29 September 2012 | Vava'u, Tonga
We’re certain that we’re finally getting into the part of the Pacific ocean that originally drew us here- the crazy, intriguing underwater world. We both admit that we remember studying Pacific reef pictures in National Geographic magazines as kids and have been waiting for this opportunity for years. A few days ago, we moved out of Neiafu, the main town in Vava’u to explore the outer islands with Mawari. It’s been nothing but one extended snorkeling expedition. There’s only one person we know who can outlast us in the water and that is Sue! The hours fly by, we go through waves of feeling cold and wrinkled only to get distracted by yet another colorful nudibranch (kind of like a slug) or interesting critter. The water is usually crystal clear and perfect for pictures. So, we’ll possibly bore you with dozens of critter pictures but this is what we dreamed of doing and haven’t found this trip, until now! The colorful nudibranches are amazing. We take pictures with a simple Canon ELPH 100HS point & shoot in an Ikelite underwater case. Sometimes we zoom in on these to bring the subject closer or crisp it up but that’s about it. We’ve had slightly more expensive cameras in the past but the cases usually leaked at one point or another, corroding the camera, and we decided it’s too stressful & expensive to have a good camera for under water (unless we get rich, that is!)
In the evening, we download our pictures and look up what we saw. We have the ID books by Paul Humann & Ned Deloach, which we’ve used like bibles for years now. In their author’s note in the Pacific Reef Creature book, they say that finding these little phantoms that have specifically evolved over eons NOT to be found is one of the most challenging and fun things to do in the water and we agree! We’ve founds tons of different corals, starfish, nudibranches, flatworms (easily confused with nudibraches), cowries & fish here.
We snorkeled on a deep wall one day and it was like doing a scuba dive. The wall came up to within 3 feet or so of the surface and disappeared beneath you. Later, we went to two famous caves here- the first was Mariner’s Cave which has a fairly large underwater opening that you must swim through for about 15 feet, then surface inside a large cave with no overhead opening. The only light comes from the underwater hole you swam through and it glows blue. The ocean swell rises and recedes compressing the air that’s in the cave enough to pop your ears and to make a misty fog with every push in. The fog then dissipates when the swell recedes. We didn’t believe all this until we experienced it. The second cave is called Swallow’s Cave and it has a wide above water opening. It too, glows blue and aside from a bunch of graffiti on the walls, the stone is many beautiful hues of brown and orange. It’s filled with starlings actually, coming & going from their nests.
The finale of the regatta was yesterday so we headed over to a large anchorage at Ano Beach where the last party was held. The anchorage was filled with cruising boats, and it’s a beautiful, calm spot with birds singing and fish jumping. The party was kind of disappointing though- for one thing, we didn’t recognize most of the techno music being played and it just made us feel old, so a bunch of us left early. But today, we had another long go of snorkeling and we took a nice walk ashore through plantation lands.
We’ve done more thinking about the whale diving and have decided that we won’t do it again because we feel certain that it must affect the whales. There seems to be a constant debate on how it should be managed but one thing is Tonga’s tourism depends a lot on whale diving. I’m not sure what the answer is but I’m glad we got to do it since it was an incredible experience and one that we’d really wanted. And I meant to mention that the pictures we got were not zoomed in on (except for one picture of the whale calf under it’s mom) since we were so close – about 15 feet away! And it looks like Jon finally got the video and sound file to work on the blog so it should be there if you’re interested. Internet has been spotty at best, and we get things done in little "bursts" when there's some reception. The sound file cracks me up. It is the male that “sings” and the sounds in the clip are from very close. I’d previously written that the whale sits in a vertical position to sing but I’m not sure that is true. I thought that’s what I heard the lady who did the lecture say but may be mistaken.
Well, we needed rain and finally got some last night after many days of great weather. Now today is blustery and gray. But the birds seem quite pleased and are singing away on shore. We have to move closer to town since tomorrow we start 2 days of scuba diving. We also noticed a stress crack in our boom vang fitting on the mast so we’ll need to see about getting that welded before leaving here for the next island group in Tonga- the Ha’apai group.