You’ve heard of Spider Man, Wonder Woman, Batman and Super Girl.
At school, nine-year-old Ponsonby Primary student Amaya Tan-Peters appears to be a regular kid. She didn’t win the cross country. She’s not top of the class in maths. But when the bell goes at the end of the day, and especially at the end of term, Amaya transforms into an adventure chasing, globetrotting thrill seeker.
It could easily be a Marvel comic. Here’s Amaya with a python wrapped around her neck in Malaysia. Here she is snorkelling in Borneo. Next she’s swimming in caves, before playing with moray eels, sharks, giant stingrays and sea snakes in Niue (exciting though that is, she prefers feeding the colourful reef fish). On the next page she’s surfing in the Philippines. In Vanuatu she tried some caving and canyoning, before going horse/swim riding. Where will Adventure Girl next show up? Sailing in the Mediterranean, night skiing in Japan, kayaking in Samoa.
What? No swimming with the whales in Tonga? Yes, she swam with the whales in Tonga. In all, she’s visited, and conquered, more than 20 countries, many of them multiple times.
And then there’s all the fun stuff she does here in New Zealand, like Extreme Edge rock climbing, slacklining, circus school training, whitewater rafting and camping round the country. It’s hard enough for Amaya to remember all the adventures let alone pick out her favourite, but swimming with the humpback whales is one of the most magical.
“This year was my second time swimming with the whales. I saw more than 20, and we managed to swim with three families. Some of them were 16m long, definitely bigger than our camper van!” says Amaya.
“We were very lucky that we had a very energetic, playful calf with us, who would swim up close to look at us with her big eyes and touch us with her pectoral fin. We weren’t supposed to go within 5m of the whales, but nobody told that to them!
“We had to be careful not to get whacked by her tail. She also liked to copy us, so when we slapped the surface of the water, she would slap her pectoral fin, or if we twisted around in the water, she’d do the same.
“Dad brought along a grass skirt from the previous night’s cultural dance show to entertain the calf, and she was super curious and came up really close to see it.
“People ask if I heard the whales singing. I didn't, but you can hear them singing on the video my mum took. The calf was communicating with her mother while she played with us and Mum napped at the bottom of the ocean. Maybe she was telling her mum what funny looking things we were, or that she was hungry and needed a feed. Her mum was probably hungry too, because adults don’t eat for about three months while they’re nursing.
“Every now and then Mum would come up to check on things. I thought she looked like a dinosaur. My mum called her the Mother Ship.
“From land we could see them from our room, breaching or blowing their spouts. And Mum (my mum, not the baby humpback’s) flew her drone out to film them."
Amaya’s confidence in the water was central to enjoying the experience. She takes swimming lessons, and her parents hope she’ll become an endurance swimmer so she can join them on long distance ocean swims.
Special though the whale adventure was, it’s not Amaya’s favourite. That title goes to skiing in Japan, which she’s done twice, because nothing beats the combination of skiing in perfect powder, and Japanese food!
But Amaya’s holidays aren’t all fun and adrenalin. When she was four, the family spent a couple of months in Cuba for a different kind of experience. The trip taught Amaya valuable lessons about poverty and oppression. Spending time with the locals, who want to give you what little they have, was a particularly humbling experience.
Fortunately, Amaya even enjoys the part of travelling that most people find a drag - the actual getting there and back. With no TV in the house, Amaya’s allowed to blob out on the in-flight movies which helps pass the time.
What does Amaya regard as the benefits of travel? “Seeing different cultures, eating different types of food, learning new skills and not having to clean my room!”
So where to next for Adventure Girl? She’s not sure, but her options will grow when she gains her junior open water diving qualifications next year. That will allow her to join her parents on dive trips and explore a whole new world under the ocean. (BILLY HARRIS)
You can share Amaya’s whale adventure on: