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The world’s 12 best places to snorkel with whales

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Whales have captivated our imagination for centuries and snorkeling with whales is one of life’s best experiences. Whether you want to meet them in the tropics or under the Arctic sun, there is a whale adventure for you. Here is our guide to the world’s best places to snorkel with whales.

HUMPBACK WHALES

Humpback whales are found at destinations worldwide, making them easy to spend time with. These huge whales are known for their spectacular breaches and complex song and are just as rewarding whether you watch them from a boat or get in the water.

  1. Tonga

If you want to snorkel in clear blue waters with humpback mothers and their calves, visit Tonga. It is one of the most popular places to swim with humpbacks, where you can choose from day safaris or longer trips. Just make sure you book early so you don’t miss out.

When to go: July to September.

  1. Moorea, French Polynesia

French Polynesia is the perfect place to combine a luxurious getaway with a humpback whale swim safari and world-class snorkeling. There are endless snorkeling spots, beautiful beachside resorts and numerous whales. If you want to try scuba diving for the first time, the diving in Moorea is ideal for beginners. The reefs are pristine, the waters are sheltered, and you can swim with Moorea’s famously friendly stingrays whilst you’re there.

When to go: July to November.

  1. Silver Bank, Dominican Republic

The Silver Bank marine reserve provides a safe winter haven for the North Atlantic humpback whale population whilst they gather to mate, calve and raise their young. There are various liveaboard operators that offer multi-day safaris dedicated solely to learning about and swimming with these charming whales. This is a great option if you want to immerse yourself fully in the world of whales.

When to go: January to April.

4. Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia

UNESCO-listed Ningaloo Reef hosts tens of thousands of humpback whales each year and is also a migratory route for dolphins, dugongs and manta rays. Lacking the crowds of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, it is the most peaceful place to swim with humpback whales in Australia.

When to go: July to November.

  1. Hervey Bay, Queensland, Australia

Hervey Bay – the world’s first World Whale Heritage Site – has been called the whale watching capital of the world, thanks to its abundant humpbacks. This conservation-focused destination is just a 3.5-hour drive north of Brisbane and offers day trips to swim with the whales.

Time your trip right and you can also enjoy the annual Hervey Bay Whale Festival and Paddle Out for Whales.

When to go: July to November.

  1. Reunion Island

Réunion lies 550 km east of Madagascar and is a lesser-known humpback whale hotspot. With only a handful of people allowed in the water at any one time, it is a great destination for more intimate whale encounters.

When to go: August to September.

  1. Iceland

Iceland’s rich waters are a prime feeding ground for humpbacks and offer a unique whale swim experience. Wearing a cozy dry suit, you can spend hours admiring these whales in Iceland’s incredible gin-clear waters.

When to go: June to August.

 DWARF MINKE WHALES

These pint-sized whales grow up to 8 meters long and were only discovered in the 1980s. They might be relatively new to the whale watching scene, but they are wonderful to swim with.

  1. Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Known for being exceptionally friendly, dwarf minke whales create truly memorable encounters as they swim around you, under you and sometimes even between your fins.

Hop on a minke whale safari at Cairns and enjoy. Go snorkeling or try Great Barrier Reef diving whilst you’re there to experience the incredible wonders of this enormous reef system.

When to go: June to July.

SPERM WHALES

Weighing up to 50 tons and reaching 15 – 20 meters long, sperm whales are one of the most sought-after and impressive whale species to swim with.

  1. Dominica

The sheer drop-offs and deep sheltered bays around Dominica are perfect for sperm whales, and the females and calves stay there all year. After just a short boat ride from the coast, you will be swimming with these amazing animals in calm azure waters.

When to go: Year-round, though November to March is peak season.

BLUE WHALES

Weighing up to a staggering 200 tonnes, blue whales are enormous, and there are two great places you can swim with them.

  1. Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is one of the only places where you can swim with blue whales, watch them from a boat, or go whale spotting in small airplanes – which is arguably the best way to get an idea of their sheer size.

When to go: March to April.

  1. San Diego, California

Baja California hosts the largest population of blue whales in the world every summer and there are a small number of operators that offer blue whale swimming safaris from San Diego. With small group sizes and week-long programs, they are perfect for maximizing your time with these huge whales.

When to go: June to October.

