Tonga – Godâs best kept secret
By Dave Moran
Is it in the baby’s eyes or mums? I’m still trying to figure it out.
But one thing I’m absolutely sure of is that there was a mutual trust between the four of us. We were all just looking at each other like – ‘hi over there’.
But I could not help think, that mum was so proud of her baby she just loves showing it off and, of course, what a clever wonderful mum she is!
I was snorkelling off Foa Island in the Haâ’apai Island group with Glenn Edney who operates Ocean Blue Adventures beside the Sandy Beach Resort.
For once in my life I was in the right place at the right time!
How many times have you been told by fellow divers, ‘mate you should have been here yesterday’, or ‘mate the day after you left it was just going ballistic – there were whales for Africa – you left too soon’. Bugger!
This time was pay day! We had been aboard Glenn’s sailing catamaran
, for quite a few hours. Lunch and a wonderful reef snorkel dive had already passed and the group on board were starting to come to terms with the possibility that whales were not on today’s menu. It was early October and many of the whales that had calved and mated in the tropical, safe waters of Tonga, had already started their long journey to Antarctica.
But if you’re out on the water, never give up hope! Then at last the cry came ‘there she blows’! Glenn’s expert eye surveyed the scene as under sail
came within a few hundred metres of the travelling whales. ‘Looks like they’re settling into their stride heading south. A mother, calf and a male escort’ he advised the hushed guests on board.
Man I was excited. Humpback whales right there in front us – but Glenn soon chucked me into a cold shower as he explained to those on board. ‘We will cruise with them for a while but it’s not looking all that promising as they are moving quite fast’ .Bugger, so close yet so far. Whale watching can be a very frustrating business and there are many well established protocols that whale watching operators adhere to so that the whales are treated with the respect and space they deserve.
God looked down and took pity on us! ‘Now that looks promising, they’ve stopped’ murmured Glenn. The main sail was dropped and
forward momentum slowed rapidly.
All those on board will never forget what happened next! Mum with baby in tow, came over to visit and when I say visit, I mean like really knocking on the front door. She rubbed herself along
as she eyed the commotion of wide eyed humans above and to really impress, her baby decided to do a few barrel rolls within arms reach.
There were a few different nationalities onboard and the uninhibited Italian couple were going nuts! As the commotion subsided Glenn causally announced, ‘they look very comfortable with us being here, let’s quietly get into the water and swim with them – four can snorkel with me at a time – okay?
Mum, calf and snorkellers spent the next amazing hour eye balling each other while the escort drifted in and out as if checking that the party did not get too outrageous!
To swim with these intelligent, trusting creatures is one of life’s most amazing experiences. To have a new born calf swim right up to you without any fear and look you in the eye is a moment when time stands still. After the experience all you want to do is hit the rewind button – let’s play that again!
The Ha’apai group of 61 islands are sprinkled over 60 nautical miles of blue South Pacific Ocean mid way between Tongatapu to the south, where you make your international air connection and Vava’u group of islands to the north.
I wonder if Captain Cook was also seduced by whales when he dropped anchor in 1773 in search of fresh water and was met by the local Tongans. He was so impressed by the experience he named them the Friendly Islands. Visiting these friendly islands is not just about the possibility of swimming with whales. It is an amazing destination to unwind from your normal daily pressures.Pick up any travel info about the Ha’apai group of islands and you will be proudly informed, nothing happens there. Even the main town of Pangai has no raging night clubs, no traffic, no traffic lights and few people. It does have one bank and a small harbour to handle inter-island shipping and of course a few wandering dogs, pigs and roosters! I love it!
After your plane lands at Lifuka Island you travel north by car on the only main road which transects the airport runway before crossing a causeway to Foa Island. Your wrist watch, heart beat and blood pressure all seem to be wound backwards as you rattle onwards to your chosen accommodation. At the far northen end of Foa you have a choice of accommodation. The very well appointed Sandy Beach Resort which has all the comforts one would expect at a five star resort and of course a sandy beach to die for at your front door.
Just up the road is Matafonua Lodge which was built by Sandy Beach Resort to provide comfortable accommodation as a less expensive alternative to the Resort. The lodge is managed by Kiwi’s Sally and Dave. My family and I just loved the simplicity of staying at the Lodge. Guests share a clean communal ablution block, the bungalow’s beds are heavenly. The open dining area is very laid back and has a great family atmosphere.
The food that Sally and her team produce is awesome – try their pizzas – yummy! Sally’s cheese cake is legendary.
Just 200 metres from the Lodge beside Sandy Beach is the base for Ocean Blue Adventures / Happy Ha’apai Divers. Glenn and his team provide full diving services ranging from PADI training for those who wish to experience scuba diving for the first time, to the experienced diver.
You will encounter a wide variety of diving experiences in the 30m-40m visibility: caves, tunnels, vertical walls to drift by, and coral pinnacles to explore.
The variety of tropical fish range from cute clown fish to squadrons of dog tooth tuna. There is even a spot where you can place your fingers and have your nails cleaned by cleaner shrimps – real cool!
Visits Glenn’s web site to check out the wide variety of diving options available.
Just snorkelling or scuba diving off the beach is a very pleasant way to cruise away an afternoon.
If you hunger for a diving destination that offers a wide variety of outstanding diving adventures and the tranquility of being on your own deserted island, Ha’apai Islands will deliver.
Pack your camera and spoil yourself – you will not be disappointed, I guarantee.