whale Discoveries as our operator.          
     Altogether we experienced about 20 days out on the sea following the humpbacks and witnessing their breathtaking underwater behavior including a surreal dance of four adult whales, emotional interactions between mothers and their newborn calves, meditative singing of old singers travelling alone, as well as their incredible activity above the water such as breaching, slapping the water with its fins and pectorals, communication between different groups of whales and their travelling patterns. Tonga has also showed us that even such intense interactions with some of the largest animals o the planet can be done in the most respectful way towards the animal when you're the guest and the whales and the ocean are your guides and teachers. You're the guest and they're your guides and teachers. And if you're patient enough, very often they are willing to reveal as much of their world as you allow them. They can watch you and follow you for hours, be the most curious and interactive as they mirror your moves and emotions, or they can just leave when they feel you simply don't belong to their world. 

     In this post we would love to share our collection of the most emotional moments shared with these amazing whale beings. They took us on a journey million years back to our collective memory where everything important existed in its purest form. They showed us love in its simplest and the most complex expression, healing energy which goes beyond any human comprehension, and tied us forever to the ocean. 

Whale Fairy Tale (Tonga 2013) from Miro Kubicek on Vimeo.

Where To Stay

   The Kingdom of Tonga is a Polynesian archipelago comprising 176 islands scattered across the southern Pacific Ocean, of which only 52 islands are inhabited. Tonga is also one of the few countries in the world that have resisted European colonization and are still relatively untouched by tourism. It offers an insight into the authentic Polynesian culture, mild climate, warm waters with some of the best visibility in the world, pristine coral reefs, world class cave diving and migrating humpbacks each year from June to October, with whom, if they agree, you can swim and experience what well may be the most transformative adventure you'll ever do in your life.     

     Having experienced much more busier Va'vau 2 years ago (although still considerably less busy than any other country in Southeast Asia and most of the Pacific), this time we decided to head off to much quieter, more pristine and less touristy Ha'apai group of Islands. With no tourism infrastructure whatsoever, only 4 official whale-watching operators with an option to completely submerge ourselves into the simplicity of uninhabited and breathtaking Uoleva island, you won't find a better place to experience those profound encounters that humpback whales offer.

1. Uoleva Island

     There’s nothing easier than to get off the beaten path on Uoleva Island in Ha'apai: there’s no beaten path. Situated just south of Lifuka Island, Ha'apai (with an adventurous possibility to walk across during low tide) Uoleva's got to be one of the most beautiful tropical islands we've ever seen. The water can't be clearer, the sand whiter and the coconut water sweeter. There is also no running water or electricity. Staying on this uninhabited island in the middle of South Pacific offers the ultimate wilderness escape. Rough, barefoot and earthy experience limited only by how much simplicity can one endure.

  • Tiana's (Diana's) Beach Resort: very basic stay with the Tongan family in 6 traditional fales furnished with mattresses and mosquito nets and situated right on the edge of a stunning beach, amazing snorkeling, the clearest water and easy access to the ocean even during low tide. There is a table, chairs and a hammock outside of each fale and the shared facilities include a shower, two toilets and a common kitchen area. There are solar lights in shared facilities as well as in each fale, however charging of the electronic devices is not possible. You can arrange a very basic breakfast or dinner with the family, or you can bring the food from the main island and prepare them yourself.There is nothing accept drinking rain water and plenty of coconuts available at Tiana's, however the magic of the place will make up for that: morning runs or yoga on the beach, walk around the island, swimming in crystal clear water or watching the sun to set behind the volcano every night. The stay is very affordable with TOP$45 per fale per night and TOP$15 per person per dinner. You can arrange the transport from and to the airport as well as return transfer to the main island with the family, however they only operate a small and very slow boat and it can be pricey: TOP$30 airport - Uoleva one way per person or TOP$40 main island - Uoleva return per person. Contact Finau for bookings on (676) 60612 or email her at dianaresort10@gmail.com.
  • Serenity Beaches: We only experienced
    Serenity Beaches as part of our 10-day Freediving expedition with Apnea Australia, however we couldn't find more perfect place to enjoy yoga sessions in the morning or come back each afternoon after a long day out on the sea. Serenity Beaches is a true hideaway on the beautiful island of Uoleva consisting of 5 simple bungalows spread out in the jungle along the beach on both sides on the island providing ultimate privacy. Serenity not only offers a unique workplace for various groups and retreats, but also. Activities are limitless including the swimming with the whales organized through Dave and Tris from Whale Discoveries
  • Captain Cook's Hideaway: Basic accommodation in wooden houses (rather than in traditonal fales) right on the beach and just behind the corner from Tiana's. Tongan breakfast and dinner are available or you can cook for yourself. You can call +(676)60014 or +(676)8712979 to check the prices, make the booking or arrange the transport. 

