How to Swim with Whales in French Polynesia

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I’m on a boat in the middle of the South Pacific, off of the most beautiful island I could ever imagine. The boat captain and guide both say to get ready to jump in- there’s a mother and calf that just went down. It’s a race to quickly get the fins and goggles on, make sure my GoPro is on and ready to capture. When it’s time to go- we jump in and swim as quickly, and quietly, as we can to where the whales were last seen.

My heart is racing! I’m in the open ocean where I wouldn’t be able to see the bottom if I tried. We swim for a few minutes and suddenly the group stops.

And we see them.

The mother and baby humpback. They turn as if they’ve caught sight of us too. It is the most magical thing I’ve ever seen. I want to push back in the water because it seems I’m too close and will get in their way. But no, I’m a good distance away I realize, these animals are just so big!

The whales swim ever closer and I cover my mouth underwater. Then they swim right in front of us. I’m in awe, wonder, shock. How is this real?! My eyes fill with tears. They don’t even look like they’re swimming. These whales are so graceful, seemingly just gliding through the water effortlessly.

And suddenly, they’re gone. I pop my head over the water, taking my goggles off and have the stupidest grin on my face. “Oh my god! That was amazing holy shit!” I exclaim.. or something along those lines.

This was what it was like my first time in the water with humpback whales on the island of Moorea.

I was lucky enough to swim with them for almost two weeks! I’ll share in this blog post what tour companies I used, the best time to go, what to pack, and more!

Can Anyone Swim with Whales in French Polynesia?

I thought I’d mention a disclaimer before we get down to the nitty gritty parts of the trip!

You HAVE to be a strong swimmer to do this. This is not an activity you do if you have never swam or snorkeled before. This is open ocean, no lifejackets. They have laws in French Polynesia that limit the boats from getting closer than 100 meters from the whales. That means they drop you off 100 meters from the whales and you must swim the rest of the way unaided!

Now to be clear, I don’t think I’m the strongest of swimmers. I’m not saying you have to be an Olympic level swimmer here. I practiced in a pool for a few months beforehand with my new gear, and I had been snorkeling before a few times in the open ocean so I was a little more familiar.

You can’t expect to be pulled by the guide if you become scared or anxious or couldn’t swim in the first place. Once on the tour and out in the water, you wouldn’t be able to swim back to the boat by yourself due to safety concerns and sharks. The whole group has to turn around with you, so keep this in mind.

One more thing to mention- if you are prone to being seasick take medication with you! I have never gotten seasick before, but one time I got pretty close to it. When you wait for the whales to surface, the boat will idle. There were many days where it was very windy and rocky, and the small boat just sits there.. rocking you back and forth.. back and forth. It can be pretty gnarly, so come prepared or it would be a sure way to ruin your whale swimming trip.

Best Time to Go

Every year, humpback whales migrate from Antartica to the warm waters of French Polynesia to have their babies and mate.

The best time of year for interactions is August- November. September and October are supposed to be the best months.

I was there in early/mid September and had encounters 9 out of the 11 chances I got with them in the water. However, not every interaction is the same. Sometimes it was seeing a whale just for a passing moment.

In regards to time of day to schedule your tour- in my experience on both islands it was a complete luck of the draw. I had two afternoon swims and two morning swims on Moorea, and actually had better interactions in the afternoon tours than the morning.

They say the water is calmer in the morning, but I think in regards to your interactions with the whales -it’s truly just up to chance.

What are the Best Tour Companies on Moorea?

I stayed on Moorea for four days. I had two main objectives: swim with whales and explore the island a little bit. Over the four days, I tried out three different tour companies: Moorea Moana, Moorea Expedition, and Corallina Tours.

I have to say, even though I had a great time on each boat, Moorea Moana was by far my favorite. I went with them twice, and both times the boat was small with a limited number of passengers (8-10).

The other two companies had boats almost twice the size. It gets all the more chaotic getting in and out of the water when there are that many people onboard.

The tour companies will have everything you need in regards to snorkels, masks, anti-fog, and fins. I brought all of my own since I was doing a group trip after Moorea that I had to have my own stuff for.

In addition to swimming with whales, most companies will take you back to the lagoon afterwards to swim with sharks and stingrays. I was very timid about this at first, but before long I wanted to keep touching the stingrays as they swam past!

How Much Does it Cost to Swim with Whales?

A half day tour for 2023 costs about $150 USD per person.

A week long group trip with lodging, food, and boat trips included will cost approximately $3500-4500 USD per person.

Group Trip to Swim with Whales in French Polynesia

After I spent 4 days in Moorea doing independent whale swims, I headed over to the small remote island of Rurutu for an all women’s group trip hosted by Inertia Network.

I honestly can’t recommend this trip enough. The local family, our group trip leader, and all of the women on the trip made this one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

It is a small island, and the family that hosts you coordinates everything. The friendliest and kindest group of people you’ll ever meet, you will feel like you are a part of their family when you leave.

But this group trip was about more than swimming with whales for me. It was about connecting to new people- that soon felt like close friends. And about experiencing Polynesian culture, without all the extra tourist crap. This island is not very well known and pretty off the radar.

Your group trip leader will also be there with a professional underwater camera handy, snapping pics of the whales and hopefully you with them as well!

The group trips run for one week, where you will get 5 half days on the water, and 1 full day. Lodging and all meals is included. There are also several other things you do on the island, such as a hike to the tallest point and a tour where they drive you around the entire island.

Find out more details and book the trip on their website- linked here.

Packing List

Thank you for reading my blog post about how to swim with whales in French Polynesia!

I hope you found this information helpful on how to plan and pack for your bucket list trip. If you want more information or have questions, feel free to drop a comment below!

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