Since I was ‘Yay-high’ my ultimate dream was to see whales and dolphins in the wild and to actually swim with the majestic mammals of the ocean. When other children would switch up their show-and-tell’s weekly from what toy they played with at the weekend, to what amazing treat they bought back from their holiday, I would opt for something a little different. Every week, I would lug to school my trusty self-filled filofax of whale and dolphin facts and my stuffed toy, Danny the Dolphin. Taking it upon myself to teach the class all of my latest discoveries!
I still have the filofax in my attic, with it’s now-faded decorative stickers and battered ends, filled with numerous tabs detailing different speices of porposies and dolphins. I would spend my free time writing out everything I had learned about the animals from television series and books that I had loaned from the library, I also added in a few magazine clippings where possible. I wanted to know everything I could about whales and dolphins and my dream to see them was a secret to no-one!! We are often asked as children and even adults nowadays what our biggest dream is. My two answers were always the same, to swim in wild whales and dolphins and to be a TV Presenter.
The past few years my dreams came true.
Since leaving university in 2007 my extra pennies were always saved and spent on travelling and exploring the world and when I met my husband in 2008 we joined our lives together and my love for travel was passed from spouse to spouse. As a couple we made it a priority to see more of the world together and we saw dolphins in the wild together for the very first time in The Galapagos Islands. The experience of watching the graceful dancers cut through the waves beneath the boat forced welcome tears from my eyes and it was a moment that both Mems and I will never forget. It was my first step and introduction into the world of marine life discovery and it gave me the sweetest taste for more!
I have since then been lucky enough to see dolphins in the wild on a number of occasions and every time I squeal with excitement (much to my fellow travellers dismay!). I’ve watched them glide through the ocean in The Maldives, Zanzibar, Portugal’s Algarve and also in Bali. With an advanced scuba diving licence under my belt I spend most of my days abroad either on top of the sea on a boat or in it with my tank! So the world under the ocean is no stranger to me and my love for the creatures within the depths goes from strength to strength every day.
Last year, for the very first time, I did the ultimate! I swam with a large group of spinner dolphins in Mauritius. Writing here on Clutch & Carry-on has opened up so many opportunities within the travelling industry and it was an invite via this blog that lead me to Mauritius. I was invited to review the opulent and five star deserving BeachComber Hotel and knowing that there may be the possibility of swimming with my loves on the trip I jumped at the chance!
One morning my friend and I hired a private boat and ventured out to sea to join the local dolphins in a swim and dive. The experience of entering the water and watching these amazing animals wooooosh past me was one I will never, ever, forget and swimming beside them was one of my all time favourite days.
Spinner dolphins don’t stop to inspect or play so you are fully apart of their world as soon as you enter the ocean and keeping up with their swimming speed can be quite tough but even watching them form the surface with my snorkel was a heart racing experience! You can read all about that day here.
I had done it, I had swam with wild dolphins and it was magical! Now my final goal was to find and swim with whales!
One of the most popular places to swim with whales is in The French Polynesia, which is a safe haven for humpback whales to teach their young the way of life prior to heading back to the trials and tribulations of the colder waters of antarctic. The area is also home to pilot whales, dolphins and occasionally orcas.
So with the whale season (end of July to October) of this destination in mind, Mems and I booked a 7 day trip to Tahiti. After months of research and speaking to professionals we decided on travelling during August to have the highest chance of seeing Mamma and baby in the waters and swimming with them as they linger longer on the surface that adult whales usually would. As Tahiti is such a far away destination we opted to stay on two different islands, one of which was Moorea where the chances of seeing a humpback whale are most likely and one of which was Bora Bora where the chances are slim but it hosts some of the best hotels in the world and boasts jaw dropping scenery at every corner!
We set off for Tahiti a few weeks ago and the excitement of the possibility of fulfilling my ultimate lifelong dream kept me awake throughout the entire 21hrs in total of flying time! I had pre-planned to venture out to sea the very next day after our arrival so my dream was in an arms reach! I woke up like a rocket the next day in Moorea and we boarded our private boat to head out in search of the gentle giants of the sea. Filled with anticipation we scoured the waves for hours hoping to catch a glimpse but unfortunately the weather that day, was not on our side. We tried our best as a team to battle the towering waves that the windy weather was creating but after hours of thrashing about and not being able to see more than a few meters over the horizon we were forced by mother nature to return to our hotel.
I was devastated but prepared for the disappointment as I have experienced so many times before that you can’t always guarantee seeing wildlife in any corner of the world. It’s a logical reality especially when heading out to sea but on the flip side that’s exactly what makes it so rewarding when you do actually find the animals! So the second day undeterred, we headed out to sea once more but the winds persisted and we were unable, once again, to see the whales. We did however spot some playful dolphins which was amazing and a fair consolation prize.
After being unsuccessful on the second day I would be lying if I said my spirits and hopes were still high. We had travelled from the UK to Tahiti specifically for the once in a lifetime experience of swimming with whales and we had just one day left on Moorea island. We had spent a substantial amount of money and time and we had still not had the (common at this time of the year) experience of seeing the whales. We were just terribly unlucky with the weather and waves.
On the third and final day in Moorea with fire in our bellies we once again hired a private boat and set out to sea. We headed out amongst the now slightly calmer waves and whilst scouring the surface for signs of life I saw in the distance a huge spout of water. Eagerly and excitedly I waited for a second sign before screaming, ‘over there!!!’. I had found not one but two adult whales and once the crew and Mems followed my pointing direction one of the whales leaped out of the water exposing and showcasing it’s entirety for us all to stare in awe.
It. Was. Magnificent.
Trying desperately to compose myself and suppress the screams of joy as not to scare them off we headed further towards the movements in hopes to jump in and see them underneath the surface.
I had seen what I came to see and now the icing on the cake would be to swim with them too. It’s a regular occurrence during whale season in The French Polynesia for locals and tourists to swim with the whales so spotting them in the wild like this really built up my expectations that I would indeed, be able to swim with the humpbacks. However, after watching as the whales glided across the surface spouting out water and slapping their tails for an hour or so our marine guide broke the news that the whales were unfortunately in no mood to hang around for a swim. There had been word of a killer whale in the area a few days prior and therefore the humpback whales were all very much on high alert and their caution resulted in faster movements and lack of interest in the boats on the surface.
We had been so close but after watching them from the boat the reality was that we wouldn’t be able to see them underneath the surface of sea as they were moving too quickly and staying quite deep in-between their movements. I was gutted but I was also overjoyed that we had seen them at least. We had also been lucky enough to see the amazing breach at the start of our tour, which is extremely rare and magical to see.
After a few days of searching I had seen them in their natural habitat and it really was a truly amazing experience. We headed off to Bora Bora with a polaroid picture in our minds of that moment the whale jumped out of the water (as we were far to excited and unprepared to actually capture a physical image!!) and the heart-warming knowledge of knowing that even though we weren’t able to swim with them, these amazing animals are thriving in the freedom of their ocean sanctuary. It’s completely up to nature if you see animals and marine life in the wild and that’s the way it’s simply meant to be!
It is still my lifelong dream to swim with the humpback whales and the saving will start again to one day return to the French Polynesia and do just that! Watch this space 😉
Here’s a full video from my trip to Tahiti for those of you wanting to bring these days to life!