A Rare Chance to Meet Whales
Humans aren't the only mammals that are drawn to the warm, azure waters of the South Pacific. Each year, Southern Hemisphere humpbacks venture north from Antarctica to mate and give birth in the warm waters of Tonga. This provides a rare opportunity for humans to interact with these magnificent marine mammals in warm, clear water. Swimmers suspended on the surface can follow the actions of mothers as they nurse and nurture their calves, listen to the powerful vibrations of whale songs, or witness an amorous 30-ton male making overtures to a potential mate. These encounters take place in the wind shadows of islands, where seas are calm. Expert guides and skilled boat crews are always nearby, ensuring that these adventures are safe and enjoyable for all.
- Best for: All travellers, whale watching enthusiasts
- Best season to visit: Year round, July to October for whales
- Weather: Cooler and drier from May to October, with air temperatures in the 70s to low 80s. Warmer and wetter from December to April, with daytime highs into the 90s
Things to Do
- Cultural Activities
Animal Interactions in Tonga Overview
The vast majority of whale watching and swimming activity takes place from July to October in the Ha’apai and Vava’u island groups, which are reached by commuter flights from the capital of Tongatapu. The Vava’u islands are home to a number of modern beach resorts and first-class tour operators, while the Ha’apai group is less developed and see fewer visitors. Whales are found in both island groups in equal numbers.
Animal Interactions in Tonga Tips
The tour operators that Caradonna represents host smaller groups to allow for more intimate and less-intrusive in-water encounters. Perfect your swimming and snorkeling technique with warm up days in lagoons and on reefs before scheduling a whale swim. When aboard, keep cameras ready for surface encounters, and be ready to go overboard on short notice for swims.
Best Places for Animal Interactions in Tonga
Female humpbacks nurse their young in the protected waters between Ha’ano and Foa Islands. Resorts on Foa's northern tip are closest to the calving grounds. From July to November, the waters surrounding Vava’u Island are filled with the songs of humpback whales. The island's volcanic hills block shelter wind and waves to provide calm swimming conditions.
What to Pack for Animal Interactions in Tonga
A light wetsuit or skin suit will provide comfort and extra streamlining when swimming. Full-foot fins with medium-length blades deliver an optimum combination of power and streamlined efficiency. Use a compact underwater camera that won't create a lot of drag, and has a wide angle lens setting to take in big animals. Bring a brimmed hat for sun protection on the boat, and polarized sunglasses to cut through the glare when observing whales from the surface.
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Passport and/or Visa Requirements
Entry/Exit Requirements: All U.S. citizens are required to present a valid passport that must be valid for 6 months beyond the date of entry into the country. Proof of onward or return ticket may be required. Your passport should have at least 1 blank page for Entry Stamp. No visa is required for stays less than 30 days. The international departure tax is approximately $25 U.S. and should be included in your international ticket.
No immunizations are required for entry into Tonga. We always advise checking with your doctor and the Centers for Disease Control on recommended vaccinations for travel at cdc.gov.
Culture and Customs
Tonga is the only remaining Polynesian Kingdom. King Tupou V is the current heir to the throne, but the country is governed according to a constitution set down by his great grandfather. Tonga's people retain the friendly and welcoming traditions of their ancestors. The pace of life is relaxed and easy going, blending elements of traditional hospitality with conservative Western values brought by Christian missionaries. Family comes first, and observance of the Sabbath a close second. But these are not somber people. Tonga is renowned for its musical and dance traditions, but pop music is equally enjoyed. Islanders have a friendly greeting for everyone who passes by, and young and old will stop what they are doing to run outside to celebrate the cooling waters of a passing rainstorm. English is widely spoken, but you will still hear snatches of the Tongan language on the streets and when visiting more remote locations. As in Fiji, the Kava ceremony s a central tradition, and something every visitor should experience at least once. The islands themselves are a diverse mix of high volcanic peaks and low-lying limestone ridges that cluster around turquoise lagoons. The economy remains centered on agriculture and fishing, but tourism is beginning to make contributions as well. Resorts are mostly small and subtle affairs that nestle into palm groves set against white sand beaches.
Electricity, Phone and Internet Access
Electricity in Tonga is 240 volts, 50 cycles, so an adapter will be needed for U.S. visitors. The outlets have 2 flat pins in a V shape. The country code for Tonga is 676. Check with your cell provider for international plans for text, data and voice, which can connect through Tongas 2 telecommunication companies with fiber broadband. Some hotels offer WiFi.
In the main resorts and cities, Tongan tap water is chlorinated, but as different bacteria may be present that you might not have immunity for, bottled water is recommended.
Language & Currency
Tongan and English are the official languages and the local currency is the pa’anga (TOP), locally referred to with the symbol T$. Check the current exchange rate here.
Tonga utilizes Tonga Time or TOT which is 13 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (+13 GMT).Tonga does not observe Daylight Savings Time and they are located west of the International Dateline.
Location, Size and Population
Tonga is located in the Pacific Ocean and is comprised of 170 islands, many uninhabited. Tonga is east of Fiji, south of Samoa and north of New Zealand. The total land area is approximately 290 square miles. The main island of Tongatapu, where some 70% of the population lives, is approximately 100 square miles.
The population of Tonga is approximately 106,326 (2016).