Whales and dolphins bring in the majority of the few thousand tourists who visit Niue every year.
This South Pacific island country and “coral atoll” has the ideal conditions for seeing (and hearing) these beautiful marine creatures who play within 50 meters off shore. It’s also one of the few places in the world allowing visitors the chance at getting in the water to swim with whales in their natural habitat!
The whales and dolphins were a bit too preoccupied to swim with us during my time in Niue. But I had an amazing experience seeing them almost every day and closer than I ever have before.
I also became a bit of an expert on the tours offering the chance to swim with them. While the tour company we used turned out to be a huge disappointment, the other one we heard about may be your ticket to a better experience!
Visit July to September
Dolphins and Whales can be seen between June and October. However, the absolute peak of humpback whale and dolphin activity around Niue is in August and September. I went at the end of August into September and they were everywhere!
Book your trip for Niue during these months and you’re guaranteed to see them during your stay.
Just remember: Swimming with the whales is a rare experience. The whales have to want to swim with you, too. So go to Niue expecting to witness these beautiful creatures while keeping dry. If you’re lucky, you may get to see them while in the water, too.
The experience of seeing humpback whales is effortless while staying on Niue Island. All you need to do is face out.
I would walk down a sea track toward the open water—whales ahead. I would gaze over the patio railing at Matavai Resort—whales in all directions. I would look out from the mouth of a coastal cave—whales, yet again.
This is the best part about the whales in Niue. They are everywhere and anybody with eyes to see them will see them. No extra effort necessary.
You don’t need binoculars to see them as they come very close to shore. But if you do want a closer look, just go down the Makefu sea track and you can use the free standing binoculars there.
The day I went I saw at least 20 different whales breaching and playing in separate groups off the reef. I even watched a mama and calf swim right up to and alongside the reef wall some 20m out from the shore. Amazing!
Dolphins, on the other hand, are a bit more elusive. You’re more likely to catch sight of them from a boat. So book a tour that will take you out on the water if you want to check out the spinner dolphins in the area.
The disappointing tour
Jono and I were super excited on our second day in Niue. We had booked a $150 per person whale interaction tour with Buccaneer Adventure Niue Dive (“BAND”). Unfortunately, we didn’t get to swim with the whales and ended up being pretty disappointed with BAND’s customer service.
I’ll sum up the downsides in a few bullet points to save you the grief and get on to the positive stuff!
- BAND advertises the tour as a 4-hour interaction, but we were only actually on the water for 2 hours. Before getting on the water there was a 1-hour safety “brief”-ing and another 1 hour total spent gearing up, driving to the wharf in Alofi, and getting the boat launched.
- They try to stretch profits by booking 8 people in one tour group which cuts the time you spend in the water in half. Niue has strict rules that only allow up to 6 people in the water at one time to minimize disturbance to the whales. This means half the group on BAND’s tour has to wait on board while the other half may (or may not) swim with the whales.
- BAND offers no discount if you do not swim with the whales. Considering customers go on this tour hoping for a chance to swim with the whales, one might expect to receive a discount—at least on a follow-up tour—if she or he does not get to swim with them. Nope. Completely disregarding the fact that you can see whales from land, they consider getting to see one whale 500m away from the boat “mission accomplished.” Tough luck if you never swim with one.
- Their staff lack passion and compassion. While they clearly get excited about the whales when they’re around, the staff are unapologetic when you don’t get to swim with them and they generally seem pretty unenthusiastic about their jobs. This may be because the staff are not local. They are foreigners in the midst of their travels seemingly just passing through to earn some cash before continuing on to their next destination.
Of course, I don’t blame BAND for the disappointment of not getting to swim with the whales. I do blame them for the above points, however. While they cannot control the whales’ behavior, they can control their attitudes and customer service practices.
Anyway, what I did enjoy on this trip was getting to see the following from the boat:
- a mama humpback whale with a little calf
- a large group of humpback whales playing with spinner dolphins
- tons of spinner dolphins who swam alongside our boat for a while
- and eagle rays jumping up out of the water—a really rare sight to see!
I was particularly elated about the dolphins swimming alongside the boat on this tour since I opted out of BAND’s dolphin tour. The dolphin tour is actually meant to be a snorkel tour. They just allow you to be pulled by the boat alongside the dolphins if they happen to come around on the way to the snorkel site. Kinda lame.
But the dolphins were nearby whenever the whales were around. So your chances of seeing them and swimming with them on the whale interaction tour are just as good.
With all of the above in mind, however, I wouldn’t recommend booking with BAND for this tour. Instead, I recommend going with Magical Niue Sea Adventures (click for reviews from Tripadvisor).
Go with Magical Niue Sea Adventures
We heard from many other tourists on the island about the locals, Julz and Rami, who run Magical Niue out of Alofi.
For $10-$20 less than BAND, Magical Niue takes out a smaller group on a bigger boat straight from the wharf. They do their whale safety briefing briefly and they reportedly make a greater effort to get you into the water with the whales.
According to another tourist we spoke to—Julz and Rami strike a really nice balance between getting customers close enough to swim with the whales and respecting the rules associated with minimizing our disturbance to them.
They further demonstrate their respect to customers by offering a discount on the tour if you do not actually get to swim with the whales.
Julz and Rami of Magical Niue are locals with a lot of knowledge about the island and passion for what they do. If you don’t get to swim with the whales, they will also offer to take you snorkeling instead or throw in an experience using underwater scooters to explore caves and areas of the island other tours do not take you.
Now that sounds like the “Niuean way” to me! :)
My video of the dolphins and whales in Niue
Okay, so maybe you skipped all of the above to just see the video!
It's a compilation of dolphins and whales I saw during my entire time in Niue. Once you watch the video, I think you'll see that I had a pretty awesome experience witnessing tons of whales and dolphins during my stay. In the end, my disappointing experience with BAND doesn't even matter.
Niue is truly an incredible place for getting up close with these beautiful creatures.
In a future post (either later this week or next), I will be posting an UNBELIEVABLE video I took which captured the sound of the whales singing underwater as I was diving. You’re not going to believe how LOUD and talkative they were!
Anyway, I hope you enjoy this little montage I put together. Until next time!