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Kate Webster

Kate Webster

Kate Webster is a world traveller, ocean lover and conservation warrior who is determined to make every moment count for not only herself, but the world around her. An editor and travel journalist, Kate travels the globe in search of vivid imagery and compelling stories that capture the essence of the people and places she visits. She is a passionate conservation advocate, sustainable traveller and always travels with reason and cause. Born out of a life-long love of travel, the ocean, wildlife and conservation and fascination with the world around her, is Kate’s inspiration behind her writing and photography.

ASIAN JOURNEYS MAGAZINE: Chasing Sunsets in Sri Lanka

From the busy streets in the capital of Colombo to the serene shores of the south, Kate Webster takes you on a journey chasing sunsets in Sri Lanka.

No matter where you are in Sri Lanka, one thing I found is the sunsets are magic. Some people collect souvenirs from their travels, I tend to collect sunsets.

There is something about sunsets I find alluring and romantic. It is a time to reflect on the day and give thanks for the experiences you have had, while holding the excitement that a new day is just around the corner, wrapped in mystery and adventure yet to be discovered. Also, the fact that a sunset goes hand in hand with a sundowner, you can’t lose.

My first Sri Lankan sunset arrived as I was sat in a car driving from Sigiriya to Dambulla. I had spent the morning exploring the infamous Lion Rock, an ancient rock fortress located in the northern Matale District near the town of Dambulla in the Central Province, Sri Lanka.

The 200-metre-high rock is a site of historical and archaeological wonder. The name Lion Rock is derived from enormous lion is carved into the rock. Climbing Lion Rock sets you back USD$30 and will take about 2 hours to take in the entire complex. It is best to visit early morning to avoid the crowds and give you enough time to move on to your next destination.

The drive from Sigiriya to Dambulla is quite scenic, winding through the country roads and avoiding the constant intervention from local buses but does take time. I unfortunately did not prepare for this, so by the time I was arriving at Jetwings Lake in Dambulla, I had to suffice for my first Sri Lankan sunset moment hanging out the window of the car. Still, it was satisfying, as the sun dipped below the mountains and farming land I passed along the way.

Dambulla

Waking for sunrise as a substitute the following day, I was not disappointed. Jetwings Lake is situated on a lake and surrounded by what can only be described as a serene panoramic vista. Birds morning calls broke the silence as the mist lifted off the lake and engulfed the mountainous surroundings. The golden glow spilled across the horizon as the sun rose and a hot air balloon floated silently across the horizon. For a short moment, I felt I was cheating on my love for sunset as the sunrise warmed my heart.

A property that has been built with the harmony of its surroundings in mind, Jetwings Lake is open and airy which offers an ambience of being one with nature. There was a feel of tread lightly here, not only in the fact the property’s dedication to sustainable living is evident in their operations, but the staff also seemed to breeze around with a delicate balance of helping when needed but leaving you to just enjoy being there at the same time.

From Dambulla it was time to move south. Determined to arrive at my next destination in time for sunset, I set off early. This time the chaotic traffic was broken for a moment when an old blue train chugged past and I felt transported back in time. I am told these blue trains are quite the experience in Sri Lanka and I am disappointed I am missing out on it.

Yala

Located where the southern and eastern coasts meet, Yala is the gateway to Yala National Park. The journey through provincial greenery and coastal roads is most scenic. As I get closer to Yala National Park the vegetation turns more to grassland and the sightings of elephants begin.

The elephants in the area seem accustomed to the human activity and roam right onto the road. I asked my driver to continue past the elephants and avoid feeding them in fear it just entices them more to rely on humans.

As the sun was getting low in the sky, I made my way along the outskirts of Yala National Park to check in at Jetwing Yala. Sprawled over 38 acres of uncharted coastal wilderness; Jetwing Yala is the closest hotel to Sri Lanka’s most popular natural reserve.

I was taken back by the raw beauty and wild luxury that lay before me. Harmoniously nestled amongst the surrounding bush and resting upon the shoreline of the Indian Ocean behind the dunes, Jetwings Lake makes you feel like you are one with the wilderness. After a speedy check-in, I was sat on the balcony of my room, a drink in hand and marvelling at the changing colours of the sky from pastel pinks into a burnt orange glow that reflected off the waves lapping on the shore. My mind wandered as I thought about what the following day would bring in this little piece of paradise I had found.

