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February 2015    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 30, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Naiía, Tonga and Fiji

two trips for seeking whales and diving Fijiís reefs

from the February, 2015 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

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Note from Ben: The Nai'a is a popular liveaboard among our readers, so this month we have two reviewers traveling on different itineraries -- one scouting whales in Tonga, the other diving reefs in Fiji. Here are their reports.

* * * * *

Dear Fellow Diver:

I was finning 20 feet above two 40-foot, 40-ton adult humpback whales cavorting and interacting with each other, and permitting me to photograph them up close. I was thrilled! But I was also cold -- the adrenaline produced by the excitement kept me in the water, but it wasn't keeping me warm.

In 2010, I read an Undercurrent story about a humpback whale-watching trip to Silver Bank in the Dominican Republic, in which four people extolled their experiences swimming with humpbacks in Tonga compared with Silver Bank. I had been thinking about that ever since, and finally booked the Tonga whale trip with Nai'a.

Nai'aDuring August and September, humpbacks from Antarctica arrive in Tonga's waters to mate, give birth and wean their young. Nai'a, a Fiji-based liveaboard, travels to Tonga for 10-day trips focused on whale watching and swimming with whales, with a few afternoon dives on local reefs if the whales have disappeared. Mornings were spent looking for blows and trying to get close enough to determine if any whales would stick around long enough for snorkelers to get into the water with them. If they did, everyone jumped in. The crew was constantly searching, but the real directors were the whales themselves, whose whereabouts and willingness to play are what sets Nai'a's course. If you book this trip, you must be willing to dedicate 10 days to almost nothing other than searching for and snorkeling with humpbacks. Alternative activities aren't planned, but the crew on my trip accommodated guests who tired of whales 24/7.

Seventeen passengers of the 19 booked arrived in Nuku'alofa, on the island of Tongatapu, at 6 p.m. the day before the boat sailed -- but half their bags didn't. Panic turned to anger when a Fiji Airways representative explained that the turbo prop was overweighted so the ground crew in Fiji had unloaded bags randomly. Somebody called Nai'a's co-owner, Alexx Edwards, in Fiji, who saw to it that the bags reached the Nai'a before passengers boarded at 2 p.m.

After spending the night in Nuku'alofa and hiring a taxi to drive me around the next morning, I boarded Nai'a to be greeted by Captain Jonathan, who has been with Nai'a for nine of the past 12 years, and cruise directors Amanda and Joshua, both with Nai'a just 11 months after coming from a dive resort in Zanzibar. Joshua speaks four languages, which came in handy because 11 whale watchers were European. Also on board were Wanda from Shanghai, Aurelia, a Mexican woman working in Australia, and three generations of an American family, including precocious Alex, 12, and Carolina, 11, who charmed us by becoming the "cookie delivery system" after every lunch. The Europeans -- mainly Germans, but also an Austrian couple and a Swiss photographer -- had individually booked through a German travel agency. They understood English but understandably preferred to speak German, and pretty much stuck together. One woman had obviously studied the pre-trip information -- she was the only one who always had the right clothes for the cool weather, while I bemoaned my failure to do the same and keep warm....

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