If you want an amazing experience - go to Tonga and see or swim with the whales.
We stayed at Ha'atufu beach resort on the west coast of Tongatapu - a lovely, family friendly, low key place that has about 12 bungalows on the beach front. About 30 minutes from the airport.
The owners will arrange the whale watching for you - no need to book - just let them know you would like to do it and they arrange for a lovely local guy who comes to pick you up in his truck (Tongan style!).
He takes you to the boat and off you go to find the whales...They are very experienced in finding them and so you are bound to see them. The guides will advise if the whales are friendly, then they allow you to jump in and snorkel with them.
We were the only people on the boat (our family of 4) except for an ex-guide who was bringing his girlfriend along that day. We spent the first 1-2 hours looking for the whales with no luck. Then we stopped on Malinoa Island for lunch. The island is about the size of 2 football fields in total and has absolute white sandy beaches all around - we walked around the whole island in about 20 minutes. We had a packed lunch with sandwiches and fruit. The guys climbed some coconut trees and chopped some coconuts up for us - beautiful!
Then we were off to find the whales - and after about 20 minutes they spotted some - we went about 100 meters away and then cut the engines and waited. 5 minutes later 4 adolescent humpback whales arrive on the side of our boat. The guides immediately said - yep, they are friendly - get in.
My husband and the ex-guide and his girlfriend jumped in with their snorkel and masks. My kids and I watch from the boat. What we saw was nothing short of amazing.
The adolescents were super friendly, waving their fins at us, communicating to us with their extraordinary vocals. They provided us with a show for about an hour. There is no way to express in the human language what it is like to see and be in the presence of these Beings in their natural environment. I can tell you that time seemed to slow down and be irrelevant, when we caught our first glimpse of the whales. It was like a dream - their dream that we were allowed to partake in. Each movement, each fin fluke, gaze, sound and breath was deliberate, gentle, a magnificence to marvel in. Something surreal was taking place, a moment of beingness in the presence of great mystery and respect for the Whales. I was totally engrossed and humbled by the gentle magnificence of these creatures, and to this day it is an experience which shall remain sacred to me.
Nothing can prepare you for this intimate experience. So if it is your wish to see the Whales in their natural environment, and to get in the water with them, then the Kingdom of Tonga is one place that will not disappoint!
By Desiree Herbstein
Blue skies, 18 degree Spring Day and we see the black speed boat zooming towards us. The excitement wells up inside me. A day out at sea amongst some of nature's most beautiful beings. As we left Manly and moved through the heads, the swells lifting and turning us, with our tour guide, Blake, carefully navigating confidently through the deep blue waters, we held on for an adventure. Salt water on our faces, splashes from the Pacific waters and the sun streaming down, we all kept an eyeful watch on the waves in anticipation.
Slowing down, we held our breaths. And then we saw them. Two magnificent, gigantic, gentle males, competing and playing amongst the water. When we heard the sounds of the blowhole whoosh through the air, my heart skipped a beat. I was suddenly mindful in the moment of oneness.
By Hayley B
Ecotourism on different continents: