07.12.2013 Whale swimming in Vava'u

I'm fumbling around in my wetsuit furiously trying to pull on my flipper. My fingers keep slipping and a knot of frustration forms in my throat. Finally my foot slips into place and I draw myself to the edge of the boat. Our guide and group members are already in the water and swimming away. They are making their way towards the humpback whale that has just surfaced off the stern off our boat. I plunge in after them

We are on the island of Vava'u in the Kingdom of Tonga. Just 24 hours earlier a rickety old twin-prop had dropped us at the capital. From here we would be taking day trips out into the waterways. Each year humpback whales migrate north where they spend August - November swimming amongst the Tongan islands. With the help of local guides, we hoped to capture witness these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat.

Earlier in the day the guide had warned that it hadn't been a good week for whale sightings. The weather had been unusually rough causing the whales to become restless. Despite his warning, I had been optimistic that we would find them. After months of anticipation, I flatly refused to accept that I wouldn't see one.

Catching my first glimpse of a whale underwater is a memory that will never leave me. In the weeks leading up to the trip I had tried to visualise how it might be. I had pictured myself floating calmly, gazing upon it with admiration. The reality wasn't quite so idyllic. I was swimming furiously against the swells in a pathetic attempt to keep up with her. With no apparent interest in spending time with us, the whale continued swiftly on her way. A few languid tail flicks later and she disappeared from view. The encounter was awfully brief and yet it was more than I had ever expected.