It’s that time of year again…time for me to jet away to distant lands in an effort to reclaim my independence and to replenish my sense of wonder. This year is no exception and yet…exceptional. This time I am chasing more than wanderlust and solitude. This time I am turning dreams into reality.
I’ve been in awe of ocean life for as long as I can remember; in fact, the first answer I recall giving when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up is a marine biologist. Many years later in college (and probably many years before that) it became clear that my academic strengths did not lie among the sciences, so the study aspect of marine life went by the wayside. My equal parts fear and fascination of the sea, however, have never waned and I’ve always had a special interest in dolphins and whales. Not until I went on my honeymoon in Maui, however, did I fully understand the connection I would feel toward the humpback whale. For nine days it seemed my eyes never left the ocean, always looking at the countless pulses of water from the blowholes and hoping for that special appearance of a breach or even a tail fin slap. I will never forget the morning I woke up before Sean and, while enjoying a meditative cup of coffee alone on the lanai, witnessed a single adult humpback whale breach not more than 200 feet off the coastline. It was as if she had done it just for me. There were many encounters on that trip and I literally cried as we drove to the airport. I had Sean pull the car over one last time at a scenic lookout so I could say my good-byes. We’ve been to Maui a few more times together since then and I will only book travel during whale season. For our first anniversary (paper), Sean adopted a female mother whale named Malama for me through the Pacific Whale Foundation and presented me with the certificate of adoption. I was pregnant with Kellan at the time, so it was an incredibly perfect and thoughtful gift. We have retirement plans that will hopefully land us in Hawaii and as far as I am concerned the only acceptable section of real estate is the South side of Maui since that is where the largest population of whales migrate to. Is it sinking in yet how deep my love goes for these majestic creatures?
So a couple of years ago I Googled “swimming with humpback whales.” Hawaii only offers whale watching from onboard a boat, but surely there must be a place on this planet where a closer encounter would be possible? Enter Tonga. Tonga is an island nation in the South Pacific, not too far from Fiji, and the Vava’u group of islands is a haven for whale watching and swimming in August and September. The Hawaiian whales commute from Alaska, but the Tongan variety are visiting from Antarctica. A whole new group of friends to meet! As with the Maui group, the families come up to the warmer waters of Tonga to breed and then return a year or so later to birth their calves.
It’s no surprise then that this has been on my bucket list for some time now. For 7 days I will be, quite literally, swimming with humpback whales. I’ve read all of the reviews and seen all of the pictures that the web has to offer and yet I know these do no justice to the first-hand experience of making eye contact with a 70,000 pound marine mammal in its natural habitat. I feel no fear whatsoever, just utter anticipation of what’s to come. I hope to share a wealth of pictures and knowledge of these beauties over the next week or so on the blog and on social media.
Here we go, fins away!