An early morning start took me on a game safari into Yala National Park. Being a frequent visitor to Africa and many game safaris there, I was keen to see the difference between the two destinations. Unfortunately, I found the experience quite busy and disorganised so returned to the hotel quite deflated and disappointed.

This disappointment soon dissolved as I returned to find Jetwing Yala had a glamping option, Yala Safari Camp, and there was an opening for me to stay. The tent was hardly like one you would pitch in the back yard. Nestled in the picturesque coastal dunes, these elegant tents bring together the pleasure of camping with creature comforts of modern living. A large wooden deck stretched out into the bush and it was here I would spend my next sunset in Sri Lanka.

Not only was the afternoon greeted by the setting sun, but the wildlife began to stir, finding refuge for the evening or waking for the evening hunting. I sat watching a nearby family of wild pigs, making snuffle noises as they fossicked for food under the bushes. As darkness fell the snuffle noises became louder and I realised it was no longer just the wild pigs present. The crack of sticks and rustle from the nearby bushes confirmed the presence of an elephant. As the last of the light drained from the sky, I thought to myself, you don’t need an entire National Park when the wild life comes to you at Yala Safari Camp.

Hiriketiya Bay

From Yala I headed West along winding scenic coastal roads that lead to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, Hiriketiya Bay. Hiriketiya Bay is a small stretch of beach that curves around the outside of Dikwella. Familiar with coastal towns, the relaxed vibe of Hiriketiya makes everyone slow down.

The place is a surfing mecca, as the curve forming a bay like shape causes the waves to come in high.  Also, a hot spot for yogis, potters and designers, Hiriketiya oozes that entrepreneurial vibe. Hipster restaurants and quirky cafes are dotted along the palm tree fringed beach. I checked in to Salthouse, a short walk from the beach, run by Australians Cristal Napper and Rob Dixon.

The guesthouse has a holistic approach to your stay, with a yoga shala available for daily practice, a healthy menu packed with goodness and smoothies to boot. Rooms are designed to keep you in touch with nature while keeping a local Sri Lankan flare about them. Impressed by the ambience of Salthouse, I decided to spend a few nights here.

With plenty of time to spare for the afternoon, I wandered up the road, waving at the tuk tuk drivers that passed me. I had been told of a newly opened beachside café called Malu that served up some wholesome health in a bowl, otherwise known as a poke bowl. This sounded like a perfect lunch option before taking a quick swim to refresh from the heat.

The sunsets at Hiriketiya Bay would have to have been my favourite in Sri Lanka by far. An ice-cold glass of Mojito in my hand, funky tunes of Bob Marley serenading the crowd from a nearby café, my toes wriggling in the sand as the waves continuously lap at the beach in a rhythmic pulse. The salty air is warm and clings like a friendly hug.

It was time. The sky filled with colour, as if giving its last hoorah to the day. The sun began to set and I reflected on my time in Sri Lanka. This Land Of Serendipity had become for me, the Land of Sunsets.

Read the full article here.

Read Asian Journeys Magazine here.

ASIAN JOURNEYS MAGAZINE: Magnetic Mauritian Moments

Mauritius has long been famous for its sun, sea and sand.  Kate Webster gives you a taste of what to do on this island nation.

A volcanic island of lagoons and palm-fringed beaches with coral reefs surrounding most of the coastline, Mauritius boasts a colourful culture and unique landscape to explore.

Located off the southeast coast of the African continent in the Indian Ocean, this small island nation has a big heart and plenty to offer every type of traveller. Here are some of the top things to discover in Mauritius.

The Beaches

Being an island means Mauritius has some of the most amazing beaches to explore. The white coral sand beaches and crystal-clear lagoons are a stunning contrast to the backdrop of black volcanic mountains. Some of the most notable beaches definitely worth a visit are Pereybere, Flic en Flac, Le Morne, Belle Mare, Blue Bay and Ile aux Cerfs. A day at the beach is also a great opportunity to mingle with Mauritian families who enjoy picnicking on the beach on sunny days.

A good way to discover the differences between the North, East, South and West, is to drive around the coast visiting the different beaches. Each region is unique and has so many treasures waiting to be discovered. The North, with its flat, sandy beaches and stunning weather, is action packed and has plenty of activities on offer. The East boasts large turquoise lagoons and is windier, especially in winter. The South with its wild, steep cliffs is a stunning part of the island that is a must-see. The West and South-West are hot and dry, perfect for surfing and kitesurfing, among other activities.

