Swimming with Humpback Whales and relaxing in paradise in Vava’u

Nature
The wow factor for nature - does it show nature at its best? Doesn't need to be the wilder-beast migration or diving with hundreds of hammerheads. Rather make you pause as you realise just how awesome the natural world can be
10
Culture
How much does this experience showcase some of the better and finer things that us humans can offer? Sure, it can be ancient ruins and renaissance churches, but it can also be festivals or soaking up some of the great modern cities of the world
3
Fun factor/activity
Very simple - was it fun? This is usually linked in with doing some kind of activity - i mean, walking along some cliffs is nice, but paragliding from them, now that is fun. Its a vastly underrated factor in a truly great experience
10
Avoid the crowds
Big tour groups and being surrounded by loud fellow tourists can sap the life out of even the greatest of travel experiences. This score is to reflect just how much you can avoid this. But. . . The score also takes into account if the crowds actually add to the experience, such as with a party town or a bustling food market
10
World famous
How world famous is the experience?
1
unique
How hard is it to have a similar experience in other places round the world?
9
Overall Score
The highest score of nature or culture, + fun factor, + avoid the crowds, + the highest score of world famous or unique. Then turned into a score out of 100. More details at the bottom of the page
97 *What the scores mean and where do they come from
continent
Oceania
country
Tonga
Length of time
3-4 days
Rough cost
Obviously people have different tastes, so this will depend on those tastes, but this is a rough idea of price of the whole experience based on 2 people able to split the accommodation costs and excluding travel there and back
$ 1,400
Time of year visited
July
Primary Tags
Click on any of the tags to see all travel experiences with the same tag
RANKING
How this travel experience ranks compared to all the other experiences on this site
2nd/359 This travel experience's ranking compared to all the other experiences on this site
Top 1% SUMMARY RATING: The best of the best

Summary

The Southern Vava’u islands in Tonga are about as close to paradise as you get – hundreds of small islands with white sand beaches, crystal clear water and, because they’re in the middle of the Pacific, very little light pollution so you can see the stars.  Oh yeah, and you get to have the unforgettable experience of swimming with Humpback Whales.  Do it!

My biggest tip is to take 3+ days to stay on one of the smaller islands so as to really experience the tropical paradise feel, be able to see and hear the whales off the beach, and have the flexibility to be able to head out whenever the right whale opportunity arises (we stayed at the Treasure Island Eco-Resort on ‘Eua’iki Island, and couldn’t recommend it more)

highlights

#1 Swimming with Humpback Whales. Gentle, elegant giants. Truly awesome experience

#2 Staying in a true bit of paradise in the middle of the Pacific

#3 Kayaking to the nearby islands and seeing one picture perfect spot after another

#4 The first time you spot one of the Humpbacks, emerging slowly from the deep and realising just how big it is

#5 Chilling in a hammock waiting to hear the sounds of the whales to then jump in the boat and head out for another encounter

Travel Tips

  • Accommodation – we stayed at the Treasure Island Eco-Resort on ‘Eua’iki, which is around a 30-45min boat ride from the main island.  Couldn’t recommend it more.  The location is perfect as it has two deep channels running alongside, so whales can be spotted easily, and is so far from the main islands that you have that wonderful feeling of isolation – listening at night only to the waves, wind, hopefully whales! and looking up at the most spectacular stars on a clear night.  It also just so happens to be the picture perfect view of paradise, with the crystal clear waters, white sand beach and reef just off shore – you can also kayak to the nearby islands which is super cool.  The key pull though is the owner, Mark, who is one of the Humpback experts in the region and will take you out each day to see the whales.  Him and his team couldn’t be more friendly and really made the trip
  • Costs – staying for the 5nights / 6 days package (they only do packages) was T$6500 for two people, which includes the accommodation, all food and drink, transfers to and from the main island, 3 days of whale swimming, taxes, use of all the equipment.  Note that paying the deposit is a bit of a faff as needs to be done through only certain country bank accounts
  • Encountering the whales – your guide will give you all the background on the whales and the right advice on how to swim without disturbing them.  Everyone we met from the nearby islands were passionate about the conservation of the whales and were respectful
  • The whales are generally here July to October – we went in early July which meant we largely had the place to ourselves, but I suppose this needs to be balanced with the less likelihood of seeing the whales.  We were fortunate that we saw them on the first day, but then there were fewer over the following days
  • How much time?  Make sure you give yourself enough time there – you don’t want to travel this far and be disappointed.  The 5 nights for us felt perfect
  • 2 week itinerary for Fiji, Tonga and Samoa – this trip was probably the highlight of a 2 week trip through Tonga, Fiji and Samoa.  Have a look (here) for the highlights and tips on how to get the best out of 2 weeks in this part of the world

Experiences nearby

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Score Detail

Background - how many times have you asked someone what a travel experience was like and the response was "amazing" or "awesome"?  That response is nice to know, but it makes it hard to differentiate that experience compared to others.  That is exactly what these scores are trying to do - differentiate the experience by giving a score out of 10 based on 6 categories and then giving an overall experience score

This overall experience score is calculated by:  take the highest of the "Culture" or "Nature" score (1-10) + "Fun factor" (1-10) + "Avoiding the crowds" (1-10) + highest of the "Unique" or "World Famous score" (1-10).  Then convert into a score out of 100

Extra detail - the logic being that I find all of the 6 individual scores important, but I don't want to mark an experience down just because it doesn't cover both "Culture" and "Nature", or because it isn't both "World Famous" and "Unique".  Take the examples of Safari in The Serengeti and walking through Rome - they both appeal at opposite ends of the nature / culture spectrum, and you can have a fantastic time without needing to appeal to both sides.  So, their overall scores aren't penalized for their lack of one or the other, and I've done the same for "World Famous" vs "Unique".  But . . . I do think that the "Fun factor" of an experience is important, irrelevant of other factors, and so is "Avoiding the Crowds" (or where there are crowds that add to the experience).  So, both of these scores are standalone