Whale watching in Vavu’a is centered around the small town of Neiafu on the main island that the Vavu’a Group takes its name. Neiafu is built around the Port of Refuge, a beautiful natural harbor that is a magnet for yachties from all over the Pacific.
Neiafu is by far the most established location in Tonga to swim with humpback whales.
The key thing about Vavu’a is that during the winter months, when the humpback whales are present in Tongan waters, the prevailing winds are from the south-east for roughly 60% of the time.
Which means that the north-western side of the 41 islands that make up the Vavu’a Group are sheltered and therefore there are many calm water areas for the humpback mothers and their calves to gather.
This is critical for the mothers as they are tired from the long Antarctic migration and need somewhere to rest and feed their young calves in preparation for the return journey.
Unlike the mothers, who on average breathe every 10-15 minutes, the calves are young need to do so every 3-4 minutes which means they have to go to the surface and leave their mother’s immediate protection.
This renders them vulnerable to attack from predators like the infamous Killer Whales and opportunistic sharks.
All of which means that the north-west of Vavu’a is usually the best place to experience humpback whale mother and calf encounters and, because the area is sheltered from the prevailing winds, the whale-watching operators are able to get there even when the weather is less than favorable.
The many bays around Hunga Island, North Bay and Neiafu Approach provide almost perfect nurseries as they are sheltered and relatively shallow, so that a predatory attack from below on the exposed calf is much less of a risk.
To the south of Vavu’a is the Southern Lagoon area which can get quite rough seas during the south-easterly winds. But when the winds change and come from the north-east it opens up the area to check out the whales that hang out there.
These tend to be the younger males, who cruise the area a bit like their human counterparts do at Westfield Malls… The Southern Lagoon is also one of the locations the single females go when they are ready to mate – which probably explains why all the young males are hanging about!
The Southern Lagoon therefore has great potential for the famed heat run whale encounters where the female has signaled her possible willingness to mate and then leads the excited retinue of excited males on a merry chase!