Kerry and I had been together nine years when we travelled to Tonga, a relatively small group of islands in the Pacific ocean, just over 2000km North East of New Zealand. The plan was to achieve possibly our number one bucket list experience, to swim alongside a humpback whale.
Humpback whales give birth to their calves around June/July each year, in the shallow waters just of the coast of Tonga. After a few weeks the young whales are getting curious, and their mothers more relaxed. So come August/September visitors to this magical part of the world have the chance of slipping into the water and possibly being approached by these majestic animals.
The morning of September 4th we headed out on our boat in search of the whales. It wasn’t long before we spotted the familiar spray of water sent up by the blowhole of one of these ocean giants. Continuing towards the spot we got our snorkel gear ready and once in the perfect position we quietly slipped into the water.
The water in Tonga is the most brilliant shade of blue you can possibly imagine, and when the sun hits the warm waters you truly feel like you are in another world. Looking down into this blue it is so easy for the mind to get lost in the mesmerising colour. But on this day, while scouring the vastness below we slowly started seeing something moving. A small grey shape was somewhere down there… and it was getting bigger.
I’ve often heard people speak about feeling like life was moving in slow motion, usually this is associated with situations when people are in extreme danger. The commonly held theory is that when people are scared, the area of the brain known as the amygdala becomes more active and forces the brain to collect more memories than it normally would. Now I know this situation wasn’t in the slightest bit scary, but it felt like we spent 10 minutes watching this young humpback calf ascend from the brilliant blue, when in fact it was probably only 20 seconds.
The young whale surfaced about 5 metres from where Kerry and I were floating, it took a big breath and began to circle the two of us. Staying a couple of metres below the surface the whale twisted and turned every way possible as it continued to circle us from only a few metres away. After the most amazing few minutes you can imagine, the young whale took one last look before it descended back down into the endless blue beneath us.
Words can’t begin to describe this moment, but I sensed this was an experience we would remember for the rest of our lives. It was at that point I felt like it was a good time to try and make it even more memorable.
I didn’t do a big speech, but popping our heads above the water I just looked at Kerry and knew it was the perfect time to ask her: “will you marry me?”… she said yes.
I don’t think I could have imagined a more perfect moment for the two of us to get engaged, we both love the ocean, wildlife and being able to experience these amazing adventures together. To some I’m sure it wouldn’t be their cup of tea, but for us I think it was perfect.
Just when we were beginning to move back to the boat we noticed movement below. The same grey shape we had seen minutes earlier was returning, it was heading directly towards us again… but this time it wasn’t alone.
When you are swimming with a young humpback whale you get a really good sense of just how massive these animals are. However, when this youngster headed to the surface again, this time accompanied by it’s mum, we got to see what ‘massive’ really looks like. The young whale, who made us feel so small, was barely the size of it’s mother’s head! A fully grown female humpback whale is about 15 metres long and weights an incredible 35 tonnes. To put that in perspective it’s almost twice as long and twice as heavy as a full size bus! Despite their size, the graceful and gentle way they move through the water is something to behold, even tilting gently away so they don’t touch you as they swim past.
The young whale again made it’s surface only a few metres from us and this time mum did too. The two of them turned towards us and made a big sweeping loop around the two of us, their eyes never leaving us for a second, before they finally made their descent back into the blue. Humpbacks really are gentle giants and to this day they are by far the most amazing animal we’ve ever had the privilege of swimming with.
Not your normal witnesses to a marriage proposal but for us it was amazing.
*Thanks for reading our post. We have so many more adventures, stories, tips and advice to share so why not follow the blog below to get a quick email each time we publish a new post.
Like the photos? You can find out more about our gear on the links below.