Diving

With 330 kilometres of coastline encircled by a coral barrier reef that protects the turquoise lagoons of the island, Mauritius offers exclusive diving experiences to its visitors all year round. What is unique to diving in Mauritius is the proximity to shore. Although most of the more challenging dive sites are found outside of the barrier reef, they are still invariably reached with just a 20-minute boat ride.

Located off Flic en Flac on the west coast of the island is the dive site called the Cathedral, one of the most popular dives in Mauritius. Other popular spots include Gunner’s Coin where you can see large parrotfish at each dive; Whale Rock (26 to 38 meters deep) where the lucky ones can come face to face with a hammerhead shark; and Holt’s Rocks (16 to 25 meters deep) whose name suggests the formation of huge rocks under the sea.

Sega Dancing

You cannot possibly leave Mauritius without learning to dance a few Sega steps. The Sega is a vibrant, folkloric dance with a distinctive African rhythm. The spirit of Africa resonates through the musical instruments – usually ravanne, maravanne or triangle are played, while the songs, sung in Creole, depict the Mauritian way of life.

Originally sung by men and women who had been sold as slaves but whose souls had remained sensitive to music, the Sega is nowadays a folksong which has integrated itself within the framework of their folklore.

Traditionally stimulated and inspired by local rum, the dancers would do so without music as such, but accompanied only by the sound of the” Ravanne”, the tinkling of spoons, the rattling of seeds/sand in a tin, and the clapping of hands of spectators who eventually join in.

If it happens to you to attend a Sega show and join in, you will definitely be enchanted and impressed.

SALT of Palmar

Set on a picture-perfect beach overlooking the Indian Ocean on the east coast of Mauritius, SALT of Palmar is redefining the hotel stay with a humanistic approach to hospitality for the culturally curious traveller. Its vibrant colours reflect the colourful people and culture of Mauritius and you will be in awe of where to point your camera first. In addition to the visual appeal, what makes SALT so unique is the fact that guests will be immersed into the very heart of the destination, giving guest a sense of being home and living like a local.

A stay here is more than just somewhere to rest your head at night, it is a destination and experience in itself. SALT takes its guests to people – not just places – connecting them to locals and their way of life, placing them in the action, not just beside it. Their unique skill swap approach gives guests the opportunity to connect directly with locals where they exchange their time, talent and skills to the local people, while also joining local suppliers to see their work or passion.

This includes pottery with Janine at her Pamplemousses studio, early morning fishing with Kishor, or basket weaving with Mrs Bulleeram in Brisée Verdière.  During their stay, guests can also get hands on experience and learn with the hotel staff and network of experts. You can help out on the SALT Farm, learn how to cook Mauritian Chicken Curry with the chefs and even master the maravanne rattle and moutia drum.

The 7-coloured earth of Chamarel

A world-famous attraction, the 7-coloured earth of Chamarel is a unique volcanic geological phenomenon resulting in seven colours of earth swirled together to create a beautiful feature. Found in the Chamarel region, this is a treasure not to be missed.

Chamarel rises 283 meters above sea level and is reached by a short scenic walk which cuts through the luxurious tropical forest surrounding it. There are many places to stop to admire the exquisite view and take photos. One of these spots is an 83-metre high waterfall.

Hike Le Morne Brabant Mountain

Step into the history of Mauritius, literally, and hike on the path of the runaway slaves at Le Morne Brabant.  Located at the south-western tip of Mauritius, this rocky peninsula has a summit which looks over the area of Le Morne and out to sea. Get into the heart of nature hiking while you experience both the extreme opposites of lush greenery together with the rough and dry patches of the World Heritage Site.

As you ascend, you will witness the captivating features of the mountain, whereby there are many caves and overhangs on the steep slopes. Generally surrounded by the lagoon, Le Morne Brabant is worth trying to climb for sunrise for a spectacular birds’ eye view.

Wild dolphin swim

When staying at LUX* Le Morne, you can head out on a Wild Dolphin Experience for a truly wild encounter with the local wildlife. Take a boat out and strap on those fins, snorkel and mask before jumping into the warm waters of Mauritius where you can meet spinner and bottlenose dolphins as they congregate in large numbers in the bay.

