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All inclusive, no hidden costs

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What to Look for When Comparing Us with Other Whale Swims in Tonga

  • Our prices are inclusive of accommodation and most meals.
  • We are the only dedicated whale swim vessel running packaged tours on the main island.
  • You don't have to add extra travel days between islands.
  • We won't have you queueing for whales all day - not only is this unethical but it also seriously reduces your swim time.



Comparison Table

This table should help you understand our points of difference and ask other operators the right questions to decide whether we present best value for money.

You'll find, depending on operator, trip prices vary from about $3,000 to $5,500 and are advertised as lasting between 6-11 days. However, your total travel time and trip price may differ significantly from what's advertised once you add on hidden costs.

Our guarantee to you

Our itineraries, inclusions and exclusions, are all clearly stated. We use a specially-designed vessel, a uniquely qualified driver/guide (one of, if not the, most experienced and qualified in the whole of the Kingdom) and employ standards of ethical practice beyond standard rules, which guarantee longer and more engaging experiences.

On price, we are one of the least expensive trips and without the need for internal transfers, can provide 5 full days of whale swims for a week's holiday, plus two days spare for relaxation / cultural tours. This makes us the obvious choice for anyone who is looking for a hassle-free extended break, maximising whale swim time at minimal cost and operated to a high standards of ethical practice.


Notes HOW ARE WE DIFFERENT? WHAT TO ASK OTHERS
Extra travel days Getting to and from Vava’u or Ha'pai from Australia takes at least 2 and often 3 days in all (due to time zone differences and flight schedules, 2 days out, 1 day back).

Internal flights means an extra night’s accommodation and the cost of an internal air fare can be between $600-$800.

It also adds days onto your holiday. If the operator doesn’t state this, it could mean your 9 day trip is really a 7 day or your 8 day is really a 10 day.

Tonga is remote. The islands of Vava'u and Ha'pai have limited flights. In the event of an emergency, it may be difficult to leave promptly.
We are on the main island of Tongatapu.

No internal flights are needed.

Quick access to hospital and emergency flights out.
Ask:
  • Is the tour on Vava’u or Ha'pai?
  • Does the itinerary include the travel time to and from other islands?
  • How many extra days does this add (or minus) from your trip?
  • Do you need any more nights of accommodation?
  • Has the operator included the return airfare to other islands?
Competition between operators There are over a dozen day trip whale watch operators on Vava'u and many have multiple boats. Some dedicated whale swim trips head to areas more remote but some use the day-trip operators.

Day trip operators in some areas are forced to 'share' whales. With only 4 people allowed in the water at any one time, this can mean significant amount of waiting time on swim queues.
There are only 3 operators on Tongatapu.

We do not queue for or share whales with any other vessels, ever.

We take no more than 8 including a guide.

The only time you won't be in the water is when we're looking for whales or when fellow passengers are swimming.
Ask:
  • Does the operator have their own vessel and go to areas away from the main whale swim day trips?
  • Is the operator forced to share whale time with other vessels?
  • What is the total group size likely to be?
  • How much time am I likely to spend waiting for my whale swim in queues?
Safety and sustainability Safety for whales and people is paramount. While whale-swimming is a safe and regulated practice, this depends not only on the company involved but the specific driver / guide.

Swimming with calves pose a generally greater risk. Mothers will often defend their calves by putting themselves between the vessel and calf. Operators may target cow calf pairs for an easy swim but it's questionable to what extent this may interfere with a particularly crucial part of the animal's lifecycle.

The Kingdom of Tonga is a calving area for one of the smaller sub-populations of Humpback Whales that pass through New Zealand and migrate to Antarctica.

We accord with all requirements of the Tongan government's whale swimming regulations.

Additionally, consistent with recommendations from the scientific community and IWC, we do not target cow and calf pairs

Instead, we seek out receptive sub-adult pods. These animals tend to be more engaging and interactions are on their terms.

Our driver/guide is David Donnelly is formally qualified under Kingdom of Tonga rules but also has decades of scientific research experience with Humpback Whales, meaning he can read the animals' behaviour and make the best judgements about the right and wrong whales to swim with.
Ask:
  • Can the operator provide a policy about their conduct around cow calf pairs?
  • Does the operator avoid targeting cow calf pairs?
  • Does the operator specifically guarantee a qualified driver/guide under the Kingdom of Tonga's regulations?
  • Can the driver/guide demonstrate relevant experience and understanding of whale behaviour and ethical conduct?
Are you or anyone in your group needing your own room? Travelling alone often incurs additional fees to book a room alone We do not charge a single supplement
Ask:
  • Does it cost more for me to travel alone (i.e. do you charge a single supplement?)
Is the vessel specially-designed? There are only two specially designed whale swim vessels in the whole of the Kingdom. Not all vessels are equally suited to whale swims. MV Blue Water Explorer is specially designed.

She is quieter than tin vessels, which can tend to disturb whales more, and is easier for access and egress from the water. She is also in survey for the full passenger contingent and is regularly maintained and serviced.
Ask:
  • How easy is it for me to get in and out of the water?
  • Is the vessel specially designed for whale swims?
  • How well maintained is the vessel (including life saving equipment)?
Are meals included? Meals are relatively inexpensive but vary whether you choose to eat in a local place or somewhere designed more for tourists. As a guide, factor in about AUS$35-130 per person per day for meals We provide meals on all days except for evening meals on two of the days (allowing you time to explore and eat out).
Ask:
  • What meals does the operator provide as part of the package?
Scientific research However carefully we run whale swims, there will always be some residual effect on the species. Unless we measure this effect, we can't manage it.

So it is vitally important for the whales and for Tonga's economy that we collect the right data and engage with the scientific community, to continually improve our understanding and adapt our behaviour.

At the beginning of each season, we re-engage with the scientific community.

We submit relevant data to the regional custodians of data for the South Pacific Humpback Whale fluke identification catalogue and acoustics.

These data are used to assess the population of Humpback Whales in Tonga and contribute to long-term studies.

Our driver/guide David Donnelly has worked extensively with these researchers and routinely collects and submits these data using standard scientific methods.
Ask:
  • Does the operator provide data to the custodians of data on South Pacific Humpback Whale research?
  • Does the operator have trained staff on board collecting relevant data?
  • Does the operator understand the value of data collection?
  • Does the operator show an understanding of the values of Tonga for Humpback Whale populations?