A Whale of a Day

This morning, I was calling on bank clients in the small outer island village of Matamaka.   I was with Oholei, one of the loan officers at the Tonga Development Bank where I work.  We had arrived by boat and he and I were making our way through the village while the boat’s driver, Ha’ukau stayed with the boat.

We had been in the village for less than 15 minutes when I see Ha’ukau walking quickly toward us.   This is pretty unusual as he always stays with the boat when we are visiting clients.

As he gets closer, he yells:

“Ha’u Steve!  ha’u vave”.  That means “Steve come here quickly”.   He motioned me to follow him to the beach and when we got there he said in English just one word:  “Whales”

I kept looking but couldn’t see them but we headed back toward the boat while Oholei finished up with our client.   We waited at the dock my eyes peeled for any sign of a whale.  Finally, way off in the distance, I saw a little black hump appear.  If I hadn’t been looking, I would have missed it.

That was the last we saw of the whales until Oholei made his way back to the boat.   We got in the boat and started heading to our next stop when we saw not one, not two, but three whales dead ahead.

Whale in Vava'u, Tonga We moved closer than turned off the boat’s motor and waited.   A few minutes later we see a giant whale swim directly under our boat.  If it had surfaced it would have capsized the boat, but clearly the whale was just as curious about us as we were about it.

Whale in Vava'u, Tonga We didn’t want to disturb the whales so Ha’ukau started the engine and put the boat in reserve.  Almost immediately, a large whale breeched directly in front of the boat.  All you could see ahead was black…no water, no shoreline, just the side of whale. It was THAT big.   If the boat had been going forward, we would have hit it, it was that close.

Whale in Vava'u, Tonga We stayed in the area for a while longer and the whales continued to play.  We think it may have been a mother, father and baby as two of the whales were very large and the third looked smaller.

IMG_2885 I’ve seen whales before but never this close.  There are about a dozen companies in Vava’u that offer whale-watching trips or swimming with the whales experience, but we were the only ones around to share this experience and we didn’t pay for it.

Whale in Vava'u, Tonga The whales soon swam away and we continued on to another village and more visits with clients but it was our visit with the whales that the three of us will remember most.



I did take some video as well, but it didn’t really come out that great.   I was standing on a boat that was rocking and kept trying to find the waves in the water.  But here is a short clip anyway.

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