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Swimming with Humpback Whales

This article and interview has been written by Ashleigh Clarke, Whitsunday Blogger of The Sailing Yogi and marketing assistant to Brooke Miles and Above & Below Photography. Originally posted at


The Whales of Tonga 2017

The Whales in the gallery are a big conversation piece. With people from all over the world resounding exclamations of ‘wow’ and ‘stunning’ along with the curious queries from behind the lens, how did you take that? Where did you take them? Hold onto your seats cowboys & girls, we’re going to give you the skinny on diving with these gentle giants, but first, a little background info to set the scene…

Brooke grew up by the water and like most Aussie kids her holidays were filled with exploring rock pools and playing in the ocean. This holiday habit didn’t stop as she matured either. At 19 Brooke’s father bought her a dive cert for her birthday and the world literally became her oyster as she travelled extensively overseas to dive in as many destinations as she could.  

In the process of her travels, she relocated herself from the West Coast to the East Coast where she now resides in the sunny Whitsundays - aka the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. Coupling a passion for the ocean with her skills as an award-winning photographer was naturally going to result in out-of-this-world underwater imagery. This is where we introduce you to ‘Above & Below Photography’, Brooke’s creative outlet for exclusively showcasing underwater and aerial photography of beautiful destinations.

If you know Brooke you know that she has an insatiable appetite for life and conquers goals like most of us eat cereal for breakfast (#daily). So the fact that she booked a trip to swim and photograph migrating humpback whales in Tonga does not come as a surprise to those that know her.


Travelling from Australia to Va’vu in the Kingdom of Tonga Brooke had me green with envy at the thought of the fun she was about to get up to. I expected not to hear much from her on this trip which was true but after day 1 I received her first photo and I died a little inside. It was stunning, crystal clear water and beautiful grey and white whale. I was mesmerized and eager to see more. Each new photo that came through from Brooke had me enthralled, slightly jealous and even more excited for her return.

Upon her return, there was naturally a flurry of questions about the experience and many of her answers have left me more in awe of her and eager to experience a Whale Swim in Tonga!


A: Why did you choose ‘Whales Underwater’?
B: Darren Jew is renowned for his underwater photography and in particular his whale images. So for measaphotographer it was a no-brainer to go on his tour. My biggest concern was having the dates free. While Above & Below is purely underwater and aerial photography I do also work as a commercial and wedding photographer. With weddings booked so far in advance it was touch and go if I would be able to jump onto one of his very limited 2017 trips.

A: Tell me about the trip.
B: So it wasan8 day trip and we stayed right on the beach in Utulei Village, a short boat ride from Neiafu. The homestay style accommodation My TonganHomeisgorgeous, made up of 6 large guest rooms with private ensuites and is run by an adorable lady named Tupou who lovingly looked after us and prepared and cooked all our meals.

The boat picks you up daily from the private pontoon and takes you out to find the whales. It’s the most unreal experience – hard to put into words.

A: What is it like, give me a run down?
B: Well you sit on the duckboard of the boat and when the captain says ‘go’ you go. You literally jump off the back of the boat with camera gear in hand and swim straight toward the whales. IT’S SO EXHILARATING.

A: That sounds incredible! How did you feel?
B: The first time we jumped in I was so nervous and excited, but I definitely couldn't anticipate how amazing it actually was. The water was so clear that you felt like you weren’t even in the water! With the 30+ visibility and the excitement of seeing the whales, I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I cried! It truly has been the most unforgettable experience I have had to date!

A: What’s it like when you look back at the photos?
B: So good! It’s like reliving it all over again, a totally different experience to any other underwater photography. You have to be quick and steady with a short window to shoot because the whales can move REALLY fast at times. I found that processing these images takes longer than all the other aerial and underwater photography but it’s completely worth it.

A: Are the whales phased by you?
B: Not at all, they are actually quite subdued and when Darren calls them ‘gentle giants’ he is spot on.The mum's are quite relaxed while the calves are a little more curious and often come right up to you.


There was only one whale that got a little crazy showing off with splashes and a few aerial displays. This is the guy we nicknamed Crazy Whale and he is the star of the galleries ‘Crazy Whale’ set which had a great response with a few of the limited number of sets sold in the first few weeks of the gallery opening. 

A: Lastly, you obviously had the time of your life, are you doing it again anytime soon?

B: Ummmm YES! I’ve already booked for 2018. I can’t wait to do it again and with the knowledge I’ve gained on the last trip, I’ll have a better idea of what I’m in for and hopefully get even better shots to add to the gallery collection.

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