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This blog is part 3 of a three-part blog about experiences from adventures in Eua, Tonga. Go to the previous blogs for the introduction and Experience #1: Pod of Five, and Experience #2: Cathedral Cave.
Experience #3: Mother and Calf
Humpbacks come to Tonga to breed and give birth and while more common in the protected waters of Vava'u and Ha'apai a couple find sheltered spots along the west side of Eua. Boat captains follow a simple rule, if the mother stays between the boat and calf, and starts to move the calf on, you leave – don’t stress the mother or a calf that is yet to gain its strength.
In three previous visits to Tonga we have swam with a couple of cow and calf pairs, mother and baby, Humpbacks before. The calf can be playful, curious and fast, and the mother lets it investigate snorkelers under her watchful eye. On each occasion the mother had come 'out of hiding' and had a hopeful bull as an escort. However, this time was different.
'Slipping under the waves' is an overused cliché but in this instance it was a necessity, the last thing you want to do is to upset a 30-something tonne mother. So, in our small group of five we quietly lowered ourselves into the water and swam, floated slowly towards the two whales, avoiding sudden movements and any splashing.
As soon I could see them under the surface I hesitated. At less than 2 metres long this was easily the smallest Humpback calf I'd ever seen, it was so young. I immediately thought that the mother isn't going to let us near them but, keeping together, we approached. The mother became aware of us and we waited. We were spread out with a few metres between each snorkeler. She descended a bit with the calf beneath her but did not move off. How do you tell a whale that you mean no harm? I tried a slow roll on the surface - like when interacting with young adult whales – we’re here to play?
Then the calf came up for air, my rolling seemed to attract its attention and it came towards me, took a breath, did a head-down tail-up twirl, gave me a stare, and went down again. The mother didn’t move and the calf resumed its position nestled under her chin – it seemed that they were comfortable with us being there.
Every five minutes or so the calf surfaced to breathe, it did a roll or twirl, checked out a snorkeler or two and then returned to mum. Often the calf would rest under its mother’s chin but on another occasion it moved alongside. A giant five-metre long pectoral fin swung out and gently guided the calf beneath the mother where it was embraced in both arms – it was a beautiful sight.
After a while the mother rose to breathe, did so and then descended about a metre but did not move off. The pattern repeated, each time the calf surfaced it would roll or twirl, take a look at a visitor and return to mum. Over time it came closer, to within a few metres of each person – even though it was very young we could never out-swim it and the best option was to avoid any sudden movement, relax and enjoy.
After an hour in the water with the mother and calf we all felt particularly privileged, grateful to have had such an experience, and that it was our time to leave them be.
Diving and snorkelling adventures provide awesome experiences and, according to that study, happiness (see In-water Adventures = Happiness Part 1) – I can't disagree. These were just three such experiences that Karen and I enjoyed, and we can't wait for more! We hope that you too have some amazing adventures.
Want to join us next year?
Thanks to my fearless travelling companions: Karen, Felicity, Linda, Carson, Geoff and Harry. Great adventures are always best when shared.
Special thanks to the Deep Blue Tonga team at Ovava Tree Lodge, Eua: Finau, Grant, Aneesh, Aaron, Harris and most especially to Wolfgang. Great food, great service and amazing adventures are their specialty.
More photos: Tonga - Eua - 2015
Experience #2: Cathedral Cave
Eua is quite different to the other islands in Tonga, it has been formed from up-lifted limestone with impressions of ancient coral often clearly visible in the rocks. It is also the oldest island in Tonga, and the highest.
The island also has a surrounding plateau, much of which sits between low and high tide. A number of underwater caves have formed in this plateau, many of which are waiting to be fully explored. The most well-known is the Cathedral Cave, reportedly the largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere.
Entry to the Cathedral is from the ocean through a wide arch at a depth of 20 - 25m. Once inside, the cave opens up into a large cavern with several ‘skylights’ in the roof, which appear like ‘blue holes’ when viewed from the cliffs above.
Although there is light inside the cave it is a true overhead environment with no safe entry or exit through the skylights.
Despite any swell and ocean noise outside the cave, inside the water is calm and silent and light streams down from the roof in beams as if coming through blue stained-glass windows. When passing under the first few skylights no imagination is required to work out how this cave got its name.
