When it comes to encountering whales in the wild, most of us are content to glimpse them through binoculars on a whale-spotting cruise or from a vantage point onshore.
But more adventurous nature lovers are heading for the South Pacific kingdom of Tonga, where you can actually swim with some of the world's largest mammals.
Whaleswim Adventures runs six-, seven- and nine-day tours that give enthusiasts a chance to swim with humpback whales off the island of Vaka'eitu, near Vava'u [an error occurred while processing this directive] in northern Tonga. To minimize environmental impact, each tour has a limit of 12 people, of whom only four (plus a qualified marine researcher-cum-guide) are allowed in the water at any one time.
Between July and October every year, humpbacks migrate from Antarctica to the 171-island archipelago to give birth and nurse their calves and Whaleswim tours makes straight for the nurseries. "It's a truly life-changing experience to watch a young, 12-m calf suckling its 40-m mother just meters away," says Rae Gill, Whaleswim's tour director. "The trust these wild animals have in us is humbling in itself. I know of no other wild animals that allow this." Tours start from $1,752. tel: (64-9) 372 7073