humpback whale swimming Ha’apai Tonga

Swim with Humpback Whales in Tonga!

Keen to swim within meters of a 40 ton whale, with just you & a few friends in the wild, blue ocean? The Bucket List Family and Fun Travel TV take the plunge, with cameras in hand, to show you what it’s like! To find more about these guys, visit the bio page of traveling family vloggers, The Bucket List Family, and Australian travel experts, Fun Travel TV.

Fun Travel TV meet some Humpback whales in Tonga…

Swimming SO close to enormous whales in Tonga.

There’s only a few places in the world where you can swim with humpback whales (legally, reliably, and responsibly)—Tonga, Moorea/Tahiti in French Polynesia, and Exmouth Australia, but by most accounts Tonga takes the crown. In particular, it’s Tonga’s strict Whale Watch and Swim Regulations (limiting licenses and stating that only 4 people plus one guide can enter the water at once) that makes it so rewarding.

Overcrowding and stress to wildlife is always a concern when it comes to nature tourism, and even in parts of Tonga (especially the tourism capital, Vava’u) there can still be several boats in an area looking for whales, but the dedicated few who travel to the remote islands of Ha’apti are rewarded with the gold at the end of the rainbow. The operators in this area are renown to be very careful when approaching whales, doing it respectfully and slowly, always checking to see firstly if the pod is ready and responsive to interaction.

From late July to the start of November each year, humpbacks gather to conceive, and—11 months later—give birth to baby calves.  After a huge journey from the ice, krill-rich waters of the Antarctica, hundreds of humpbacks lounge in the tropical, reef-protected waters of Tonga to rest.

The Bucket List Family get awfully close to Humpback whales in Ha’apti…

These big, beautiful creatures can be observed in four different behavioural patterns: mothers and babies resting, mothers teaching babies to breach and fin slap, “heat runs” where a few males will race and cavort to compete for dominance and breeding rights, or single males singing. (You can feel their calls reverberate through your body!)

The regulations in Tonga ensure that each swim with the humpbacks is limited to 90 minutes, and the whales are to be allowed 90 minutes between interactions to avoid other boats from lining up in wait. Scuba diving with the whales is forbidden. Swimming groups are to keep together and keep at least 5 meters from the whales. In the end though, you are in the hands (or fins!) of the whales themselves.

Most people describe the experience as “mind-blowing”. (Up to 90 minutes within meters of these incredible mammals sounds amazing!!!)


If you want to focus on humpbacks go to Ha’apai, but if you want more activities, services, nightlife, or higher quality accommodation go to Vava’u in the north.

Chances are that if you book 1-2 days’ worth of humpback swim activities you’ll get a good chance to swim with the whales, especially in Ha’apai, but 4-5 days or more is recommended to ensure quality time with the whales.

You can stay on the islands and do day trips to search for whales, or spend the whole time on a large catamaran with just a few guests to increase your chances of really high-quality whale interactions.

Transfer ferry trips can be several hours long, so to travel from Nuku’alofa International Airport on the main island of Tongatapu (south) to… Ha’apai (central) get a daily 30 minute flight with Real Tonga, or to Vava’u (north) get one of twice-daily 55 minute flights. There are no flights on Sundays.


The humpback season is late July to the start of November, but August to mid-October is the best time to come so that calves are a little older (4-6 weeks) and mothers are more relaxed and calves more curious.

Where: Ha’apai islands, Tonga