Whale Swimming Tour in Tonga

by Douglas Hoffman on May 1, 2022

Since 2006, I have been traveling to Tonga to swim with whales. I have developed relationships with experienced boat captains and guest house owners in order to provide a consistent hi-quality experience. My goal is provide the best Private Whale Swim Adventure possible.

There are a lot of different kinds of accommodations in Tonga just as there are a lot of different kind of boats. Over the years, I have chartered a variety of boats and stayed at private island resorts that cater to the hi end market, boutique resorts, guest houses, and a basic room for rent.

Swim with Humpback Whales in Tonga

What became clear is that at the end of a long day at sea, everyone deserves their own bed and a bit of personal space. The accommodations should be clean, have a back up generator, have A/C, private bathrooms, hot water, and no mosquitos. So, the trips I organize are not based on double occupancy. Everyone gets their own room unless they are a couple.

When it comes to chartering a boat I prefer to work with local Captains and Crews because they know the waters, the whales, and it’s their country and culture I am visiting. I want to see the money spent stay in Tonga and not get sent abroad.

Underwater Photo Safaris

The majority of whale swim operators take 8-12 people. They cost varies but the average is about $275 per person. The thing is that the rules only allow four people in the water at time with a guide. So if there are 12 people that means there are three 3 groups of swimmers.

Swim with Humpback Whales in Tonga

Whales are wild animals and not dive sites so there is a chance that not all groups will get to see whales in the water. That is what happened on my first day whale swimming in Tonga. I went on a share or public boat and was in the third group. Only two groups got to swim with whales that day.

I also learned that there are two types of people that go whale swimming. The first group is the people who have whale swimming on their bucket list. They want to see whales in the water and have something to tell their friends back home. The second group includes snorkelers and divers that love the ocean and want to observe whales in the wild.

Underwater Photo Safaris

The mindset of the captain of a share boat that has 8-12 people is to produce as many swims as possible so that all the guests see the whales from the boat as well as the water. The quality of the encounters is not as important as the frequency.

The captain of a private charter with fewer guests will be more selective in the whales to watch and swim with because the focus is the quality of encounter, not the frequency. With different objectives private boats tend to go outside of the island group and share boats tend to stay within the island group. The conditions are usually smoother inside as the islands break the wind. Accordingly the water is rougher but clearer on the outside.

Swim with Humpback Whales in Tonga

I have been leading Private Whale Swim groups to Tonga, for 14 years, and have seen all kinds of different whale behavior. Just because it is legal in Tonga does not mean it is easy. The whales are wild and go where they want, when they want. If they are not into having people around they disappear.

Many whales are curious about humans but at the same time have boundaries. If we respect their comfort zone and let an encounter develop naturally, the outcome can be an extended mutual interaction. This happens when the whales accept the swimmers in the pod. When females do not feel threatened the calfs are allowed to indulge their curiosity and check out human swimmers. These are the moments when magic happens.

It would be great if these kind of encounters happened every day but they do not. Factors like weather, moon phase, changing currents, presence of predators, and who knows what else cause the whales behavior to change. One day the whales might be breaching like crazy. The next day the whales might be in a raging competition pod or heat run. The truth is we cant control the Whales behavior any more than we can the weather. Thats why the trips I organize include 11 days of private charter.

Swim with Humpback Whales in Tonga

I have not planned a trip for the 2022 season, but do have adventures planned in 2023 and 2024. The dates are Sept 6-20, 2023, and Aug 21-Sept 4 2024. Each adventure is 2 weeks long and includes 14 days private accommodation with breakfast and 11 days of private boat charter with lunch. I will take a maximum of four people on each adventure.

There will be five swimmers on the boat. I will put four in the water at at time leaving one person on the boat to pass cameras, help captain, point toward the whales, shoot topside, and help swimmers back in the boat. After a swim, one person will rotate out of the water, and be on the boat. That means each person will be in the water 4 out of 5 swims.

Underwater Photo Safaris

It costs more to have fewer people on the boat but the exclusivity and overall experience is more than worth it. Trip price is $8,050 per person.