These dolphins are not enticed by food, nor contained. They are completely free, so swimming with them can be a challenge if you are not a good swimmer. When they do come to interact and play however, you can have a life changing experience with these inquisitive animals. Even if you do not get in the water with them, watching them from the boat is just as exciting. Sperm and humpback whales also migrate along the west coast of the island and can be spotted if you’re lucky.

Situated in the South West part of Mauritius, in the heart of a fertile valley lies the Rhumerie de Chamarel which is surrounded by vast sugarcane plantations growing in harmony with the pineapples and other tropical fruits nearby.

Rum tasting at Rhumerie de Chamarel

Mauritius is famous for its rum, and one of the most famous spots to try this rum is the Rhumerie de Chamarel Distillery. Rhumerie de Chamarel offers a holistic experience to guests, as you marvel at its unique design which blends harmoniously with the spectacular surroundings where wood, natural stone and water provide a sense of communion with nature.

A guided tour with one of the experienced guides will take you behind the scenes to provide a detailed explanation of the rum making process where all the sugar cane plants are carefully selected and grown at the domain. Finish off the tour with a unique rum tasting, where one can try the selection of the agricultural Rums produced by the distillery. As opposed to the traditional rum produced by the distillation of molasses, the agricultural rum is obtained by distilling pure cane juice, a process which gives it its specific aromas and flavours.

The Vortex at Riambel

There are in all fourteen vortices in the world and one of these can be found at Riambel in Mauritius. Located in the small village of Riambel in the south of the island, this vortex is where energy with intense vibratory levels flow. The energy travels in spirals through the vortex regulating the energetic disbalance within those who sit there for at least twenty minutes.

A visit starts with a peaceful walk around a spiral path lined with rocks, as you repeat a mantra. You then lay in an area surrounded by coloured huts and meditate for some twenty minutes. Once complete, you then proceed to the coloured hut that represents the colour most present in your meditation and spend time in that particular hut healing with the energy from the vortex. It is not for everyone, but interesting to try if you are curious.

Food Tour of Port Louis

To get a real taste of Mauritius while learning about the culture and history, jump on a street food tour of Port Louis. Taste Buddies offer tours to explore the streets of Port Louis by foot and mouth. Led by a local guide and driven by your curiosity, this culinary journey takes you deep in the heart of the capital of Mauritius.

Starting at the Caudan Waterfront, you walk through Port Louis and stop at the best food spots for bite-sized delights. Sink your teeth into a warm roti, take a sip of freshly-squeezed juice, and let the flavours fuse. It truly is the way to experience the island’s authenticity.

Read the full article here.

Read Asian Journeys Magazine here.

ASIAN JOURNEYS MAGAZINE: Travel Beyond the beaten track

Blink and you missed 2018 right? As I sit here at the end of January 2019, I am worried that this year will pass by just as quickly which is why I am making a plan for 2019 now to go even further beyond the beaten track.

Some people set their New Year’s resolutions on the 31st of December so come 1st January and the start of the new year, they diligently go about keeping those promises. For myself, I like to start planning where foreign roads will lead me in the upcoming year.

There has been a lot of positive movement in the way people travel now. People are becoming more intrepid, seeking experiences beyond the ordinary and exploring in a way that offers more self-reward and accomplishment.

I know my journeys in 2018 led me to a stronger understanding and awareness of the world around me. Returning home to the Gold Coast after each of my travels, I was determined to make a difference in every way possible to sustain the ‘tread lightly’ approach on this planet.

Whilst being a tourist is always exciting in a new destination, I found my greatest most cherished memories came when I stepped off that beaten track and became a traveller. Yes, I took in city sights, snapped photos that made my Instagram account look plump and experienced popular activities in the destinations I visited. However, it was not until I took myself out of that comfort zone and got a little bit lost, that I truly found the best that that destination had to offer.

For me, being a tourist is great to get your bearings and give you a taste of a place, but it is when you go beyond that, that your journey begins. When you dine with the locals, hear their stories and learn their way of life; when you learn a skill and implement it in the current environment; when you step foot in places that you can’t find on any tourist map and unexpectedly you discover a cause worth fighting for. This is when a destination reveals its hidden gems and you cross over from being a tourist and become a traveller.

