Stephanie Holmes is the Herald's Deputy Travel Editor.

Wonders of the deep

If watching Finding Dory has inspired the kids - or you - to seek out an undersea adventure, Stephanie Holmes suggests some great ways to combine a Pacific Island getaway with a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Kids get face to face with marine life when snorkelling. Photo / Getty Images
Kids get face to face with marine life when snorkelling. Photo / Getty Images

FAMILY-FRIENDLY ADVENTURES

Whale-watching in Niue

From July to October every year, Oceania humpback whales make their way to the pristine waters of Niue to raise their calves, which means whale sightings during this season are pretty much guaranteed. The majestic marine mammals make their way to the sheltered bays around Avatele and Tamakautoga. The island's coral atoll geology means the water is very deep and clear - visibility is up to 50m. But because the whales get so close to the island, you don't even need to leave dry land to spot them - Niue is one of the few places in the world where you can see them from shore.

If you'd rather get out on the water, there are a few choices of registered tourism providers offering experiences with humpback whales: Niue Dive, Magical Sea Adventures and Fish Niue Charters.

Kids get face to face with marine life when snorkelling. Photo / Getty Images
Kids get face to face with marine life when snorkelling. Photo / Getty Images

Swimming with turtles in Samoa

On the Samoan island of Savai'i, villagers have been closely involved in the protection of endangered green turtles, establishing the Satoalepai Turtle Sanctuary. Juvenile green turtles are raised from infancy before being released into the wild. The turtles are in a part-fresh, part-salt water pool and visitors can get in the water to paddle alongside them. The pond is relatively shallow, so is suitable for children and those not confident in the ocean.

On Tripadvisor, some reviewers had reservations about the level of human interaction allowed at the sanctuary - "some tourists held [the turtles] like babies," one reviewer wrote recently.

If you'd prefer to swim with turtles in their natural habitat, green turtles can also be found around Namu'a Island, a 10-minute boat ride from Upolu. The best times to spot them are early morning and early evening.

ADRENALIN JUNKIES ONLY

Shark diving in Fiji

Beqa Lagoon on Fiji's Beqa island, a 15-minute boat ride from Pacific Harbour on the Coral Coast, offers world-class diving and the chance to get in the water with up to eight species of sharks - blacktip reef, whitetip reef, grey reef, silvertip, tawny nurse, sicklefin lemon, bull and tiger. If you're still reading at this point and haven't fainted in fear, diving at Beqa's Shark Reef Marine Reserve - a protected sanctuary - could also bring you sightings of eagle rays and more than 400 species of tropical fish.

Visitors to Samoa can meet turtles in the wild. Photo / 123RF
Visitors to Samoa can meet turtles in the wild. Photo / 123RF

Manta ray diving in Hawaii

If sharks aren't your thing, head to Hawaii's big island to seek out manta rays, the impressive marine creatures with a wingspan that can reach up to 7m. Although they're related to sharks, manta rays are harmless as, unlike other rays, their tails don't have venomous spines or barbs.

There are a few spots along the Kona coast where rays can be found - "Manta Heaven" near Kona airport, the waters off the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on the Kohala Coast, and "Manta Village" at Keahou Bay, known as one of the world's best spots for viewing manta rays.

Keahou Bay is also the home of the Manta Learning Center at the Sheraton Kona, a partnership between the resort and the Manta Pacific Research Foundation.

The centre - which is in the hotel's expansive hallway on the way to its Rays on the Bay restaurant - features exhibits, films and occasional guest talks, so you can learn all about the rays and their natural habitat.

Humpbacks are seen from land in Niue.
Humpbacks are seen from land in Niue.

You don't need to stray too far from the centre to see rays - you can often spot them from the restaurant's deck.

Even better, many Kona companies offer kayaking, snorkelling and diving tours so you can get in the water with these magical creatures. Most tours happen after dark, when rays are feeding on plankton. You'll be given a flashlight to attract the plankton, which will, in turn, attract the rays.

Travel writer Paul Davies reports that the rays are drawn towards pregnant women.

- NZ Herald

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