The biggest attraction of Vava'u is the ocean. The crystal clear, super-deep ocean full of enormous whales. after my biking day, I had a day of snorkeling and a day of swimming with whales booked. That's right: you can just swim with humpback whales.
But first the snorkeling trip:
This is how bright the water was.
We spent the day bouncing around from reef to reef, and stopped at several sea caves to explore.
All these little tiny islands are just clumped together, and along the edges of the islands you have a rim of coral that is bursting with color and fish. However, within about 30 feet from the cliff edges of the islands (they are mostly cliffs, very few beaches), the seafloor just plummets straight down into a cobalt abyss. It was pretty, and scary. some would say pretty scary.
I didn't have a waterproof camera with me, which is a real shame, so I apologize for not having more exciting pictures of the snorkeling adventure. Here are some highlights from the day though:
1. I could dive down and while I was swimming under water, I could hear whales singing in the distance. At one point it got so loud I felt like they were going to just swim right by the underwater cliff edge I was on. It was unreal.
2. I basically swam with a shark. A shark that could have probably killed one of us if it wanted. Luckily it just swam by and left. I have to admit that this wasn't as scary as I thought it would be. It was more of a sensation of "oh that's cool! A shark!", which is not the reaction I thought i would have. I'm always a little afraid that I"ll be eaten by a shark, but not afraid enough to avoid these situations.
3. There were several sea caves we went to. This is one of them:
This one was very tall for its opening, and very deep on the inside, as in 60-80 feet? As we were swimming into it, it was getting a little dark, and I could see something HUGE way down deep in the water, and got a little freaked out, but it turned out to be an enormous school of fish down there in a big ball-like cluster, just slowly swirling around in the bottom of the cave. It is apparently a very safe, cozy place for them to hang out.
Another cave was nearby, so we swam over to it, and it had a small side room that you had to swim under water to get to, but its ceiling was open, and it was fairly light in there, so I swam under. After 3 seconds of terror, I realized it was actually really cool. No one else in the group, including the guide, came with me, so I was swimming blindly through some water tunnel, which was a bit unnerving, but I was rewarded with some amazing views.
The third cave was the coolest. It actually only has an underwater entrance, and the whole room is sealed from above, so the air that is in there is just trapped. This creates for a couple of interesting features. Firstly, it is quite dark in there, but luckily the tunnel is fairly large, and the water is so clear that enough light pours in from under the water, that it puts a light blue glow in the cave. Secondly, every time a wave would otherwise be crashing on the wall outside the cave and the pressure from the rising water increases in the cave, the air is compressed, and it turns to fog. At this point, you feel the pressure build in your ears, then the water level drops, the fog disappears, and your ears are fine again. It was incredible to see the fog come and go every 30 seconds.
I was also the only person from my group to go into this cave, so once again, I swam by myself into a dark tunnel under water. This one was a bigger deal. You have to go down about 6 -10 feet, then in about 12 feet. The guide said she wasn't actually able to ever make it, so she didn't try this time, and that scared everyone else from actually trying. I have to say I'm glad I did it though. Turning around to look back through the tunnel was amazing. It was basically black everywhere, then just a huge Bright blue beam of light that you swim through. Just ignore all the monsters that are lurking everywhere, and it's an incredible experience.
More people sailing the friendly seas.
And that concluded my snorkeling trip. (A post is coming soon to share with you all the events from the morning before and the evening after this snorkeling trip. Basically, there were a lot of 'suggested' activities from the locals that are worthy of their own post!)
As I've mentioned before, this is where whales live. Luckily, they are nice, and lots of people can take you on a tour to swim with them. You can only get within a certain distance from them, you can't touch them, only 4 people can be in the water with them at a time, and you can't chase them. There are other rules, too, I'm sure.
But, you basically take turns swimming out to just lurk around some whales, and if they don't mind, they'll just sit there and swim around with you. If they do mind, they give around one tail flip and they're gone. We were luck enough to find a Mom and baby pair of humpback whales that welcomed our company for most of the day.
Again, I didn't have an underwater camera, which is a pity, because the pictures would have been epic.
Here's our group.
Once we had located our whales, it was time to set out in shifts to swim out to them (just follow the guide and try to not splash around very much. ) Turns out, whales are HUGE. It's pretty intimidating, yet oddly comfortable being so close to these things. They are just so graceful.
Here's the baby playing at the surface
He was very playful.
Sunning his belly!
The baby was easily the size of a van, and the Mom was the size of a bus.
At one point, two large males came to escort them around for a while. One of them and I had a moment. He swam up right under me, which was a little scary, but then he stopped and rolled over on his back and just laid there under water right under me and hung out there for a while. He started playing with us a little and our guide rolled onto his side and stuck his arms out, and the whale mimicked him! Apparently if they are comfortable, they will mirror you and come closer. So that was a pretty cool encounter. Another time, the Mom came really close, and I had to swim away really fast to avoid getting hit by her pectoral fin (which is the same size as me), then her giant tail.
A lot of places talk about looking into the eye of a whale being a cool experience. it's true. I thought "ok, that probably won't be that impactful", but it does, in fact, pack kind of a punch. It just feels like they know they're looking you in the eye and trying to communicate.
Here's my group coming in from another encounter.
I intentionally didn't ask how deep the water was the first time I got in because I just didn't want to know. So after about half of the day was over, and I had swam around out there for a long time already, I asked. The answer was 240 feet deep! Whoa!
So after lots of sessions with our whales, we ended up swinging back by the caves, which was a fun.
I should say it was fun until I went ONE MORE TIME (we were all swimming back and forth checking out the place) into the one cave where you have to swim way under water to get to (which was less scary because i had already done it, and other people went at the same time), then I'm pretty sure I perforated my right eardrum. I was basically deaf for the rest of the day, and I've had really gradual improvement ever since. Totally worth it, to be honest.
Cave entrance (the one with all the fish in the bottom, they were still there)
Pretty awesome place!
So that's the recap of my underwater adventures in Vava'u! If you want to see awesome underwater pics of the things I saw, google Swallows Cave Tonga, Mariners Cave Tonga, and Vava'u Whale swim. the places really look like all the google image pictures of these places. It was really incredible.