Having a Whale of a Time: Swimming With The Whales of Ha’apai


When I look back on my time in Tonga, the words ‘awe-inspiring’, ‘magnificent’ and ‘unbelievable’ spring to my mind, but even these words seem to fall short. I have been sitting in this chair for 30 minutes trying to think of better words, but I just realised that there aren’t any. There are truly no words to describe what it is like to swim in the ocean alongside enormous humpback whales.

However, this is a blog, so despite knowing that everything I write here will be inadequate, I will still be making the attempt!

On my last day in Ha’apai, I had one last chance to once again swim with some humpbacks – and what a fricking incredible day it was.

Whereas on the previous day we had struggled to find whales to swim with, on this day we had the problem of too many whales! It made it hard to choose which ones to sail to, but honestly, as far as problems go – that is a pretty bloody good one!

The first swim of the day was with a mumma, a calf and a male escort. These ‘escorts’ are male humpies who are looking to get their jollies off and make some mini whales – so they follow around a female for as little as a few hours or as much as a few days – only leaving when they either get what they want, or when they’ve been denied for too long.


It all happened too quickly for me to get any photos of it – but it was with this group that we were lucky enough to witness something pretty amazing!

I had been following the calf so intently that I hadn’t even noticed that the enormous 15 metre long male escort was hanging out right underneath me.

Then, all of a sudden, a flurry of movement caught my eye and I looked directly below me, only to see another male trying to take over the role of escort! He swooshed in past the original male and towards the mumma – taking his place as the new man in town!


As this happened, it caused the mumma and calf to start moving on and it signalled the end of that swim.

We had quite a few more swims over the course of the day, and eventually it was getting later on in the arvo, and I had to get back to shore so that I could make my way to airport.

However, as we approached the area in front of Sea Change, we came across a group of at least four (but possibly five) males who were frolicking together only 50m off of the beach!

This was too good of an opportunity to pass up, so without any hesitation we were throwing ourselves from the boat into the water and swimming straight for these big fellas.



Keeping track of all of the whales at one time was pretty much impossible, there were so many times when I looked down or to my side and was startled by a huge whale coming straight at me!

These boys may have been big, but they never once acted aggressive or even slightly phased by the handful of humans dropping in on their territory, all they seemed interested in doing was playing with each other – we were honestly just lucky to be there to witness it.




This fella was one of the whales who caught me by surprise. I had been watching the two whaleys below me (as seen in the above picture) and then all of a sudden he popped up right next to me!…


…he didn’t stay for long though!


Then, as I watched that guy swim away from me, one of the ones that had been hanging out below me also popped up to the surface, but this one seemed a little more inclined to hang around for a while.



It would be an understatement to say that I never wanted to get out of the water, but unfortunately, if I didn’t make my domestic flight, I would miss my international connection, and that was something I just couldn’t afford to do. So, with much hesitation, I pulled myself out of the water and back onto the boat.

As we sped away from the whales and close to the shoreline, all I could think about was how lucky I’d been to have such wonderful interactions with these incredible creatures.

It was one of the most unforgettable experiences of my entire life, and I will definitely be going back to Tonga one day to do it all over again.

Thanks for reading, and as always, happy solo travelling xx



Getting to Tonga: International flights arrive from Nadi and Auckland
Getting to Ha’apai: Domestic flights from Tongatapu are run by the airline Real Tonga
Sea Change Eco Resort: The most comfortable ‘eco’ resort I’ve ever visited – click here for more info
Whale Watching Day Trips: This trips are run by Sea Change and cost $210 NZD per day (including lunch)
Camera: Images captured with a Canon G7x Mark II and Canon underwater housing
Remember: If you are prone to seasickness, take anti nausea drugs!

Disclaimer: My stay at Sea Change was subsidised by Sea Change Eco Resort, however, all thoughts and opinions expressed on this blog are honest, unbiased and in no way influenced by the Sea Change brand, its management or its affiliates.

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20-something year old Australian backpacker writing her way around the world.

16 thoughts on “Having a Whale of a Time: Swimming With The Whales of Ha’apai

  1. The males follow around the female, looking to get their jollies off, until they either get what they want or get bored and just wander off?
    Whales, huh?

      1. Has it ever leaked or given you any trouble? When i was travelling last year I met someone who had an underwater camera and it leaked one day, which has made me wary of buying one.

      2. Thanks! I’ll remember that if I ever buy one. Which I might do having seen your photos. It would be a shame to have no photos from such an incredible experience. 😀

  2. Wow. I have seen whales “interact” from a boat, but I can’t imagine being in the water and seeing them. We were lucky enough to see a dance with a female and two males, and they ended up making it at least R rated.

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