In doing this, I found a greater appreciation for my time spent travelling. I began to travel with reason and cause and to learn more about how I can make a positive impact in this world. Therefore, in 2019, as I continue to discover new places and revisit some of old, I will be doing so with the mindset of not only allowing it to change me, but hopefully change those people with whom I meet along the way.

If you want to travel in 2019 with a purpose, then you can join ‘Where Wild Things Roam Travel’ on one of their tours, focused at conservation and sustainability in some of the world’s most incredible destinations. To find out more, visit www.wherewildthinsgroamtravel.com

Read the full article here.

Read Asian Journeys Magazine here.

PRODUCT REVIEW: Osprey Mutant Backpack

A backpack that is versatile enough to be used when climbing mountains, or simply on your daily commute, the Osprey Mutant Backpack has you covered.

WHY YOU NEED IT

Mutant 22 climbing pack is light, simple and discreet. It’s clever design disguises it’s technical features means you can take it to the streets for urban use or utilise on the peaks when climbing mountains.

FEATURES

This backpack is light, weighing a mere 570 grams. It’s compact and streamlined features makes packing it easy with the one large chamber and a hidden storage pocket. The bucket shape of the Mutant 22 is interesting, designed for a superior fit while keeping the pack snug to your back. You do have to ensure you have packed it correctly to distribute the weight.

For those taking it to the extreme and using it for hiking and mountain climbing, there is an integrated rope carry, secure and easy-to-use ice tool carry system, and discrete side loops for extra compression or attaching extra gear. The front panel also comes with a ‘daisy chain’ for even greater carrying capacity. The Mutant’s highly durable 210D Nylon fabric ensures that your pack can last as long as you can no matter your objective.

Colours options include Blue Fire (Dark Blue with Orange) and Black Ice (Black, Dark Blue with Light blue).

WHY YOU WILL LOVE IT

Perfect for daily work commutes, indoor climbing and gym sessions during the week and adventurous outdoor rock climbing and scaling Australian peaks on the weekend. The Osprey Mutant 22 is the ultimate multi-purpose pack that has your back regardless of the situation.

Osprey Mutant 22 RRP $129.95

Osprey Mutant 38 RRP $229.95

Osprey Mutant 52 RRP $229.95

Lost and found in Mauritius

An island nation in the Indian Ocean, Mauritius lays about 2,000 kilometres off the southeast coast of the African continent. The Republic of Mauritius includes the islands of Rodrigues, Agalega and St. Brandon.

I had always considered Mauritius a part of Africa and fact is, it is. There was little else I knew about the country, so I was delighted to visit its foreign shores and discover more. In just a week, I learnt what the country had lost and found what it had to offer.

Long ago, a giant bird roamed the land in Mauritius. Standing up to one metre tall and weighing in at approximately 20kg, this bulky flightless bird was easy pickings for a meal. The last claimed sighting of a Dodo was reported in the hunting records of Isaac Johannes Lamotius in 1688. I was hopeful, though some might say delusional, that my visit would bring this bird back to life with a sighting as I went in search of the dodo.

On arrival into the capital of Port Louis, I kept my eyes peeled, and what I found was dodo’s were everywhere. From the city of Port Louis to the beaches of Belle Mare and the villages of Le Morne, the presence of the dodo was evident. There in the books I read in the hotel, the beer I drank by the beach and in the trinkets sold in souvenir shops. The dodo was certainly a part of this country and proudly displayed nationwide.

As for a living, breathing dodo, sadly they were nowhere to be found. To my dismay, the dodo is well and truly extinct and lost to the world.

What I did find in Mauritius, is a country that satisfied the senses. Colourful streets were a visual delight and sounds of the Sega set my soul dancing. The smell of the salty air mixed with the sweet taste of sugarcane infused flavoursome rum warmed me from the inside while my toes wriggled in the sand which washed away by the lapping waves, cooling me on the outside. This is what engulfed me in Mauritius. A sensory overload.

I have always enjoyed being by the ocean but have never been patient enough to just flop and drop on a beach. I need to be able to still explore, be entertained and discover. Mauritius offered just that. While there was always a time to sit still and just relax, this came for me at the end of the day while I watched the sun set over the ocean and reflected on my day of discovery.

I tasted my way through Port Louis, the island’s capital, on a food tour while learning the history of the country. I ventured under the water and swam with wild dolphins in Le Morne, snorkelled crystal rock and spent hours floating in some of the bluest waters.

