FAQs

Swimming with whales in the wildFrequently asked questions

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Swimming with whales

What to expect

The day will start between 7:15-8:30am depending on where we pick you up. You will be collected by boat from your hotel wharf (if you have one). If there is no wharf at your accommodation we will make arrangements with you prior.

We generally spend seven to nine hours on the water. Our boats take out a max of eight swimmers each day and as Tongan Whale Swim Law allows us a maximum of 4 people plus a qualified guide in the water at any time with the whales, this should give you a great chance of an up close and personal experience.

We cannot guarantee you having the opportunity to swim with whales on any particular day as we are dealing with uncontrollable factors such as weather and whales. We will only swim if the whales have settled and allow us to enter their domain without us affecting their behaviour or disturbing them unnecessarily. However we do have a 90%+ strike rate during the height of the season so you have a great chance.

To maximise your whale swim enounters we recommend a minimum of three day trips.

The Tongan people can be quite shy at times but are always willing to help. So if you would like anything from the staff or have any questions about anything or spot a whale, please speak up. On any of your whale swim days, the opportunity is there to explore some magnificent sea cliff caves and snorkel some great coral gardens, we often also pull into a lagoon or isolated beach for lunch.

In the water with whales

Expert tips from world leading whale guide, Sione Fifita

  • Listen to the guide and obey their instructions at all times they wants to care for you in the water and give you the best experience without interfering with the whales.
  • If you are not a strong swimmer or nervous don't be shy please tell us and we can help you with no problems or embarrassment.
  • Get off the boat into the water smoothly and quietly, no jumping in.
  • Keep your fins under the water no splashing.
  • As soon as you get in LOOK DOWN, that's where the whales are.
  • Stick close to the guide at all times.
  • If you get distressed when you are in the water don't panic just tell the guide and we will get you back to the boat safely and quickly.
  • If you are in the water with a mum and calf stick with the mum don't follow or chase the calf this could upset mum and she might move away, often the calf will come to us.
  • If you have a camera make sure you are familiar with it before hand and have your settings sorted out as many people miss a great whale experience trying to sort out cameras.
  • NEVER EVER touch or try to touch a whale!
What should I bring?

Your time out on the water will be more enjoyable if you are able to bring:

  • A light spray jacket (for potential wind or rain)
  • A towel
  • A hat
  • Sunglasses (for sun protection). Polaroid sunglasses can also improve vision while on the water.
  • If you suffer from seasickness, please bring some medication, as these products are scarce in Tonga.

Whales in the Wild will provide 3mm short sleeved & legged wetsuits to be worn over swimsuits. If you are very sensitive to the cold consider bringing your own 5mm wetsuit.

The water temperature is usually between 25-27 degrees Celsius, so most swimmers find the 3mm wetsuits to be adequate.

What level swimmer do I need to be to participate?

We cater for all swimming levels and have floatation devices available to aide you in the water. Also our supplied wetsuits, fins, snorkels & masks will give you extra buoyancy. If you are not a confident swimmer, a little practice using a mask and snorkel before your tour would not go astray... even if you practice in the bathtub!

Whales in the Wild guides are all excellent swimmers and are very experienced in looking after swimmers of all levels. With only four swimmers in the water at any one time you will receive their full attention for a safe experience.

How close can we get to the whales?

Tongan Whale Swim Law allows us to drop you in the water 10 metres from the whales, however depending on the whales behaviour our experienced skippers will often drop you between 20 & 30 metres away so as not to disturb or distress the whales.

Once in the water you can observe the whales from as close as 5 meters, this is not always the case and our experienced guides will watch the whales' behaviour and position you as close as they feel is comfortable for both the whales and the swimmers. We will do our best to get you a great up close and personal experience without disturbing the whales.

What should I do if I get seasick?

If you suffer from seasickness, please bring some medication, as these products are scarce in Tonga.


Traveling to Tonga

How do I Get to the Vava'u Islands?

Vava’u is one of the three main island groups of Tonga. The international flight will land on the main island group of Tongatapu, which is approx. 440 kms (275 miles) to the south of Vava’u.

The local airline, Real Tonga Airlines, flies to Vava’u 2-3 times daily except on Sunday.

In Vava’u, we will pick you up or have the driver from your accommodation collect you from the airport. The main town in Vava’u is Neiafu, which is 15mins drive from the airport.

International flights arrive into Tonga via 3 countries:

Sydney, Australia (Virgin Australia)

To Tonga: Monday and Wednesday evenings
From Tonga: Tuesday and Thursday afternoons

Auckland, New Zealand (Virgin Australia & Air New Zealand)

To Tonga: Everyday except Sunday
From Tonga: Everyday except Sunday

Nandi, Fiji (Fiji Airlines)

To Tonga: Tuesday, Thursday & Saturday
From Tonga: Everyday except Sunday

The flight days and times are subject to change so please check airline schedules prior to planning dates for your trip.

