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Diving with the whales and Seeababe Chrystal Dawn Fitzgerald in Tonga

Chrystal Dawn Fitzgerald wears the Riviera One-Piece in Rosa in the clear blue waters of Tonga. Photo by Ming Nomchong.
Whatever you imagine to be the most heavenly tropical island— water so clear you can see straight to the bottom, eggshell white sand, and rustling palm trees overhead as you sink into your hammock — Tonga exceeds the imagination with a magical ancient beauty that feels like the world before time.

The Kingdom of Tonga’s cluster of islands in the middle of the South Pacific ocean are barely a speck on the world map next to the nearest bodies of land: Australia and New Zealand. As one of the oldest Polynesian settlements, many of Tonga’s islands have retained much of their native, uninhabited state, and the eco resorts on the larger islands take care to be holistically integrated with the native land to preserve it's natural splendor.
Photo of Tonga by Chrystal Dawn Fitzgerald. 
Photo of Tonga islands by Chrystal Dawn Fitzgerald. 

Here, Seeababe Chrystal Fitzgerald shares her unforgettable experience of meeting creatures of the deep blue sea in Tonga last year with friends Lauren L. Hill, and photographer Ming Nomchong.

By Chrystal Dawn Fitzgerald

Majestic and wild, the Kingdom of Tonga is 21 degrees south of the equator in the Polynesian Triangle. Tonga is remote, pristine and her people strong and proud of their unique culture.

It took two full days of international and domestic flights, airport transfers and a boat ride for my dear friends writer Lauren L. Hill, photographer Ming Nomchong and I to arrive at our destination, Eueiki Island in the Vava’u Island group of Tonga, and the beautiful eco resort, Treasure Island Eueiki.
Sitting on the dock of the Tonga bay. Photo by Chrystal Dawn Fitzgerald. 
Chrystal Fitzgerald wears the Riviera One-Piece in Rosa, coming soon. Photo by Ming Nomchong. 
Home sweet home for the trip. Chrystal wears the Swami's Playsuit in Tiles, coming soon. Photo by Ming Nomchong.

The 22-acre private island of Eueiki is completely self-sustaining, using solar power, rainwater tanks, and traditional thatched fales (bungalows). Locally staffed and operated by conscious caretakers Veronica and Mark Belvedere, Treasure Island is a haven of coconut trees, rain forests and white sand is surrounded by colorful shallow coral reefs that drop off to fathoms within a few feet from the shore. The clear cosmic blues — hues from every imaginable mix of ocean, sky, and elsewhere dreamy— juxtapose the rich greens, thick sand and earthy thatched bungalows in a seamless marriage of tropicana that transfixes the soul.
This is Tonga, all alive, and flourishing, hardly touched by our modern western society, still raw, real and honest to nature’s grand design. Tonga is free and breathed life into me with her Mana [Hawaiian word for the life force or energy that flows though everything and everyone].
Chrystal wears the Swami's Playsuit in Tiles, coming soon. Photo by Ming Nomchong.
Chrystal wears the Swami's Playsuit in Tiles, hanging around with Lauren. Photo by Ming Nomchong.

Eueiki and the Vava’u islands were mesmerizing. We enjoyed every moment, constantly saturated with salt—water activities, and on the lookout for migrating humpback whales.

Ming, Lauren and I adventured by day with the guidance of the islands caretaker Mark, and Tongan waterman Nolo. We swam though underwater caves to hidden chambers, kayaked to nearby islands and explored the surrounding reefs. When the sun went down we ate ‘til our bellies were busting of local staff Fitu and Luella’s home cooking, sang songs fireside under the stars, and fell asleep to the sound of the elusive cetaceans breathing just off shore.

Chrystal taking a quiet moment to soak in the surroundings. Photo by Ming Nomchong. 
Chrystal wears the Gaviotas One-Piece in Tea Leaf. Photo by Ming Nomchong.  
Chrystal wears the Doheny in Luna and Ensenada bikini bottom in Nautique. Photo by Ming Nomchong. 

Spending our time playing in the tropical waters and soaking up the serenity of the Eco resort were blessings enough, yet we had really hoped to swim with whales. To learn more about these mammoth cetaceans we met up with our scientist friends Malia Rouillon and Alice Forrest, from the Australian conservationist group Protect the Reef. The two along with a team of others were stationed in Vava’u doing research. 
According to Malia's organization, Sirens for the Sea, these South Pacific humpback whales were hunted to near extinction in the 20th century. Now protected, their populations are growing. Whale watching and whale swims have aided in bringing awareness and education about them. The humpback whales migrate from their feeding grounds in the Antarctic to the warm waters of Tonga, to mate and give birth to their calves from late July though October. Tonga is one of only three places in the world where swimming with these humpback whales is legal, and is the main reasons we chose to visit Treasure Island Eueiki.
Close encounter with these special ocean creatures. Photo by Chrystal Dawn Fitzgerald.  
On our final day at Eueiki, Mark and Veronica’s trusty dog Honyo sounded her signature whale alert of rapid barking along the shoreline. Led hastily by Mark and Nolo, the rest of us piled into the wooden outrigger and set out to sea. Honyo is renowned for her gift with knowing when whales were near, even when they were far out of sight, was right yet again.

Within minutes gliding on the wooden outrigger that Mark built, three gentle underwater giants graced us with their company. Nolo led our intimate group four at a time, to swim with a full-grown mother, playful baby calf and large male escort. Excited and humbled we marvelled at the grace of their movements, agility, and deep peace that they emanated. High pitched sounds of what I felt were curiosity and wonder rang froth from the calf, as deep songs of guidance reverberated the waters from below as the mother whale, and male escort, too embraced our presence.

This experience was deeply profound, inexplicable on so many levels and totally unforgettable. Being in the company of, whilst swimming alongside these majestic mammals was a dream come true. There is a vital and delicate balance to be upheld in these encounters with whales, and the respectful ethical practices of Captain Mark and his team were exemplary throughout.

Lauren and Chrystal off to the waves. Photo by Ming Nomchong.

The morning after our miracle swim with the whales at Eueiki, we departed to Tongatapu, Tonga's main island, to ready for our flight home to Australia. In sync with divine timing as our entire trip had been, just hours before our flight, Lauren, Ming and I scored fun waves at Ha’atafu beach. We surfed the clean reef pass ‘til our taxi arrived to whisk us away to the airport. Sandy feet, wet hair and salty as can be, we boarded our plane home, filled with gratitude to the Kingdom of Tonga, all her people, islands, whales and waves, for the trip of a lifetime!
Frothing waves. Photo by Chrystal Dawn Fitzgerald.
Chrystal drops into a fun wave in Tonga wearing the Gaviotas One-Piece. Photo by Ming Nomchong.

Special thanks to photographer Ming Nomchong and Lauren L. Hill as companions in the journey.

Get closer to the whales in this special video by Chrystal!

Chasing the Sun Tonga: Treasure Island Paradise from Sea Gypsy Films on Vimeo.

Rhea Cortado February 26, 2015 3 tags (show)

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