The SALT of Palmar had me in awe of their ability to pave the way for a sustainable and environmentally friendly existence in the hotel and hospitality sector and I discovered some local skills like cooking classes with the chef.

There was rum tasting, dining with a local family, hiking to waterfalls, searching for hidden treasures, picnicking on pristine beaches, road-tripping around the island, drinking some more rum and then finding balance in energies at one of the world’s few energetical vortex locations.

For a country that really was not on my radar and one I knew little about, I found Mauritius had more to offer than I expected, and I am happy I went.

If you want to read more about my adventures in Mauritius, please see the below published articles. While I was hosted by LUX* Hotels & Resorts and SALT of Palmar, they have not approved nor edited any of these articles and all words are my own.

Asian Journeys magazine – Magnetic Mauritian Moments

Captured Travel – Discover Mauritius  

Captured Travel – Mauritius Most Instagrammable Spots

Captured Travel – Hotel Review – SALT of Palmar               

Captured Travel – Flight Review – Air Mauritius

Where Wild Things Roam – Get Adventurous in Mauritius

Where Wild Things Roam – Hiking and Trekking in Mauritius

Where Wild Things Roam – Swim with wild dolphins in Mauritius

PRODUCT REVIEW: Scarpa Mojito Hike GTX

A perfect combination of style and technicality, the Mojito Hike GTX is the newest hiking boot from Scarpa that has everything taken care of, all you have left to do is enjoy the walk.

While impeccable design, technicality and durability are always key to a good hiking boot, the Mojito Hike GTX is also geared for hikers that are conscious of the aesthetic. They look great and perform well.

FEATURES

The Mojito Hike GTX has strong upper, made of 1.8 mm water-resistant suede with a monochromatic colour palette, and up-to-the-toe lacing that matches accordingly. The fully adjustable lacing system is derived from a climbing shoe, allowing the Mojito to fit just about any foot shape. The Salix sole is comfortable, assures grip on any terrain, is built with shock absorbing features and is designed to be self-cleaning so you won’t be picking gumnuts and stones out of your shoe tread ever again.

The Flex-Point is a special upper design that allows the natural angle variation between foot and leg during walking, and heel support system for better lateral stability, meaning you won’t feel trapped at the ankles.  The Mojito Hike GTX has self-moulding ankle padding made from a special memory foam material that adapts itself to everyone’s anatomy and recovers its original shape after every use, avoiding unpleasant pressure.

WHY YOU WILL LOVE THEM

Look good and feel even better in the comfort of your Mojito Hike GTX. The boots have weather protection from GORE-TEX® lining to keep you cozy and dry. The boots are available in both men’s and women’s versions, the men’s boot comes in a striking blue with lime-green details, and a timeless charcoal with orange detailing. The women’s version comes in a lighter smoke grey with turquoise detailing, and a head-turning purple with coral accents.

SCARPA MOJITO GTX RRP: $329.95

ASIAN JOURNEYS MAGAZINE: Tonga’s majestic whales

Kate Webster dives into Tonga’s waters off Ha’apai to swim with the majestic humpback whales.

There are few wildlife encounters that allow you to get so up close and personal, while maintaining a respect for the animal and their environment. In Tonga, they have found a way to peacefully interact with the whales with minimum impact.

Each year from mid-July to mid-October, Tonga’s serene islands become the resting place for the majestic humpback whales. North of Tonga’s main island of Tongatapu are the islands of Ha’apai. Here is a safe haven for the migrating humpback whales from the Antarctic. These calm warm waters of Ha’apai offer refuge for the whales to breed, birth and socialise before making the arduous journey back south.

Tonga is one of only a few countries in the world where you can swim with humpback whales. The experience is carefully managed with sensible tourism guidelines and experienced guides to ensure minimal impact on the whales and their environment.

Read the full article here.

HOTEL REVIEW: Sea Change Eco Retreat

Visiting Tonga’s Ha’apai Islands, I stayed at the remote island of Uoleva. The island had just a few properties on it, including Sea Change Eco Retreat.

Here is my review of the resort as published on Captured Travel.

For a truly off the grid experience in Tonga, Sea Change Eco Retreat is the place to stay.

Don’t think that off the grid and eco retreat means roughing it though, as Sea Change manages to find that balance between being one with your natural surroundings without losing that touch of luxury.