What are the Domestic luggage restrictions?

Real Tonga Airline

Even though the international airlines usually allow you 23kg of checked in luggage, Real Tonga Airlines allow a maximum of 20kg checked in and 5kg carry on. They are very strict with this and even though their excess rates are reasonable (around TOP3/kg), they might not be able to accommodate your luggage on that flight due to the weight regulation.

Will airport transfers be arranged for me?

Tongatapu

The domestic terminal is only a 2min taxi ride from the international terminal.

If you are staying overnight in Nuku’alofa Tongatapu, a 20min taxi ride to town is required. If you book with Whales in the Wild, we will organise this for you.

Vava’u

We will pick you up or have the driver from your accommodation collect you from the airport. The main town in Vava’u is Neiafu, which is 15mins drive from the airport.

WHat should I bring?

Swimming with whales

Your time out on the water will be more enjoyable if you are able to bring:

  • A light spray jacket (for potential wind or rain)
  • A towel
  • A hat
  • Sunglasses (for sun protection). Polaroid sunglasses can also improve vision while on the water.
  • If you suffer from seasickness, please bring some medication, as these products are scarce in Tonga.

Whales in the Wild will provide 3mm short sleeved & legged wetsuits to be worn over swimsuits. If you are very sensitive to the cold consider bringing your own 5mm wetsuit.

The water temperature is usually between 25-27 degrees Celsius, so most swimmers find the 3mm wetsuits to be adequate.

In Tonga

Tongan people are very modest so men should wear shirts during visits into town and ladies should wear clothes over swimwear and be mindful of the length of skirts and dresses. On the boats or at the resorts, normal swimwear is fine.

Do I need a visa?

Please be aware that the following information is subject to change. Please confirm the visa requirements of your own country to avoid any error.

You do not need a visa prior to arrival if you are a citizen from one of the following countries: Australia, Austria, Barbados, Belgium, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Cook Islands, Cyprus, Denmark, Dominica, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Finland, France, French Polynesia, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kirabati, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Marshall Islands, Monaco, Nauru, Netherlands, New Zealand, Niue, Norway, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Portugal, Russia, Samoa, Seychelles, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Spain, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lusia, St Vincent & the Grenadines, Sweden, Switzerland, The Bahamas, Turkey, Tuvalu, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States of America, Vanuatu.


In Vava'u

Where should I stay in Vava’u?

Visit the accommodation section of our website for a list of suggested accommodation with various styles & prices ranges.

What is the currency in Tonga?

The local currency is Tongan Pa’anga or TOP$. Please refer to current exchange rates for conversion to your local currency.

There are ANZ and Westpac banks in Neiafu & Nuku’alofa where you can exchange foreign cash at a reasonable rate.

Exchange Rate Converter

Will my regular medications be available in Vava'u?

If you are taking any medication, please bring a supply that will last a week longer than your intended stay. Both prescription and non-prescription medications are not always available in Tonga.

Can I bring alcohol onto the island?

You can bring duty free alcohol into Tonga: 2.25L of spirits and 4.5L of wine.

When in Tonga you can purchase reasonably priced wine, spirits & beer.

Are there many restaurants in Vava'u?

Neiafu has many restaurants in town and at the resorts. There are many options ranging from cafe style meals, to burgers and pizzas as well as seafood. Steak and other red meats are the most expensive items on the menu as these are imported.

As a rough guide, burgers are around TOP$10, fish and chicken dishes around TOP$18-25, with steak TOP$40-50+.


Tongan culture

sundays in tonga

Along with most other business in Tonga, Whales in the Wild is not permitted to operate on a Sunday. Sunday is a day of family, church and rest in Tonga.

Sunday Tongan feasts are very popular with western and traditional fare usually on offer. The star of the show is generally a locally bred whole suckling pig on a hand turned spit. Depending on availability, Whales in the Wild may be able to arrange for you to attend a feast.

Many also enjoy visiting one of the many churches on a Sunday morning.

Discover more about the culture at The Kingdom of Tonga official website.

Tips on communicating in Tonga

Tongan is a relatively easy language to speak, all you have to do is sound out each syllable ending in a vowel individually. The name Vava'u for example, is correctly pronounced with three syllables.

The vowells are pronounced (as in Spanish) as ah-eh-ee-oh-oo

Here are some common words to use during your stay:

hello malo e lelei
goodbye nofo a (if you are leaving) alu a (if someone else is leaving)
thank you malo or malo aupito (thank you very much)
yes io
no ikai
how are you fefe hake
good, thanks sai pe, malo
beautiful (as in scenery) fakaofaofa
cheers ofa atu (also means I love you)
awesome (as in whales) toto'atu!
Tonga is cool Ko Tonga ia koe tika atu



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