Humpback Whales of Tonga

Fiji, is an island nation in the south Pacific about 1,000 miles northeast of New Zealand. It is archipelago made up of 330 separate islands only 110 are inhabited.

Yasawa Island Resort. The Yasawa is a group of islands originally formed by volcanic activity to the northwest of the main island of Viti Levu. After a beautiful flight on Island Hopper Airline we landed on the grass air strip on Yasawa island and drove a short distance to the Yasawa Island Resort the only lodging on this small Fiji island. The resort original was build in 1990’s and consists of a number of beautiful buras. The there is open air dining area overlooking the ocean and pool.

After a restful night and breakfast we took a boat around the island the the Blue lagoon caves, the sight of part of the movie Blue Lagoon which starred Brooke Shields in her youth. The lagoon is a limestone cavern with a short swim through into a small cavern.

Yesterday we had a visit to the village with Manasa who was one of the original builders of Yasawa resort and the village messenger. We visited the church, school and shell market. Renee Blodgett another one of the me of the children sang for us. Manasa told us the the children love to sing and are always singing at school or in the church.

Breakfast waffle with Nutella at Yasawa. Breakfast of champions. This afternoon we return to Nadi on Viti Levu to fly over to the likliku island for our next adventure.

Likuliku Lagoon Resort is on Island of Manolo off the coast of the mainland Viti levu. Beautiful setting and excellent food with friendly people. Today we did a snorkel trip to Castaway reef which appeared to be healthy with a variety of coral and fish. I saw two hawksbill turtles gliding through the deep just off the reef.

This morning little cloudy in Fiji. We’re off to snorkel and explore another smaller island in the Mamanuca islands today before our trip to Tonga this evening.

Last night we watched the torch lighting followed by a kava ceremony. Kava is a beverage that is made from the roots of the kava plant. The dried root is grounded into a power then mixed with water in large bowl. It has a peppery taste and muddy appearance. It is used in welcoming ceremonies, weddings and other important events for the people of Fiji.

We just finishing our visit to Fiji and heading to Nadi airport for our flight over to Nuku’alofa capital of Tonga. Late arrival there then to our first stop on Fafa island just 7 kilometer of the coast.

Kingdom of Tonga, is a Polynesian sovereign state and archipelago comprising 169 islands, of which 36 are inhabited. It has a population of 100,651 people, of whom 70% reside on the main island of Tongatapu. Tonga is across the international dateline and an approximately an 13 hour flight from Los Angeles but requires a stop in Fiji.

The climate is tropical with a distinct warm period (December–April), during which the temperatures rise above 32 °C (89.6 °F), and a cooler period (May–November), with temperatures rarely rising above 27 °C (80.6 °F).

Our first stop in Tonga is the Fafa Island Resort. After a late night drive through the capital we arrive at the wharf and took a small boat across to Fafa island. The Fafa Island Resort is different than the previous two place we stayed in Fiji. There are 13 individual bungalows built in the traditional style of homes or fala in Tonga using natural materials. The resort has solar power and batteries for night. Water is collected from rain or desalination of sea water and heated with solar hot water heaters. The island is surrounded with coral reefs and we can walk around the island at low tidal.

The island is 17 acres with tropical vegetation such as coconut palms, mangrove trees and assorted vines. There are Koki parrots there were originally from Fiji and long ago established a colony here. The night is clear with very little light pollution and we could see Mars. Venus and alpha centurion tonight before moonrise.

Wednesday we did a full day tour of the main island of Tongatapu and the capital Nuku’alofa. The king was home as the flag was flying over the palace. Next was a visit to the royal tombs. The Tonga people honor their deceased relatives and decorate their burial sites. The graves are covered with sand and can be seen all over the island.

Next was a drive to the western end of Tongatapu and site of Abel Tasman’s landing and a group of Blow holes, Mapu’a Vaea. Afterward we returned to Nuku’alofa for a lunch at “Friendly” restaurant which seen to be a local hotspot for Tongians and travelers. I really enjoyed a banana milkshake and Peggy had mousaka. Have lunch we drove to the grounds of the Mormon school and church that our guide belongs too. The campus has a number of classroom buildings, dorms for students from other islands and neat housing to teachers. Students from the various schools wear uniforms with their school colors. The people of Tonga seem to be well educated with a high literacy rate.

Today we are having a quiet day on Fafá island and took the bush walks around the island. There are a number of birds it otherwise we didn’t see any other mammals or reptiles.


We joined our Humpback whale experience in Nuku’alofa the capital of Tonga after leaving Fafá island. With a welcome Bula we joined our trip directors Chad and Vanessa and the Fijian crew of Nai’a. The Nai’a is a 120 foot ship based in the Fijian islands with a crew of 14 many who have been a member of the staff for years.

