2024 Tonga Whale Swim Adventure

September 2 - 11, 2024

in Vavau', Tonga


This is a land-based adventure that includes 14 days of accommodation with breakfast, 11 days of private charter whale swimming, with lunch on the boat.

This adventure is the result of 14 years of leading whale swim and photography expeditions.  This is the kind of trip most people consider to be once in a lifetime.  Accordingly, my goal is to make it the best trip possible. That is why I have selected operators I know and trust can deliver the goods as promised. Believe me, this knowledge was learned the hard way.  I have used a variety of operators since 2006.  Some were great.  Some not so much.

Most whale swim boats are open charters and take between 8-12 people. Since no more than four plus a guide can be in the water at any one time, these boats rotate groups of four people in the water.  I can’t see investing that much time and energy and money to get to the most remote location on earth and then sit on a boat while others are having fun with the whales.   Nope.  That is why this adventure is private and limited to four guests.

The boat goes out every day but Sunday.   We will head out for whales each morning after a homemade breakfast and spend the day looking for whales that show signs of being open for mutual interactions. We won’t stop for whales that are tracking, or showing behavior we know is less likely to lead to mutual interaction.

The trip takes place during the time of the season that most of the females have given birth. Many are six weeks old and quite playful.  We will also look for logging whales, & heat runs otherwise known as competition pods.

Over the course of the charter, we will likely have some days that are better than others.  We can’t control the wind, rain, waves, visibility, or whales. Some days the whales just breach, other days are great for swimming.  Every once in a while the whales just seem to vanish.   That is called Mother Nature and is why a week is just not enough time. That's why this trip is 11 days.
Participants should make sure to have a good rain jacket and hat.  The water temp will be warm enough that wetsuits are not necessary (78-80 degrees). That said about half the people bring shorty 3 mm suits. I have a lava core skin I love, but most of the time I just wear a rash guard. The sun is bright in Tonga so be sure to bring sunscreen.  I suggest Stream2Sea brand.  It is good for you and the environment.
The area we will search for whales in is huge and picturesque. There are many islands and during the season the whales pop up everywhere.  Many times we will see whales in the inside group of islands and you will wonder why we don’t stop. The reason is the visibility.   Inside the islands the visibility is poor.  Outside the islands, in the bays, and around seamounts the visibility is better.   We will concentrate on those areas.  Many of the operators that take people whale swimming prefer to stay inside so they can conserve fuel. Most whale swimmers do not know the difference as they have not been to Tonga before.
Every day but Sunday our schedule is to wake up, eat, then get on the boat. The harbor is a five-minute walk or two in the truck.   We will return in mid to late afternoon depending upon the action.  Once on land, you can relax at the Guesthouse, take a taxi to look around the island, process images, or check out the coffee shops, bars, little souvenir shops, and small stores to buy snacks to keep you going.  There is a bank machine for getting Tongan money as well.  They sell beer and some liquor but if you want to have something good pick it up at the duty-free.
As far as packing goes, bring as little as possible as they weigh everything. If you do have extra baggage they will charge you for it.  It is not crazy expensive like some places but be prepared and have local currency.  That is the most critical part.    If you want to be a hero for the local kids bring a bunch of colored pencils and pens to give away.

Three Requirements

There are three requirements for this trip.
  1. You must have six months left on your passport to do this trip.
  2. You must also have DAN or other travel insurance.  I have DAN and I am alive today because it works.
  3. You must have trip insurance.    Get the best you can get and hope it's money well spent that the trip goes off without a hitch.  As hard as I try to make things go smooth there are things that happen beyond my control.  Obviously, there is the pandemic, but there is a chance Tonga could close its borders, A tsunami comes, the boat sinks or breaks, you get sick prior to the trip, you break your leg before the trip, or something else.   This way you are covered.  I have been doing these trips a long time and have seen a lot both things.  Insurance is the best way to protect yourself.


You can pay for the trip all at once or in two or three installments.   A 30% deposit is needed to secure your space.   The balance will be spread out with all payments made six months ahead of travel. Except for first deposit forwarded to vendors, all payments remain in Hawaii,  until 30 days proior to travel.   To avoid service and processing fees paid by direct deposit or cashiers or personal check.