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Swimming With Whales Was An Unforgettable Experience

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swim with whales

Swim With Whales; An Unforgettable Experience

Tonga is one of the only countries in the world that offers a swim with whales. In fact, this is the main reason why people visit this small island nation. This country is certainly the most famous for swimming with whales, and provides some of the best whale swims and interactions.

During the months of July to October whales can be spotted regularly throughout the archipelago, with the best whale swims said to be in Vava’u, a northern island group in Tonga.

With an average relatively warm water temperature, beautiful turquoise waters to swim in and stunning beaches, Tonga is not just the perfect place to swim with whales, but it’s also a place to absorb all of the natural beauty.

Read more about Tonga, a COVID-free country

Beautiful beaches free of tourists in Tonga.

Whales in Tonga

The whales in Tonga return on an annual basis in their hundreds. Between the months of July and October you are almost guaranteed to see whales off the shores of many of the islands, and with whale swims you are generally guaranteed to see a whale, as operators know when, where and how to find them.

The whales in Tonga are humpback whales that come from Antarctica to give birth to their young or breed in the warm waters of Tonga.

One of the most popular places to see the whales and swim with them is in the island group Vava’u. Here you will find the most whale swim operators, but it is also said that here there are too many operators and may be scaring the whales away, as there are not enough whales to get around everyone who wants to swim with them.

If you want to watch them from a distance, there are various areas you can spot them in Tonga. Eua, part of the Tongatapu main island group, is one of the best spots due to the high cliffs looking down onto an open ocean. On Tongatapu main island, you can see them on all coasts. In the west coast, you can spot them off the reef in Hatafu, and on the East coast, you can head up to Katea Resort located high above sea level. Here you can see tens of whales in just a couple of hours.

swim with whales

How Do You Spot a Whale?

When I first arrived in Tonga and people told me you can spot whales just looking out to sea, I was doubtful. Even on the calmest of days, the open water is full of waves; how should I spot a whale?

Well, you kind of get the knack of it in the end. But the easiest way to spot them is obviously when they flap their tail or fin out of the water. The most common way to spot them is by looking out for their blowholes shooting up water. This happens regularly and once you’ve seen this, you can follow where they’re heading and hopefully catch them jumping out of the water.

swim with whales

What’s a Swim With Whales Like?

Whale swims take part in winter, but don’t worry. The water temperature stays relatively warm, and on a sunny day or if you don’t feel the cold too much. You can enjoy a swim in your regular swimsuit. Otherwise, whale swim operators will provide wetsuits to wear. Generally during the day, the temperature stays between 25-28°C and the water at 75-80°F (24-27 °C).

The swim will usually last half a day or a full day, but some people choose to do multiple days to make sure they get the most out of their swim.

Usually, swims are snorkelling trips. Diving trips are not generally possible since the whales move too quickly, especially if they have young with them or if they spot you and want to get away into their own space.

Many tour operators also offer photography or video. They can help to capture the best shot of you with a whale. You don’t have to worry about doing this yourself! 

Many say that a swim with whales in an unforgettable experience. I couldn’t agree more. The sheer size of such magnificent creatures is enough to rend you speechless for a while!

Be prepared to do a lot of swimming. They don’t really warn you of this, but it’s pretty obvious you’ll have to swim. The whales don’t come near the boat so you have to swim out to them, and you have to swim fast. Otherwise, they might disappear before you get to them.

swim with whales

Swim With Whales Safety

Operators ensure safety both for the whales and the tourists. The government offers only a certain number of licenses to only highly trained individuals. Each boat has a driver as well as a whale swim expert.

Boats have certain rules to follow so as so not disturb the whales, and so to ensure the safety of swimmers. You are not permitted to chase whales and must always stay at a certain distance away. You are also not allowed to stay with a whale for too long. It’s important to respect its privacy if it tries to leave the area.

The whales are often mothers with calves, so it is very important not to get too close or to disturb these animals too much.

That being said, there appear to be fewer whales each year. This was especially noted in 2020 when much fewer whales were spotted off many of the islands in Tonga, including Vava’u.

swim with whales

How to Get to Tonga

There are frequent flights from the US to Nuku’alofa, Tongatapu, the capital city on the main island in Tonga. Tonga is also served by Fiji Airways (Fiji) and Virgin Airways (Australia).

Once on the main island, you can decide to stay there to do your whale swim. But most people chose to further afield to Eua or Vava’u. To get to Vava’u, you need to take another flight with the local airline Lulutai. This takes one hour, or you can get a ship. The ship takes 24 hours (slow boat) or 8 hours (fast boat). Getting to Eua is just a short 2-hour boat trip from Tongatapu.

Note: Tonga currently has its borders closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Zoe Stephens
Zoe Stephens
Zoe is a freelance writer from Liverpool, UK. She spends her time traveling between China, where she is based, and North Korea, where she works as a tour guide for Koryo Tours. You can follow her journey and see her content from North Korea on Instagram (@zoediscovers) and YouTube. You can see more about her life stuck on Tonga on Instagram @tongadiaries.

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  1. Was supposed to go to Tonga and swim with the whales in September. Of course that didn’t happen. Resort where we booked was non refundable and let us move the reservation to this year. Highly doubtful we’ll get to do it this year. Hopefully one day we will get to do this.

    • Nice! Which resort were you supposed to stay on? Good that they let you move it. Tonga is extremely strict with entry at the moment so I hope for the best for you but also the government here isn’t anticipating to open up again this year I don’t think.


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