As wonderful as life on Waiheke in the winter is, it is also great to get away to warmer climes. This year we were lucky enough to journey to Vava’u, in the beautiful Kingdom of Tonga, and swim with humpback whales.
Between July and October each year, the humpback whales migrate from Antartica, where they feed, to the warm and sheltered archipelago of Vava’u in the Kingdom of Tonga.
This is longest migration of any mammal and the humpbacks undertake this massive journey of 5000+ miles to mate and give birth to their calves.
From our boat, we had plenty of sightings of whales breaching and playing but nothing could prepare us for our close encounter.
Initially we were nervous about entering the water with these gigantic mammals and there is nothing that can prepare you for your first sighting underwater of a humpback mother and calf. Often there are larger “escort” males who swim with the mother and calf, and, in our case, the large male would lurk below and then suddenly surface close by. At one point, we just saw a large EYE only meters away, as it surfaced alongside the mother and calf.
Swimming with the whales is very carefully monitored and restricted to experienced and authorised operators. Only 4 people at a time are allowed in the water at one time and you are not allowed to touch the whales.
The females, known as cows, are 16 metres in length and weigh up to 45 tonnes. Their young, when born, measure 1-2 meters but they grow rapidly on their diet of rich mother’s milk. The calves must surface every 4-5 minutes and are very curious. They will roll on their backs, practise tail slapping and are constantly reassured and nudged by their mothers.
If you are planning a trip to New Zealand, including Waiheke Island, in the winter months, why not explore some of the tropical Pacific islands on your way? And what better than a “bucket list” adventure with these gentle giants of the ocean?