With the lightest possible footprint, Sea Change is perfectly formed as an idyllic escape for up to 12 guests at any one time – giving you an almost deserted island paradise to chill out and recharge your batteries. 

Managed full time by Becky and Mahe Pepa, who combine extensive experience in hospitality management with Tongan culture, you will really feel like a local when staying at Sea Change.

One of the main draw cards for Sea Change is that the whale swimming boat leaves right from the very beach you stay on. Companies like Majestic Whale Encounters use Sea Change as their base for this very reason.

Hotel

Sea Change Eco Retreat is located on the remote island of Uoleva in the Ha’apai Island group in the Kingdom of Tonga. It is located approximately 165 kms northeast of the main island of Tongatapu, which you can reach by taking a 30-minute flight to Ha’apai and short boat trip to the island. There is a main building where the bar, dinning and general meeting place is. It is here you will meet to go out to swim with the whales, discuss your day, eat meals and general just relax and soak up the atmosphere. There are secluded spots along the beach to sit on chairs or beanbags and a few hammocks scattered around. It is an eco-retreat so guests are asked to make minimal impact on the environment.

Rooms

There are 6 fales (Tongan for house) with a choice of either “glamping” style safari tent fales on elevated platforms with queen sized beds on frames, or the larger luxury fales which have a queen size bed with the addition of either one or two long single beds. Don’t think glamping means you will be uncomfortable though, as the mattresses and linen are high quality and provide a very restful night. Each fale sits at the end of a tranquil pathway through a coconut tree forest and is well spaced from the other, providing an absolute sense of privacy and peacefulness. There is shower and toilet in your private bathroom equipped with eco-friendly shampoo, conditioner and soap. The toilet is a sawdust drop toilet but it is cleaned regularly so there is no need to worry about any smell.

Dining

You can purchase a meal package which includes breakfast, lunch and dinner. The menus offer a wide range of food which focuses on fresh produce, meats and fish available in Tonga. Dinner normally consists of a selection of mains which include beef, chicken, fish and vegetarian options, followed by dessert. If you happen to be there at the right time, you can enjoy a traditional Tongan feast night. Daily continental breakfasts include fresh fruit (including coconut from our very own trees), cereals, toast, coffee, tea and juice. Lunches are a mix of lovely salads, pasta, sandwiches and snacks, which can also be enjoyed in a packed lunch if you are out for the day on the boat whale swimming. Last of all, the bar features amazing daily cocktails, lovely wines, spirits and a selection of local and foreign beers.  

Sea Change Eco Retreat in pictures

To look into a humpback whale’s eyes

If there is one place I like to roam with the wild things, it is under the ocean’s surface.

There is something about being under the waves, in a world that is so foreign, yet for me feels so right. Yes, breathing is aided by an air tanks, snorkel and mask or you need to be able to hold your breath to free dive. Once you have mastered that however, the ocean is well … your oyster!

I recently travelled to Tonga with extreme excitement as I set off to swim with the humpback whales. Ever since I was a young girl I have been mesmerized by the beauty and magic of whales. I had a record with the sound of whale songs on that I had pulled out of a National Geographic Magazine and played it over and over until it would play no more.

With that hauntingly beautiful sound still so familiar in my mind, I stepped onto the shores of Uoleva Island, part of the Ha’apai Island group in Tonga. Expectant of a South Pacific island, the clean sand licked by lapping waves felt good between my toes. The water was so warm but still refreshing from the even warmer air that hugged me in a humid embrace.

Walking up the beach I was greeted by friendly smiles from the team at Sea Change Eco Retreat. A eco-friendly retreat located right on the waterfront, Sea Change is everything right in keeping things in tune with nature. I was in my element. Glamping in a tent set up on a wooden deck where you go to sleep at night listing to the lapping waves on the shore as a cool breeze blew in off the ocean with its salty breath.

The shower is mostly cold water (you can switch on the hot if you need) with the water pumped and the toilet is a sawdust drop toilet. It really gives a sense of camping, but with a toilet seat for that added luxury.

While the island itself is incredible, it was the whales I was there for. If you are looking for an experience that is unique, life changing and really gets the heart pumping than swimming with humpback whales in Tonga is the ultimate.

There are few wildlife encounters that allow you to get this up close and personal, while maintaining a respect for the animal and their environment, but in Tonga, they have found a way to peacefully interact with the whales with minimum impact.