In the main cavern area the waves roll over the skylights in a fascinating display, it’s like watching thunder clouds rolling across the sky in a dramatic time-lapse video. Then with each cycle of ebb and flow of the waves above mini-tornado whirlpools reach down into the cave – it’s best to stay below all of the turbulence and just enjoy the show.
This was our fourth trip to Eua and fourth dive into the Cathedral Cave but this time we had no dive-leader responsibilities. It was a chance to enjoy, to photograph the beams of light and to float on my back in mid-water, face-up tank-down, watching the mesmerising display in the skylights above.
It's a happy place.
Words can never capture the feeling of being there, so I'll let the photos help in explaining.
It doesn’t matter if you believe in simple geology or something more, the Cathedral Cave in Eua is a truly special place that will only ever be known to divers.
The Ghost a light weight travel BCD from xDEEP. Unlike other travel BCDs it provides the comfort and all the benefits of a technical backplate and wing system and yet weighs only a fraction of the weight, coming in at only 2.3kg. I could write about specifications or the outstanding build quality, but you can read all about that on our web site; what’s most important is how easy the Ghost is to travel with and how it performs as a BCD. We’ve had our Ghost BCDs for over a year now, so this blog is a summary of our experience with what has become a favourite BCD, especially when travelling.
Gizo jetty, Solomon Islands
When packing to travel, the Ghost doesn’t take much space. Not only does the backplate look fantastic but it and the tank adapter have a low profile which makes the unit easier to pack as it packs very flat, unlike jacket BCDs. The back pads are ultra slim, yet amazingly comfortable, the wing collapses flat, and we remove the tank bands so the BCDs are even flatter in the bag. The Ghost may not roll up into a ball but it is much less bulky than travelling with typical jacket BCD. When we arrive and unpack we just need to rethread the tank bands, and for the Ghost this is an incredibly simple task, and we’re ready to go.
With airlines getting stricter on weight limits, and excess baggage charges going up, the Ghost has helped us stay under limits on several trips (allowing for more for camera equipment!).
Threading the tank
band is easy!
Our first dive was literally one of surprise – that’s not an exaggeration. When diving with the Ghost, half of the time you can forget that you’re wearing a BCD. We can only put this down to the combined effects of comfort and streamlining. Comfort is a result of the backplate and its pads; there are no pressure points from the tank and the tank is very secure, unlike what you might experience with a ‘foldable’ travel BCD. The pads are slim and provide just enough cushioning in just the right places without adding to buoyancy. Freedom of movement also comes from the Ghost’s next generation harness, which looks a bit different with a double crotch strap but it is very comfortable.
Another comfort factor comes from using droppable weight pockets that connect directly to the backplate. These are soft pouches made from tough cordura fabric, so they fold down flat. When it comes to travel, these pockets add very little weight (without lead of course) and the added comfort of avoiding a weight belt running across the small of the back is well worth it.
Lunch stop, Palau
The positioning of the weight pockets quite centrally on the backplate also makes it easy to attain an excellent horizontal trim position and significantly improve streamlining (admittedly, we do tend to adopt a more horizontal position than many other divers that we meet). The wing design is also streamlined and even though it can wrap up around the tank the clever shape ensures that it balances the air evenly and air can be dumped easily. These features are in addition to the general characteristics of harness and backplate systems, which are streamlined by simply minimising bulk. All of these benefits add up to create a very streamlined unit and almost effortless movement underwater.
Aside from the optional weight pockets, we’ve added D-rings to the Ghost's tri-glides on both of the rear crotch strap sections - we use these for attaching a SMB and spool as most of our Ghost-diving is in open water off boats.
A final advantage that we noticed for travel is that, unlike jacket BCDs with lots of ‘layers’ of fabric, the Ghost dries out fast, which means we’re not carrying water weight on the way home … now if only our dive boots would dry out as fast!
Caverns in the Solomon Islands
So, where has the Ghost been in the last 12 months? The Ghost has travelled to: Palau (Micronesia), Kavieng (Papua New Guinea), Eua (Tonga) & Uepi (Solomon Islands). In the next 12 months the Ghost will travel to the Philippines and Tonga (again) and very likely another destination in Asia, but that’s yet to be decided. There is no doubt it is an awesome travel BCD – the best I have ever had and I plan to continue using it.