Swimming with Whales in Tonga
In August I had the opportunity of a lifetime to swim with humpback whales in Tonga. Yes, you read that right SWIM with not just whale watch I was actually in the water with these beautiful creatures.
There are two places in the world where I know that it is legal to swim with whales. In Dominica you can swim with pilot whales and in Tonga you can swim with humpback whales. I do not believe it is legal to swim with the whales in Australia even though I see pictures posted from time to time.
Tourism is the main industry in Tonga and most people come to swim with the whales. The main island that most people go to is Va’vau but I decided to go to Ha’apai to swim with the whales because it is a lot less touristy and the flight from Nuku’alofa is a lot cheaper to Ha’apai than Va’vau.
The Tongan government has set up a lot of laws to ensure that the welfare of the whales is not endangered by the tourists in the water with the whales. Only four people are allowed in the water with the whales at a time and you must stay 10 metres away and not touch the whales. Everyone in our group was very respectful of this because if you go after the whales or try to get close they often take off and believe me you cannot keep up with them!
From mid July to mid October the humpback whales come to Tonga to birth their calves in the shallow warm waters and stay until their calf is old enough to make the journey to cooler waters. I’ve been on whale watching tours before where you spend the day looking for the whales. In Tonga you don’t have to go looking for the whales you actually have to decide which whales you think look settled enough to get in the water with as I mentioned before they are fast so if they aren’t settling you won’t be able to see them for long.
They say you should go more than once not only so you can experience the whales but also so you can see their different behaviors they display – resting, playing, feeding swimming. I went four times. You often see just mother and calf or other times you will see them with a male escort. We were lucky enough to see four huge males playing and competing to see who was the dominant male. They display a lot of different behaviours other than just swimming in the ocean.
I will write more in depth of my experiences but I wanted to give an overview of when to visit and where to go. I stayed at Ha’apai Beach Resort and I couldn’t have been happier. The accommodation was basic but far better than what I had in Nuku’alofa and clean. The food was also amazing and I ate there every night. I also really enjoyed their approach to swimming with the whales and it was great to have the place onsite. We’d leave every morning just after breakfast. They also have wet suits and snorkel masks and fins available for use if you do not bring your own. Check out this one from Vaincre 180° View Snorkel Mask Full Face Free Breathing Snorkeling with Anti-fog & Anti-leak, Dry Full Face Diving Mask (L/XL). Is swimming with whales in Tonga on your bucket list?