To look a humpback whale in the eye is a real privilege, and like no other wildlife experience on the planet. Swimming with whales is, by no means, an easy task; we’re dealing with wild animals in a very big ocean. We offer multi-day trips to ensure that you have an unforgettable experience. With your patience, and with faith in your skipper and guide’s experience, you’ll be rewarded with unmatched interactions. Darren Jew has been hosting whale swimming tours since 2001 and his experience as a photo-host in Tonga is unequaled. He’s hand-picked a fabulous team of skippers and guides to help bring you the best whale encounters possible.
The opportunity to swim with humpback whales is a privilege; the act of swimming with humpback whales is an art. Every day is different on the water, and every encounter is unique. We swim with whales most days, but on some days this may only be brief. Other days we swim for longer periods. We have known days where we have not swum with whales and that’s the reason we only offer multi-day trips– so that by the end of your tour we expect to have helped you experience a range of encounters with these incredible animals.
We free-swim and snorkel with whales in Tonga, we don’t SCUBA dive with whales. Our groups stay close together and in the water your guide will be leading the encounter, in the best interests of the whales, and with your safety in mind. Most of your encounters will be when you’re floating on the surface of the water. On occasion your guide may allow you to leave the surface, but only under their strict direction. Your guide and skipper are the authority both on and in the water and you will be expected to respect the Whale Swimming Regulations, the decisions staff make, and their directions at all times.
Of all the options available to us, we choose to swim with whales in Tonga's Vava'u Group of islands. We do this because the the Vava'u Group, more than any other place, offers an incredible diversity of marine environments. The topography of the islands, from reefs to low sand cays to high limestone islands, can provide us with shelter and workable sea conditions all season long, in all but the most extreme weather conditions. Sitting north of the Topic of Capricorn, Vava'u has a maritime climate. Whale season is late Winter and early Spring. It can be sunny, still and hot. There are also cloudy days; sometimes it rains - the wind can blow, hard at times. We whale swim in all conditions, the whales don’t seem to mind about the weather. We look for whales over an area of approximately 300 square nautical miles. This is a mix of calm sheltered waterways, areas effected by wind chop and, occasionally, open sea swells. The areas we search on particular days are determined by the previous day’s encounters, the weather and sea conditions and, sometimes, gut instinct. The clearest water is often (but not always) off-shore. Humpback whales visit Tonga in the Winter and Spring, not during the Summer cyclone season.
There will be a maximum of 6 guests on your boat and you will be split into two groups of 3. Each group takes alternate swims, and the group on the boat helps get cameras and people out of the water. This ensures efficient group changes, gives you a chance to catch your breath, to shoot surface activity etc. We aim to ensure everyone has similar experiences across the week. The whale swimming regulations allow for 4 guest in the water, plus the accredited guide - equaling a total of 5 people in the water.
Our season runs from late July to mid-October. July and August are cooler both on the boat and in the water. The water is often clearer early in the season. As far as whale activity goes, generally speaking (but no guarantees), there are more larger groups of whales earlier in the season, so the chance of experiencing the incredible heat runs is greater. Also, the calves are younger early in the season, and both them and their mums are less used to swimmers. As the season progresses, the water warms up and sometimes visibility is effected by plankton blooms in the water, but the calves are older and more used to swimmers– chasing pod activity decreases but can still be encountered. October is the warmest and most stable part of the season weather-wise.