One of the world's great annual migrations sees humpback whales swim north from their winter feeding grounds of New Zealand and the Antarctic where krill is in abundance to the warm calm waters of the South Pacific. The whales arrive in the southern South Pacific islands of New Caledonia, Niue, the Cook Islands and Tahiti around May, rest a while and then congregate further north in the islands of Tonga where they mate and give birth in the sheltered waters of the Ha'apai and Vavau group. The whales stay here for several months frolicking in the sheltered bays and channels before starting on their journey back to their feeding grounds around September. In this entire migration process the whales never eat. Humpback whales also never cross the equator so Antarctic whales will only be seen in the South Pacific, whilst Arctic whales will; only be seen in the North Pacific.
Humpback whales can be seen in New Caledonia, Niue, Cook Islands and Tahiti although without doubt the best place to see them is in Tonga. For a truly memorable experience you can swim with the humpback whales in both Tonga and Niue being two of only three countries in the world where this is permitted
# 1 - Tonga
The humpback whale centre for the South Pacific migration, there are about a dozen small ship charters based in Vavau and one in Ha'apai where the experience is more natural. If you want to watch the whales from land, the best places are the small islands within Tongatapu lagoon and the cliffs of Eua.
# 2 - Niue
The tiny island nation of Niue, 550km east of Tonga, is another great meeting place for the migrating whales. With limestone cliffs and a reef barely 20 metres from the shoreline, Niue is a great place for spotting humpback whales from the land. There are several day cruises that head out to the open water and allow guests to snorkel and swim with the whales though in fewer numbers than neighbouring Tonga.
# 3 - Cook Islands
Although there are a couple of day cruises that head out to the open waters to spot the humpback whales, the Cook Islands is a great destination to spot the whales from land. This is the first landmass the whales reach and they love to come right up to the reefs edge and scratch their backs. The best places are those where the reef is closest to the shoreline being the west coast of Rarotonga, and in particular Avarua Town where the reef is just 100 metres from the shoreline. If you visit Atiu Island you might get even closer to the whales as the reef here is just 30 metres from the shore.
# 4 - French Polynesia
For some reason not known, the preferred route back south for many of the humpback whales seems to be via Rurutu Island, one of the southern outliers of French Polynesia.
# 5 - Samoa
Although humpback whales are not frequently seen in Samoa, a number of whales overshoot Tonga and congregate further north at Fagatele Bay in American Samoa where they are known to give birth to calves.There are no organised charters here but if you arrive between July and September there's a good chance of spotting the whales from the high cliffs surrounding Fagatele Bay and you can charter a boat from Pago Pago to get a close up look.
# 6 - New Caledonia
Some humpback whales can be seen in the southern waters of Grand Terre between August and September.
# 7 - Fiji
Although the sperm whale tooth is a highly regarded totem in Fiji - the tabua - whales are seldom seen in Fiji having been hunted extensively in years gone by. Pilot whales are in abundance throughout the Lomaiviti Group and can often be seen in the passages around Levuka on Ovalau.
# 8 - Vanuatu
A few random humpback whales find their way to Vanuatu but this is going to be more of a chance encounter than a good probability of a sighting.