After a brief orientation we unpacked our gear and clothes in our cabin and had dinner before our overnight travel to the Ha’apai region of Tonga and the playground of the Humpback whales were they start raising their new calves and also mate. During the winter the mother whales don’t eat but raise their newborn calves and teach them whale behavior and swimming. As all mammals they nurse there newborns. Humpback whales nurse frequently on very rich milk. The newborn consume between 400-500 liters of milk per day. The newborns gain as much as 100 pounds per day and continue nurse until they are weaned at 11-12 months. The newborn and mothers have a very close relationship and share a lot of physical contact and frequent vocalization.

After breakfast we change into our wetsuits and climb into one of the two zodiac boats with our dive guide, skipper and 8 members of our group. We then look for the whale blow or other behaviors such as spy hopping, tail or pectorals fin slapping. One our first day out we learned how to approach the mother and her calf. When we find a pair relaxing half of our group done our googles, and fins and slowly slide over the side of the skiff. The mother whale is resting but keeping an eye out for us and her calf. Humpback whales require sleep just like other land and sea mammals. They sleep on the surface or under the water rising to the surface approximately every 15 minutes to breath.


On our second day on the Nai’a we find and follow a group of 5 males who are racing along and intermittently pec slapping and general roughing with each other. We followed this rowdy group for over an hour as they try to establish dominance and possible right to mate with female humpbacks.

Tonight we are anchoring by Uuleva island and plan a night dive on the reef.

September 5th

Here our captain Keni navigates us into our night harbor by Uuleva island. There are a number of small resorts here only accessible by boat or small plane. Each night on the Nai’a we anchor in a sheltered site for dinner and a peaceful nights sleep. It is really amazing to look out for the deck and see beautiful uninhabited island with trees and sandy beaches. Unfortunately when we visited one of these islands we found assorted plastic waste that has washed up on the shores, such as plastic bottles, large nylon rope and a large orange buoy. Seeing the plastic refuse makes it real how we need to decrease the amount of plastic that makes it into the oceans of the world.

This is our afternoon snack. We have had excellent meals each day and home baked desserts which is amazing with our small kitchen.

Friday September 7

We start a slow cruise to the west today and were treated to all sorts of Humpback behaviors. A calf, mother and escort whale were cruising in front of our bow. The baby was trying all sorts of behaviors such as spy hopping,head lunge and pec slapping. The weather has been beautiful with clear skies and warm temperatures. Today we noted the the sea has picked up a little and more clouds. The winds have been mostly out of the east.

After lunch a group of three males lead the charge in front. One of the whales did tail slapping repeat for over 4 minute. The activity of the males is very active improving tail slapping, pec fin slaps and all sorts of activity under the water as they race along. This behavior is probably related to dominance to who gets an opportunity to mate with the females as they come into estrus.


Saturday September 8th Haapai Group Tonga

Last night we set anchor in a small bay across from a village of approximately 200 people. After a breakfast of banana pancake we start to west to find more humpbacks. We continue out to the western part of the playground when we encountered a mother and her calf. The calf was very active repeatedly breaching and head lunging as their mother kept cruising close by. Eventually she decided to show her calf a breach and gave us a treat. The humpbacks don’t dive down much before they breach, just a few flex of their tail to propel themselves out of the water. They then crash back into the sea with a explosive splash.

The calf repeatedly jumped and twirled ahead of the mom in what appeared to be pure joy of playing until it exhausted it’s self and then rested next to mom.

We were able to quietly roll into the water off of skiff and found ourselves hovering over mom and baby until decided to take off again and mother glided away from us. The mom and calf are very close during the first year and especially while in their wintering localization. During this time the adults don’t eat and mothers can loss 1/3 of their massive weight fasting and feeding their newborns.

The Humpback whale breath through two blow holes in the top of their heads. They exhale upon surfacing. When wind is calm their breath can look like a heart shaped and can be seen at a distance. The babies need to breath every few minutes at first but gradually can hold their breath longer and longer. The adults can hold their breath for 15

Haapai Tonga September 9th

Our last day before our overnight cruise back to Nuku’alofa continued to amaze with a long in water experience with a mother and calf. The calf and mom seemed to be doing some endurance cruising in preparation for their upcoming migration back to Antarctica and the summer season in the Southern Hemisphere. The whales with spend the summer months eating krill and other small fish to regain the weight they have loss in the Tonga area. The humpback population was almost completely destroyed by whaling in the 1950 and 60’s. In 1984 the king of Tonga banded all hunting of the Humpback whales that spend their winter in the waters of Tonga. They have slowly rebounded but are still at risk from changes in the water, plastic waste and loss of their food in the Antarctic.

Tongapata September 10th

After an overnight cruise back to Nuku’alofa we said goodbye to Vanessa and Chad as well as to the crew of the Nai’a.

We’re now on a turboprop ATR 72 enroute to Nadi and our trip back to Phoenix.