Swimming with humpback whales off the islands of Tonga + Tahiti
Swimming with humpback whales in Tonga and Tahiti, two of our favourite places in The Pacific Islands, is an incredible experience. Our Destination Expert Cecci Robertson tells us why.
Imagine you are submerged in the deep, cerulean waters of the Pacific Ocean, accompanied only by the sound of your breath coming through your snorkel. Suddenly, around eight metres below the surface, you spot two massive, dark shapes making their way slowly into sight. It’s a mother humpback whale and her calf. They glide through the sea getting ever nearer, and as the baby weaves through the currents, you come almost eye to eye with one another.
Our clients who have enjoyed this unique wildlife encounter are simply unable to express the overwhelming emotion of the experience. Being up close and personal to these otherworldly giants is exhilarating and extraordinary. Phrases often cited by those who have had this incredible, immersive adventure are “life-changing” and “one of the highlights of our lives”. Swimming with whales is like no other expedition. It will transform your respect for the creatures of the sea and the submarine world they inhabit.
Travelling around 5,000km a year, humpback whales have the longest migratory trips of any mammal on earth. They range from 12-16m in length as adults, weigh 50,000kg and require warm water in which to gestate and give birth, so the South Pacific provides their optimum breeding environment. Males are renowned for their lengthy and complex songs, which can be heard underwater for hundreds of kilometres, and each pod has its own unique set of ballads and rituals. You might even be fortunate enough to spot a ‘heat run’, where several enormous males chase a female in a mating ritual. They breach, splash their tails for attention and call to one another in eerie whale language.
Whales are naturally curious and playful creatures, and give off signs to the knowing eye that signify a desire to frolic. Our naturalist guides are mindful to only engage whales that indicate an interest in playing – when it’s safe for swimmers to interact with them in the water. They respect, help and protect these phenomenal creatures by adhering to the strict limitations on boat and swimmer numbers per day and per season. These beautiful giants were almost hunted to extinction in the late-19th century and the first half of the 20th century, so a ban on whaling was issued in 1965. Fortunately, due to conservation efforts and the existence of protective rules, the whale population has made a slow and steady recovery.
We, at cazenove+loyd, offer guests the opportunity to swim with these magnificent creatures off Tonga and Tahiti, two island nations in the South Pacific Ocean. The whale-swimming season is from July to October in Tonga and July to November in Tahiti, but for the best chance of seeing them, we suggest travelling between August and October.
The Kingdom of Tonga
The Kingdom of Tonga, as it is officially named, comprises more than 169 islands, of which only 35 are inhabited. They are nicknamed the ‘Friendly Islands’ because of the warm welcome given to visitors, and provide a genuine insight into life in the Pacific. There are few luxury resorts here, but we can recommend some lovely boutique guesthouses and B&Bs. Tonga has a rich cultural heritage of more than 1,000 years, and we love to arrange interesting dance, music and art experiences in the local villages.
The kingdom is a wonderful place to go diving or snorkelling in crystal-clear waters and swim with an abundance of marine life, including humpback whales. You can also go canoeing or try your hand at deep-sea fishing, kiteboarding or stand-up paddleboarding. Tonga is refreshingly untouristy compared to its neighbours, Fiji and the Cook Islands, having instead opted for an intimacy, authenticity and charm that makes you immediately feel like part of the family. Relationships are key when arranging the trip of a lifetime in Tonga, and we have the connections to ensure your stay is truly unforgettable.
The Islands of Tahiti
When the Europeans first encountered the Polynesian people and the Islands of Tahiti, in French Polynesia, they felt as if they had discovered heaven on earth. This secluded, lush tropical paradise, made up of 118 islands, surpasses even the highest expectations. Our whale-swimming expeditions here occur off the coast of Moorea, part of the Society Islands archipelago.
The island of Moorea rises magically out of the ocean like a cathedral, with high, sharp, green spires crowned by clouds. It will renew your belief in the majesty of nature. This is a place where waterfalls tumble down fern-softened cliffs, peaceful meadows are flanked by pinnacles of emerald green and the isle’s bright-blue lagoon sparkles. Pastel-painted houses surrounded by hibiscus gardens circle the island. Local people here live in simple villages that will elevate your senses and remind you of the good things in life – as they say in Tahiti, “la vie heureuse”, meaning ‘a happy life’. One of the most memorable locations in the Islands of Tahiti, Moorea’s beauty is breathtaking.