2. Foa Island

     Another place where we would recommend to stay during your stay in Ha'apai is a beautiful island Foa located northeast of the Lifuka Island. Book your stay in Matafonua Lodge located on the quiet northern peninsula of Foa Island and surrounded by some of the best beaches and snorkeling in Tonga. NIna and Darren are one of the most interesting and welcoming people we've met during our journeys and the whale watching, diving and snorkeling trips with their crew  were unparalleled to anything we've experienced so far. Their knowledge and passion for the underwater world, the whales and the ocean is simply something you have to be part of to understand what brought them here and made them create a pristine place like Matafonua Lodge.

      Their approach to whale watching trips is based on their extensive knowledge and experience with these gentle, as well as on giving them absolute respect and care and allowing for their well being to be a number one priority. Although their powerful 2-engine fast boats enable to approach any whale on the horizon within  a few minutes, the most memorable encounters lasting up to a few hours happened just off the coast of Foa Island.

     Matafonua Lodge can also take you to some of the Pacific's most unspoiled and rarely visited dive sites. The healthy reef systems, the visibility reaching about 30 meters and the constant singing of the ever present humpback whales from July to October - diving with Matafonua Lodge has it all and much more.

Apnea Australia

     It's not easy to describe life-transforming experiences like the 10-day Freediving trip with Apnea Australia we took in August 2013. They offer all inclusive trips of various lengths in true eco lodges on the uninhabited island of Uoleva surrounded by local people and wonderful healthy island food. Our every morning consisted of yoga sessions, meditations and breathing exercises, and was followed by a full-day spent out on the water freediving in pristine locations, and then searching for the whales and experiencing some of the most intense and life-changing encounters with these majestic beings. 

            There are not many more direct ways of opening your heart and soul, or falling in love with the whales, the ocean and the art of freediving than to book one of the trips with Apnea Australia. Erez and Ally are the most wonderful couple and some of the most amazing teachers and guides you can have on this kind of spiritual journey. They have some exciting plans for upcoming years, so please follow them on:


How to get there and around

Getting to Tonga

Air New Zealand offers direct flights from Australia or New Zealand, as well as flights from Europe and USA via Auckland to the international airport Fua'amotu in the national capital of Nuku'alofa.

Virgin Australia offers two flights a week from Sydney, Brisbane and Auckland to Tonga.

Fiji Airways offers direct flights from Fiji and flights from Australia ad USA via Nadi to Tonga.

Getting around Tonga

Real Tonga is the Kingdom's new domestic carrier.


Tongatapu to Vava’u: Twice daily
Tongatapu to Ha’apai: Once daily
Tongatapu to ‘Eua: Twice daily (AM and PM, an ideal flight for a day trip)
Tongatapu to the Niuas’: Once a week  

About us

There are so many reasons not to start a travel blog.
And just go. And let it go.
Let the memories sink into the setting sun.

But I've promised myself, way back when the life didn't belong to me yet, that I would never say no to life in any of its spontaneous insanities, to any of its fears,to any of its challenges. That when I feel that it is the time to subtract rather than add anything else to my life, to run towards something rather than escape from, to share rather than receive, I will do so. I will subtract, I will run and I will share... read more...