Tonga is one of only a few countries in the world where you can actually swim with humpback whales. Swimming with the whales is done so with sensible tourism guidelines and experienced guides to ensure minimal impact on the whales and their environment.

Each year from mid-July to mid-October, Tonga’s serene islands become the resting place for the majestic humpback whales. North of Tonga’s main island of Tongatapu are the islands of Ha’apai, a safe haven for the migrating humpback whales from the Antarctic. These calm warm waters of Ha’apai offer refuge for the whales to breed, birth and socialise.

Depending on the weather, mornings at Sea Change begin with a healthy breakfast before heading out on the boat in search of whales. Joined by experienced and knowledgeable guides, swimmers are briefed about the importance of respecting the whales in their space to ensure a safe interaction for both whales and swimmers.

Finding the whales and watching them from the surface is exhilarating to start with. They are everywhere in these waters, but there is a lot of water for them to hide in. Adult humpbacks will surface every 20 minutes, expelling the spent air through their blowholes before gulping down fresh oxygen. Known as a ‘blow’, you can spot these some 3km away, a fine mist that rises above the waves.

The boat races towards a sighting and then waits for the whales to surface again. The vast array of interesting behaviours from the whales include a graceful spy hop, powerful fin or fluke slaps to continual full body breaching and inquisitive approaches to the boat. Add to this the use of a hydrophone (waterproof microphone) to listen to the magical whale love songs and the experience above the water in incredible.

The moment had come to dive beneath the surface into some of the bluest clear waters. Swimming towards the whales I did not know what to expect. I tried to remain calm as to not impact on them with my arrival. This was hard. I was soon upon a resting mother humpback whale while her calf playfully swims nearby. Trying to keep the legal distance from the whales can be challenging, with the young whales often keen to come up and investigate the swimmers. As these beautiful creature glide past you, majestic and curious, it is hard to contain the rush of emotions. I had to contain my squeals of excitement.

As the baby whale curiously came closer, it was as if I could reach out and touch her. She touched me though, through a fleeting moment of eye contact where I felt I looked into the depths of the ocean in that one moment. I went to jelly, unable to swim, just floating as this incredible animal glided past me and sank off into the depths to its mother once again.

It was a moment I will remember for a lifetime as I strive to ensure my everyday life from here forward will be conscious of decisions that can impact on the ocean and the very lives of these majestic beasts.

If you want to read more about my adventures in Tonga swimming with humpback whales, please see the below published articles. While I was hosted by Majestic Whale Encounters, they have not approved nor edited any of these articles and all words are my own.

VIRGIN AUSTRALIA MAGAZINE (JULY ISSUE) – A whale of a time

CAPTURED TRAVELFlight Review – Fiji Airways – Brisbane to Nukualofa (Tonga)

CAPTURED TRAVEL – Discover the Kingdom of Tonga

CAPTURED TRAVEL – Majestic Whale Encounters Tonga

CAPTURED TRAVEL – Hotel Review – Scenic Hotel Tonga

CAPTURED TRAVEL – Hotel Review – Seachange Eco Lodge

WHERE WILD THINGS ROAM – Roam underwater with Tonga’s humpback whales

TRAVEL MONITOR

If you want to get involved with the conservation of whales in Tonga, please do get in touch with me. Where Wild Things Roam has launched special whale conservation tours. If you are interested or wanted more information, please email hello@wherewildthingsroamtravel.com.

ASIAN JOURNEYS MAGAZINE: Trekking Rwanda’s Gorillas

Kate Webster ventures deep into Rwanda’s forests in search of the rare mountain gorillas.

It is hard work trekking gorillas, but every aching muscle, bruise, scratch and bump are worth the pain for time with these endangered mountain gorillas of Rwanda.

Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda consists of 125 km2 of mountain forest and the six Virunga Volcanoes. The lush forested slopes of the mountains form an appropriately dramatic natural setting for what is arguably the most poignant and memorable wildlife experience in the world: gorilla trekking.

The mountain gorillas are the world’s most endangered ape and are found only in small portions of protected afro Montane forests in northwest Rwanda, southwest Uganda and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Known as troops, the gorillas live in communities or families of up to 30 individuals. They are led by one dominant, older adult male, known as the silverback because of the band of silver hair down his back, which is otherwise dark fur.

Read the full article here.