Saturday, September 17, 2011

Whale Watching

We got up pretty early this morning in an attempt to swim with the whales. Mark and Yuka from Merkava were going to try for a second day in a row and invited us to go along so at 0700 we were underway in our respective dinghies. We swung around Langito'o Island and sped into the passage between Ovaka and Vaka'eitu islands. Mark slowed his 20 hp Yamaha to an idle and we pulled up next to them. About 200 yards off, a humpback whale blew, dove and blew again. Certainly not close enough to swim with but a beautiful sight just the same. We sat, waited and watched the sky as heavy rain clouds approached. In not too long a time, the rain began to fall, light at first and then heavier. Everyone put on their wetsuits except me as I hadn't brought mine. Soon a torrential rain was falling and both dinghies were filling with water (lucky for us Mark had with him a small hand pump). Eventually the rain lightened and then quit altogether and we started up the dinghies and continued west into the open ocean. Once off Totokafonua Island, we stopped again as we spotted more humpbacks in the distance. We waited and watched both the water for whales and the sky as more impending rain loomed. Listening closely, we could hear the whale's songs, at first faintly but gradually louder. Mark and Yuka donned their mask and fins and slipped overboard. Corie did the same. All of a sudden Mark poked his head up, spat out his snorkel and said, "Holy shit!" A large whale had just passed under our dinghies. Unfortunately, Corie couldn't see it even though we were only a few yards away. We waited a while longer and a light rain began to fall. A craving for hot cocoa came over me and Ruthie agreed that she was ready to head back. Corie climbed in with Mark and Yuka - they headed south while Ruthie and I headed east and to Rutea. Once aboard, we peeled off our soaking clothes and made rich, hot cups of cocoa.

Last night we attended a typical Tongan feast on Lape Island. The island is very small and very poor, with about twenty people living in about ten single-room houses. They were hoping to raise money to repair their concrete pier and there was a nice turnout of cruisers. The whole roast pig was the only food I could identify but everything was pretty tasty including the octopus. The small local children with bad coughs were having the time of their lives with all the attention they were getting and they weren't bashful about just plopping down in the lap of any cruiser.

There's a long reef between Vaka'eitu Island and Nuapapu Island known as the Coral Garden. Yesterday we took the dink over there, anchored it in about 10 feet of water and tried to swim out past the breakers. The current was too strong and the waves too big to make it out so we waded to shore and got closer to the breakers. That didn't help. Ultimately, I found that if I walked backwards over the coral I could make progress even though the breakers would force me to lose ground every so often. Finally, I made it out past the breakers and was treated to fabulous underwater scenery. There is a huge variety of brightly-colored coral and tropical fish in every color of the rainbow. After about an hour of snorkeling, we had to face the breakers once again but at least this time we were going in the same direction.

Our plans remain a bit up in the air. There's another group of islands, called Ha'apai, that we'd like to visit plus there's still more places in Vava'u that we'd like to see. No one has given Tongatapu, the most populated island in the Tonga group, very high marks but we'll probably stop there before we jump off to New Zealand, which should be in four weeks or so.
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At 9/17/2011 9:40 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 18°43.25'S 174°06.09'W

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1 comment:

  1. Love reading about your adventures - looking forward to seeing it all next year!

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