Humpback whales are among the most seasoned composers of the sea; stringing together long, drawn-out notes to make complex melodies, they sing to attract a curious listener—more specifically, a mate. Alongside a small group of Atlas Obscura and Tastemade travelers, you’ll have the chance to dive into the waters off the coast of Tonga in search of these ethereal whale songs. Guided by a marine mammal biologist, we’ll spend five full days having swim encounters with adult humpbacks, learning about their behavior and habitat, listening to their melodic calls, and capturing recordings and photographs that directly contribute to ongoing conservation research. In the evenings, we’ll relax on the main island of Tongatapu, learning about the culture and history of the Happy Isles.
Note: The itinerary described below is indicative of the trip experience, but the schedule and swim days might change depending on the weather.
The listed price of the trip is per person based on double occupancy.
You’re in good company. Solo travelers typically make up about half of our small groups. With curiosity at the center of our experiences, there’s a natural camaraderie that develops over the course of a trip.
Private Room: Have your own room, subject to availability, for a supplemental cost of $675. When booking, please select the single room package option.
Schedules for some flights into Tonga for August 2023 are available (e.g. Air New Zealand and Fiji Air), though we expect additional sectors to be added in time (e.g. Quantas). Flights are limited, and we have planned the 2023 departure dates of this trip based on schedules from previous years with flights typically arriving on Tuesday afternoons, Wednesdays, and very early Thursday mornings (around 1 a.m.), depending on the airline and routing.
Note: The dates of the trip are subject to change in the event that flight operations into Tonga require us to shift the itinerary by a day or two to accommodate the limited flight options.
Your trip officially begins with our first swim on Thursday morning (Day 2), but guests arriving on a Tuesday flight can arrange for an extra night at the hotel. Guests arriving on the Thursday early morning flight will be transferred to the hotel to get some rest before meeting the group for our first swim on Thursday morning. The trip concludes after breakfast on Day 9 (Thursday). Depending on the time of your departing flight, there may be an opportunity to head into town and visit one of the island’s many cozy cafes.
You don’t need to be an expert swimmer to participate in this trip; however, you must be able to swim unaccompanied for prolonged periods of time. We don’t chase after the whales—they come to us—but while in the water, you’ll constantly be moving. We’ll also be on our boat or in the water for the majority of the day, for five full days of the trip. This trip is not recommended for people who experience severe motion sickness or who are not comfortable in the water.
For five full days, you’ll be out on the water for about seven hours (per day) aboard one of the island’s best vessels. The seas aren’t always completely calm, and while it can get a little cold in the wind, there will be plenty of room to get away from the chill. Water temperatures tend to be around 75°F, and you’ll be equipped with hot drinks and wetsuits, fins, and snorkels to use throughout.
Our boat holds 8 passengers, so the group is a maximum of 7 travelers plus one trip leader (one of the leaders highlighted above).
The World Cetacean Alliance’s Global Guidelines strongly recommend against swimming with cow-calf pairs of any cetacean. In order to ensure safe and ethical interaction with the whales, we will not be swimming with cow-calf pairs. Tonga is a critical breeding area for a small subpopulation of humpback whales, and research has shown that excess interaction with boats and humans can adversely impact the survival and health of vulnerable calves. Additionally, we will not be swimming with heat-runs, when a group of bulls chase a female in heat. Swimming with heat-runs is against Tongan regulations and can be extremely dangerous. We may witness a heat-run from the safety of our boat.
We operate a risk assessment strategy that uses researched behavioral cues to monitor whale activity. We remove swimmers from the water if our marine mammal biologist guide observes signs of any significant negative change in animal behavior.
If you have questions about our approach to animal and human safety, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
As part of the operation’s due diligence, the scientific community is engaged with each season. We submit relevant data to the regional custodians of data for the South Pacific Humpback Whale fluke identification catalogue and acoustics. This data is used to assess the population of humpback whales in Tonga and contribute to long-term studies.
We have worked to support and train local guides for many years and contribute significantly and sustainably to the economy of this small nation. Additionally, we’ll be donating a portion of the trip’s proceeds to an organization that addresses marine plastic pollution.
Most dietary restrictions can be accommodated, though in most cases ingredients can't be substituted or omitted from particular dishes. If you have a severe allergy, please contact us to find out if this is the right trip for you.
Schedules for flights into Tonga for August 2023 have not yet been published by the commercial airlines. Flights are limited, and in past years typically operated on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The dates of the trip are subject to change in the event that flight operations into Tonga, once resumed, require us to shift the itinerary by a day or two to accommodate the limited commercial flight options.