Matthew SmithProfessional Photographer
'If you don’t just want to see Antarctica, but you want to feel Antarctica and be a part of it, then a yacht trip is the only way to come close to its soul. Scott Portelli has a close connection with this icy landscape and has a wonderous knack of putting you in the right place at just the right time to reach out and touch it. These trips are perfectly unplanned to no tight schedule, just to sail to the action and intimately watch it unfold for as long as you like (usually until you’ve filled all your memory cards). I’ve returned home with a refreshed perspective on nature and photography travel and a thirst for more like this. My portfolio from the trip is bursting at the seams with competition worthy images of Leopard Seals, lunge feeding and breaching humpback whales and pods of orca that escorted our vessel from time to time. I will most certainly be back there with Scott again soon.'
The Falkland Islands is a truly remarkable place for any wildlife lover. The proximity in which you can get to watch the wildlife and their interactions is unlike I have seen in almost all of my other travels. Each day was completely full of encounters with all that the Falklands have to offer. Scott was our photography guide and expedition leader, and due to his experience on the islands, it made for an unforgettable experience. The highlight of the trip was getting in the water with penguins bathing along the shore line, and Scott provided many helpful tips for me as a beginner in underwater photography. From his commitment to the guests' experience and providing teaching opportunities, to coordination with the hosts to make for a seamless travel journey (as travel in the Falklands requires much coordination), we could not have asked for a better leader. I would not hesitate to book another tour with Scott, and look forward to joining him on whale adventures in the future!
I have had the pleasure of travelling twice with Scott now. I met Scott at the airport at the start of my first trip with him, to Tonga to swim with the Humpbacks. He made the whole experience really seamless, his knowledge of the local area a huge help, and of course he delivered on a priceless experience. That trip to Tonga with him was one of the highlights of my life, so much so that I am going back for round 2 later this year. We saw the most amazing sights and I honestly believe it’s Scott’s knowledge of the area and whale behaviour, and that of his amazing local team that meant we had such a fantastic experience. And having a professional photographer around was certainly handy to capture the moments! My 2nd trip with Scott was to Rwanda to see the mountain gorillas and again, an absolute highlight. The trip itself was wonderful, the accommodations lovely. Seeing these majestic creatures up close is the stuff of dreams. If it’s on your bucket list do it! You won’t regret it. One of the great things about Scott is he is a really calm person to travel with and I knew he’d be across all the admin, and I could just relax and enjoy the experience. I’ve jokingly told him more than once he will send me broke one day because every time he sends an email of his recent trips I start dreaming of where to go next. Norway and the Orcas are top of the list. You honestly won’t regret accompanying Scott on any of his trips.
Having a close encounter with a humpback whale became my dream when I first saw one in Iceland few years ago during a whale watching. I could not imagine back then what was going to happen in Tonga… Our expedition started like a roller coaster, full on from the start. We had the incredible luck to have our first encounter with a very playful and interactive whale. This first experience literally got my breath away (I could not catch my breath) as this amazing creature came to us, slowly moving below/next to us, looked at us, and gently touched us with her pectoral fins. It is hard to describe the intense emotions/feelings I felt at the time. It is surely not like anything I have ever experienced before, and I feel blessed for this life experience. Billy, our Tongan guide in the water has been amazing, specially when he took my arm and helped me moving around her as she was playing with us. He enhanced this experience, as I have to say I panicked a bit at the beginning since I did not know what to do and where to go when this 17 metres giant came straight to me. I know now by experience they are extremely gentle, very aware of where we were, moving slowly, knowing somehow how fragile we are compare to them. I will never forget my other swim with this other interactive female, when I was swimming just next to her, at the level of her eye. This eye to eye contact shook me deep in my soul. She then touched me with her pectoral fin, before to move it just below me, so she would no hurt me as she was moving forward. Witnessing the tenderness of a mum and her baby, listening them speaking to each other, enjoying a male’s song, or being (again) lucky enough when a baby came up to me from the deep for a closer look at us tiny humans are priceless moments words cannot fully describe. These 10 days in Tonga have been like a dream I wish I never wake up from. And saying “thanks” to Scott would not be enough. From the preparation of the trip, to our days in and on the water, I could not have wish for another person than Scott to have this experience with. Sioni, Billy and Scott are an amazing team, so knowledgable, and respectful of the whales. The whales always came first before our desires to do anything with them. The world would be a better place if everybody behaved that way. I also remember our lunch breaks next to paradisiac islands, where we could go for a dive and visit the corals gardens and their inhabitants. The cave and underwater cave were mesmerising to me. So as little as it sounds compared to what I feel: THANK YOU Scott, Billy, Sioni (our amazing Tongan skipper who made this experience possible), and the whales… They are in my heart more than ever, and I cannot wait to visit them again.
I joined Scotty's expedition in Tonga in September 2018, and I think the best way to express my experience is simple... I booked my second trip with Scotty in Tonga for 2019 before my first was complete. The experience was exceptional from the months leading up to the trip, to the time in the water, and on and off the boat. Scotty does an amazing job making sure you are set for success in your packing and planning, and that you have a memorable experience every moment. He and the crew's respect for the waters and for the gentle giants is felt and taught to the guests, and makes you proud to be with them vs any other boat. Scotty and his crew understand the whales, their behavior, their mood (even the signs that they can understand from the whales' eye contact!). This respect and understanding creates only safe (for you AND the whales) interactions that from what I heard at my hotel from other guests, is unparalleled. By far the 2 weeks I was in Tonga I know our group had the most intimate, longest experiences in the water with the whales. Scotty has a joy for the ocean, the whales and the islands that is unlike any other guide and that joy is infectious. He was incredibly generous in educating us on the whales' behaviors, stories of his experiences in Tonga and around the world, and I appreciate his time and patience in answering all my questions as I felt eager to keep learning from him! If you are interested in Tonga and Humpback Whales, I cannot suggest anyone better to go with than Scott Portelli and his crew. The boat is fast and clean, the crew is knowledgeable and incredibly skilled at spotting the whales, and Scotty (and crew) care about the whales and their safety, as well as creating the best memories and interactions for you and the whales. Can't wait to join them for my second year this August!