Tonga Whale Swim Adventures Sept 6-20, 2023 and August 21 – Sept 4th, 2024

by Douglas Hoffman on April 8, 2022

These adventures are the result of 14 years of leading whale swim and photography expeditions to Tonga.  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. 

Swim with Humpback Whales in Tonga

Most whale swim boats are open charters and take between 8-12 people. The rules in Tonga for whale swimming state that there can be only four swimmers plus a guide in the water at any one time. I can’t see investing that much time and money to travel to the most remote location on earth to swim with whales then sit on a boat while others are having fun with the whales. That is why this adventure is limited to 4 guests. With fewer participants the adventure costs more. Expect to pay $8,095 per person.

The Portwine guest house is a place I have called home for many trips to Tonga. The owners consistanlty provide a wonderful experience. Each guest will have a private room with bathroom and a/c. Breakfast is included, and it’s incredible.

The trip takes place during the time of the season that most of the females have given birth and the calves are between 4-6 weeks old and quite curious and playful. While encounters with mom and calves are the focus, we will also look for logging whales and heat runs otherwise known as competition pods. This is when many bull whales compete in order to show dominance for the opportunity to mate with a female.

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. That is called Mother Nature, and is why a week is just not enough time to experience the whales of Tonga.

That’s why this trip is 11 days. Participants should bring a rain jacket, hat, and sunscreen. That’s why this trip is 11 days. Participants should bring a rain jacket, hat, and sunscreen.  The water will be warm enough that wetsuits are not necessary (77-80 degrees).

Most of the time I wear a rash guard or Lava core hooded vest. I suggest Stream2Sea brand.  It is good for you and the environment. The water will be warm enough that wetsuits are not necessary (77-80 degrees). Most of the time I wear a rash guard or Lava core hooded vest.

The area we will search for whales 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 underwater visibility.   Inside the islands the visibility is not as good as on the outside. 

Underwater Photo Safaris

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, check out the coffee shops, bars, and small stores to buy snacks to keep you going.  There is a bank machine in town.

A few shops sell beer and liquor but if you want to have something special 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 for it so try to have local currency.  If you want to be a hero for the local kids bring a bunch of colored pencils to give away.

Underwater Photo Safaris

Four Requirements

There are four requirements for this trip.

  1. You must have six months left on your passport.
  2. You must also have DAN or other travel insurance in case you need to be evacuated. I have DAN and I am alive today because it works.
  3. You must have trip insurance.    Get the best you can get and 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 tsunami comes, the boat sinks or breaks, you get sick prior to the trip, you break your leg before or during the trip, e.t.c.   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.
Underwater Photo Safaris

4. You must agree to follow the rules of the captain and trip leader when it comes to swimming with whales. Never follow the calf, always stay with the group, don’t free dive unless given permission. Swimmers that do not follow the rules will not be allowed back in the water.

Getting to Tonga is an adventure by itself. For most people coming from the states its easiest to fly Fiji Airways from LA to Nadi Fiji, and then connect to Vavau.

Underwater Photo Safaris

Trip dates are Sept 6-20 2023 and Aug 21 – Sept 4 2024. Price is $8,095 per person.