Advice for Whale Swimming in Tonga
It’s not every day that you get to swim with beautiful humpback whales. Needless to say, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so you’re going to want to get it right when you get the opportunity to swim with whales in Tonga. Just to set the right expectations and give a few useful tips, we’ve put together this list of tips for swimming with whales in Tonga.
1. Tonga’s Island Groups Have Slightly Different Whale Seasons
First things first, if you want to swim with whales in Tonga, you need to visit at the right time. In general, the whale season in Tonga is between June and October, but the season is slightly shorter in the island groups of Ha’apai and Vava’u whose season is mid-July to mid-October. ‘Eua, on the other hand, has a season that often extends into November. So check out the whale season for each island group in When is the Whale Season in Tonga?
2. Book Multiple Whale Tours
An important thing to know about whale swimming tours is that having an awesome swim with a whale is never a guarantee. No two tours are the same, so we recommend booking at least two whale swimming tours during your visit to Tonga in order to increase your chances of a successful swim with whales. While it is pricey, you might just think it’s worth it considering it’s not every day that you’re in a country where it’s possible to swim with whales! Some operators offer multi-day packages which are cheaper than booking tours individually. Check out How to Get the Best Whale Swimming Experience in Tonga for more advice like this.
3. Try to Swim with Whales Later in the Season
If you’re looking for the prime time to swim with whales, then consider doing a whale tour later in the whale season – say September and October. This is when calves are often old enough to be inquisitive with swimmers, as well as when whale mothers are more relaxed to have swimmers nearby, often resulting in an incredibly fun whale swimming experience!
4. Choose the Right Island Group to Swim with Whales for You
Contrary to popular belief that you can only swim with whales in the island group of Vava’u, you can, in fact, swim with whales in Tongatapu, ‘Eua and Ha’apai too! What’s more, it could be argued that Vava’u isn’t even the best island group for swimming with whales… So before you pay for that extra plane ticket to get there, consider all of your options first. To make things easier for you, we have a whole guide on The Best Place to Swim with Whales in Tonga.
5. Take Seasickness Tablets (or Your Preferred Remedy)
Whale swimming almost always involves being in a small boat on the open water. Even if you don’t usually get seasick, bobbing around in these small boats when a swell comes in can take you by surprise, so we strongly recommend taking a seasickness pill (or your preferred remedy) an hour before getting on the boat. Then take some extras with you in your day pack in case you get the gippies during your trip.
6. Take a Warm Layer for After Your Swim
Tonga might be a tropical paradise with warm temperatures all year round, but after getting out of the water and having the wind blasting on your skin as the boat travels to the next whale can get pretty chilly. After all, the whale season is technically in “winter” where temperatures might be 19-29°C (66-84°F) but it will feel colder with a breeze and wet skin. So don’t just pack your shorts and T-shirt, put a warmer layer in your day pack, just in case!
7. You Need to Be a Confident Swimmer
Whale swimming involves swimming in the open water with the possibility of swells. Although you are provided with a wetsuit and fins for more buoyant and efficient swimming, this activity is best suited to those who are confident swimmers.
8. Follow the Instructions Given by Your Whale Guide
In Tonga, there are whale swimming laws that operators must abide by in order to make whale swimming a sustainable activity. First, you can only swim with whales with licensed whale tours, and second, you need to follow the instructions given to you by your whale swimming guide. Rules are put in place to keep both you and the whale safe. Find out more in Is it Safe to Swim with Whales in Tonga?
9. Leave a Free Day Before and After Your Tour to Allow for Cancellations
The weather affects transport and water-based tours in Tonga. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to be flexible with your dates for whale swimming in case of cancellations. If your whale swimming tour is in an island group other than Tongatapu, leave a day or two free before your whale tour to allow for flight or ferry cancellations (which, yes, does happen often). For any whale swimming tour in Tonga, leave a day or two free after your intended whale tour date just in case the whale tour gets cancelled due to the weather.
10. Have an Open Mind
Last of all, approach your whale swimming tour in Tonga with an open mind. Whale swimming operators can’t promise a great whale swim, as you can’t force a whale to swim with you (and it would be unethical to chase the same whale around all day to force a swim). It’s best to see swimming with whales as a privilege – not something we are entitled to. That way, with the expectation that you might not get to swim with whales, it kind of makes it all the more amazing when you achieve it. If you don’t succeed, then, hell, you probably had an awesome day out on the water, likely visiting some islands and seeing whales from the boat anyway. For more details on what whale swimming tours entail, take a look at The Guide to Whale Swimming in Tonga.