WHALE WHISPERING IN NIUE
Whale Whisperer - it’s not the most common career. In fact, in 2013, there were only three of us in the world.
So you can understand New Zealand’s Customs’ skepticism when I informed them that my reason for moving to the island of Niue was to be a Whale Whisperer. I guess they could see the genuine excitement on my face and they decided to let me head on through anyway.
If you had asked 10-year-old Kate if she would end up working with whales, she would have said, ‘Yeah, of course!’ and wondered why you had even bothered asking. It was pretty evident she was a mermaid, after all.
Ten-year-old Kate would have then showed you the collection of photos, newspaper clippings, sightings and fun facts about whales she had meticulously collected and placed in a little book. Then you probably would have been coerced into signing a petition about fighting whaling in the Southern Oceans or watching Free Willy.
If you had posed the same question to 20-year-old Kate, she would have laughed at you and said ‘one day I will’ while glancing at her boyfriend who seemed convinced that they should continue taking footsteps along society’s timeline mapped out towards marriage and mortgages.
Fate has a way of stepping in and delivering on childhood promises.
I came to Niue to swim with humpback whales with two of my dear friends. While the three of us are all very different, we share a common love of adventure. Niue had been calling all of us for a long time.
For me, I had wanted to take my ex there to heal from PTSD. I had gotten as far as putting tickets on hold, but they had never gone through. Something was always stopping us. It became evident to me why one week in to my stay on Niue. Niue was not for him. Niue was for me. Niue was to be my healing home.
When we first arrived on Niue, it became quickly apparent that the whales were not as common as what we initially thought. We figured we would just roll into the water and hang out with them.
It dawned on us quite quickly that our expectations were perhaps slightly unrealistic. They are wild animals after all and we were on a tiny, tiny 260 square kilometres island in the middle of the Pacific, a 160 million square kilometre area.
A lot of the other tourists were getting upset as they came to the same realisation. I figured if the whales weren’t there this time, then all it meant was that we would have to go to Tonga or come back to Niue (I like using this kind of logic when it means I need to take another holiday).
I was determined that I would swim with whales at some point in my life, so I would just allow the journey to unfold and have some fun. As a joke, my friend, Jess, told everyone I could call whales.
I thought ‘come to think of it, 10 year-old Kate used to do just that - why not?' I stuck my head in the water and let out a Dory-inspired yell.
I won’t lie. While I was making a bit of a joke of it, I was putting all the energy that I could into it. I’m a big believer in instinct, connecting with nature and trusting your feelings. Scientifically, I knew I was probably not calling the whales. Spiritually, however, I was putting the best energy I could into calling the whales respectfully to come hang out with me. On the fourth attempt of Day Five, spiritual me won out in this case.
A whale actually did turn up. We steered a course for an estimated spot four kilometres out to sea. Six of us jumped in the water and swam 150 metres off the boat.
In the water, I was kicking my little fins hard between frantic scanning of the surface and underwater whale calls. While searching the sea, I saw two shapes emerge from the deep blue directly beneath me. Another whale had met up with our whale.
As their forms became clearer, I finally learned the meaning of the saying ‘to take your breathe away’. Speech was robbed. My air, stolen. I wanted to reach out my hand to the others and yell out ‘look down everyone’, but everything had stilled.
In those moments while I was frozen and they rose underneath me, it felt like everything left me. Every bit of pain in my life - the two years of hell I had just experienced - it all just vacated. I knew that everything in life was okay and everything would be okay. There was nothing but this moment.
My eyes met theirs. The two humpback whales circled around observing us as we observed them. On the surface, they then dove underneath us and swam to a few hundred metres away, flapping their tails and putting on a show for us.
Beaming as we came to the surface, the other tourists started yelling to me ‘you really ARE the whale whisperer!’.
After jumping around and hugging the people who had experienced this with me, I had a quiet moment of reflection. Sea spray hitting my face, I had this feeling that a dear friend had sent them to me. I often thought of her when I experienced an amazing travel moment but this felt different. I counted the days. It was one year since she passed away.
She was someone I consider to be one of the few people who really and truly understood my need to travel and chase my dreams. That to compromise those travels and dreams was essentially compromising myself. They were etched on my soul.
The day before. I had swam with 60 spinner dolphins in the bay and returned to shore to the news that my Dad had been taken off chemotherapy.
Most of my healing comes down to the grounding, amazing, beautiful and inspiring people I have around me in my life. I am grateful every day for each and every one of them.
However, those two days of interaction with nature and the whales and dolphins of Niue, felt like it tied up so much of that crazy period of my life. A piece of that peace has stayed with me always. It was symbolic of a new chapter.
Driving back to shore and looking at the emerald-topped cliffs and rocky terrain, my destiny appeared. There was no doubt in my mind, I was meant to move to Niue.
I turned and looked at the owners, Shannon and Krystal at Buccaneer Adventures Niue Dive, and said, “Do you need a permanent whale whisperer?”
Three months later, when expressions of interest were called for Dive Professional Interns in Niue, I applied (figuring that becoming a professional diver could only help me get over my fear of breathing underwater, enclosed spaces, snakes and sharks! Right?).
You can imagine my excitement and understand why 10 year-old Kate felt like all her dreams had come true, when I opened my inbox to see a message saying:
‘To the Whale Whisperer...we would be silly not to take you with your luck with the whales. Sea you next year in Niue.’
Nine months after my original trip - I returned to live on The Rock of Polynesia for five months. It was a huge privilege to chase these dreams and swim with these gentle giants, with the ocean as my office.
Experienced about 50 in-water interactions with the whales. Every time was unique and special. I swam with baby humpbacks and singing whales, watched four males fight for the right to mate, cruised along with a pod of 100+ dolphins, dove to 54 metres, held a Katuali, went cave diving and caving and danced at a village show.
I also learnt how to: overcome six fears, dive, rescue marine mammals and humans, husk coconuts, cook about 30 different varieties of omelettes and drive a manual.
In the process, I fell in love with the culture and the beautiful people I met there who became like family to me. Niue will always be a healing home to me. A treasured place.