Where to Swim with Whales in Tonga
Where is the best place to swim with whales in Tonga? Swimming with whales in Tonga is available where the tourist hotspots are: Tongatapu, ‘Eua, Ha’apai and Vava’u. Because the success of a whale swim largely depends on the conditions and how the whales are behaving, swimming with whales in any of Tonga’s island groups can be as good as the other (or as disappointing, if the whales aren’t interested). However, there are minor differences between the island groups in terms of the length of the season, how many operators there are, the general water conditions, and the ethos of the operators. We go over some of those differences in this guide to the best places to swim with whales in Tonga.
For more whale talk, take a look at The Guide to Whale Swimming in Tonga.
The Best Places in Tonga for Whale Swimming with…
- … The most whale tours: Vava’u
- … The least whale tours: ‘Eua
- … The typically calmest water conditions: Vava’u & Ha’apai
- … The typically roughest water conditions: ‘Eua
- … The best water visibility: Ha’apai
- … The most ethical operators: Tongatapu & Ha’apai
- … The cheapest tours: ‘Eua & Tongatapu
- … The most expensive tours: Vava’u
- … The longest whale season: ‘Eua
- … The shortest whale season: Ha’apai & Vava’u
Whale Swimming in Tongatapu
With more famous island groups for swimming with whales, like Vava’u, Tongatapu is often overlooked when it comes to whale swimming but this is by no means because the offering here isn’t spectacular. There are up to seven whale swimming operators in Tongatapu, each conveniently departing from Faua Wharf in Nuku’alofa, and the waters certainly don’t feel crowded.
We find that some of the most ethical operators, in terms of the whales’ wellbeing, operate out of Tongatapu. When it comes to price, there’s a mix of some of the cheapest prices to mid-range. Water conditions are relatively calm but can conjure up big swells at times.
The Pros of Swimming with Whales in Tongatapu
- It’s the arrival island of Tonga, so it’s the cheapest island to get to
- It has a convenient departure point in Nuku’alofa
- Whale swimming tours are some of the most affordable you’ll find
- Most tour operators take an eco-friendly and ethical approach
- Only seven operators make for uncrowded waters and work well together, “sharing” the whales if needed
- It has a long season, typically lasting from June to October
The Cons of Swimming with Whales in Tongatapu
- Tongatapu is the most populated island, so it’s not a great base for a more tranquil island escape nor the “prettiest”
- The swell can get rough sometimes, which is not good for seasickness.
A short flight from Tongatapu, ‘Eua is another large island located in the south of Tonga. It’s an affordable island destination with all accommodations being quite cheap, even for backpackers, with whale swimming tours that are also among some of the cheapest.
The smallest amount of whale tours are found in ‘Eua, with the island only regulated to have up to four operators. This means that there’s little “competition” to find whales, resulting in more ethical practices.
While ‘Eua is the first and last place that whales can be found in the whale season, from June to as late as November, it’s one of the places with the roughest waters for swimming with whales due to the lack of sheltered water.
Whale swimming tours in ‘Eua operate from either Ohonua or from Nuku’alofa in Tongatapu.
The Pros of Swimming with Whales in ‘Eua
- It has some of the cheapest whale swimming tours in Tonga
- It’s the next-most convenient island to get to which only requires a short flight or a half-day ferry ride from Tongatapu to get there
- It has the longest whale season, from June to October (but sometimes November)
- There is only a handful of whale tours, often resulting in a better whale-to-boat ratio
- The island itself is attractive with plenty to do in terms of hiking, 4WD tours, scuba diving, etc.
The Cons of Swimming with Whales in ‘Eua
- The water conditions are some of the roughest for whale swimming.
Getting to Ha’apai might require an extra flight or ferry ride, but many agree that’s it’s worth it to stay on one of the quiet islands with long sandy beaches and turquoise waters. In addition, the whale swimming here is excellent thanks to the (usually) stable water conditions and eco-friendly ethos of the whale tour operators.
You usually need a little more in your budget for some of the resorts here too, but there are still budget guest houses in the main town, Pangai, if needed. Speaking of resorts, these are the main operators for tours, so you typically have to do a whale swim with your resort or the next nearest operator who is likely to offer pick-ups. This means that you might not get your first choice in whale tour operator (or accommodation).
The Pros of Swimming with Whales in Ha’apai
- The water conditions are typically calm and clear by being sheltered by islands
- There is a small number of operators sharing a large space, so the waters aren’t too “crowded” for finding whales
- Most tour operators take an eco-friendly and ethical approach
- Ha’apai provides more of an idyllic island holiday with plenty to do in terms of snorkelling, scuba diving, kitesurfing and more
The Cons of Swimming with Whales in Ha’apai
- You tend to have to choose the operator who works (or is provided by) the accommodation you’re staying in, which may not give you your first choice in whale tour
- The season is shorter than elsewhere, from mid-July to mid-October
- Ha’apai is more expensive to travel to.
Vava’u is the main island group associated with whale swimming in Tonga. It is the island group with the most operators, 20, making whale swimming a booming business in this northern island group of Tonga. Combine whale swimming with either staying on one of the relaxing island resorts or staying in Tonga’s second-largest town, Neiafu, and you have a holiday available to suit most travellers.
The downside to swimming with whales in Vava’u is that some of the operators have been reported to not abide by the Tongan Government’s whale watching regulations in order to achieve sustainable practices. It’s thought that this may be due to the high number of operators in the group competing for “whale time”. As a visitor, this makes it harder to choose a whale swimming tour that’s going to be ethical and therefore, in most people’s minds, more enjoyable.
While Vava’u often has the most sheltered water conditions for swimming, it also has the shortest season along with Ha’apai, typically starting in mid-July and ending in mid-October. And Vava’u has some of the most expensive whale swimming tours.
The Pros of Swimming with Whales in Vava’u
- There’s more choice when it comes to whale tour operators
- You have more choice of island resorts and accommodation on the main island
- There’s a wide range of other activities to enjoy, like some of the best scuba diving, fishing and snorkelling in Tonga
- The waters are often calm for more enjoyable whale swimming and boat travel
The Cons of Swimming with Whales in Vava’u
- They are expensive islands to travel to
- Vava’u has the most expensive whale swimming tours
- The whale season is shorter, starting from mid-July to mid-October
- Some operators have been reported to “chase whales” and go over time restrictions with the whales.