BELUGA WHALES

Beluga whales are easy to recognize thanks to their bright white coloring and rounded heads. These highly social animals are one of the most vocal whales and gather in large groups in Canada.

  1. Churchill, Canada

Tens of thousands of beluga whales gather each year in Hudson Bay and the small town of Churchill offers unique trips to swim with them. You can enjoy close-up encounters with hundreds of belugas in the water, plus spot polar bears, moose, Arctic foxes and more whilst you’re there.

When to go: June to September.

If you can’t get enough of whales, read the SSI guide to diving with whales to discover even more destinations where you can meet these giants of the ocean.


Kathryn Curzon, a shark conservationist and dive travel writer for Scuba Schools International (SSI), wrote this article.

Scuba Schools International (SSI) is the largest professional business-based training agency in the world. For over 50 years now, SSI has provided the ultimate training experience for millions of certified divers, not only in Recreational Scuba, but in every training category; Freediving, Extended Range, Rebreather Diving, Mermaid, Swim and Lifeguard.

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Top 12 Snorkeling Destinations in Oceania – Part II

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Oceania has a fascinating mixture of well-known romantic destinations and wild, remote islands that few people ever get to visit. It is a region of contrasts with enough snorkeling destinations and cultural highlights to satisfy even the most adventurous snorkelers. In part II of 12 great places to go snorkeling in Oceania, we take a deep dive into some of this region’s most famous and little-known islands. Get inspired for your next snorkeling trip here.

French Polynesia

French Polynesia has some of the world’s most famous destinations in Oceania, including Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora. Between them, they offer snorkeling among colorful reefs in warm, calm lagoons and the chance to meet a variety of marine life.

Go snorkeling with friendly stingrays and blacktip reef sharks at Moorea Lagoon or swim with humpback whales a little further offshore. Snorkeling and diving in Bora Bora are high on the wish list for many people and don’t disappoint, with pretty coral gardens and dozens of snorkeling spots in warm, azure waters.

At the nearby Tuamotu Archipelago, you can experience the thrill of drift snorkeling through Tiputa Pass and meet the pelagic fish, dolphins and sharks this pass is famous for. At Tikehau, a small atoll near Rangiroa, you can swim with graceful mantas at a shallow cleaning station.

The Solomon Islands

The Solomon Islands are a haven for more than 1000 reef fish species and numerous prized critters, plus dolphins, sharks, rays and six species of sea turtle. Hosting hundreds of wrecks and remote hard coral reefs, there is something for every snorkeler there.

Most snorkeling is conducted at resort house reefs of by boat tours to nearby islands and reefs. At Mary Island, you can go open-ocean snorkeling among dramatic coral-covered landscapes, home to sharks and large schools of fish.

The awe-inspiring Marovo Lagoon is the largest saltwater lagoon in the world and is made up of a chain of coral reefs and islands that are absolutely stunning. This popular tourist spot hosts some of the best coral gardens in the South Pacific, with deep and shallow snorkeling sites and remarkably clear waters.

To experience snorkeling over wrecks, make sure you visit the Florida Islands. The Solomon Islands have hundreds of WWII ships and aircraft, with many shallow ones that snorkelers can explore.

The Cook Islands

When it comes to warm welcomes, it’s hard to beat the Cook Islands. From the moment you arrive, you will be drawn into one of the friendliest nations in the world and won’t want to leave.

This wonderful country, with its warm, calm waters and excellent facilities, is the perfect place to teach your kids how to snorkel and maybe even get your Open Water Diver certification. Rarotonga is the main destination for tourism and is a charming island with fresh markets, cafes, restaurants, and resorts tucked away among the palms.

There are plenty of snorkeling spots off the beaches, with coral bommies, diverse tropical fish, giant clams, and occasional sea turtles. Muri Lagoon is one of the most popular places for snorkeling, as is the Fruits of Rarotonga Marine Reserve. This well-known reserve is absolutely teeming with fish.

New Caledonia

New Caledonia is a wish-list destination known for its spectacular scuba diving, crystal-clear waters and abundant marine life. Unlike some remote destinations in Oceania, New Caledonia has modern infrastructure that makes it easy to explore at your pace – by car or island hopping with regular domestic flights.

There are several snorkeling trails at New Caledonia, built to allow you to meet the diverse array of marine life that calls the New Caledonia Lagoon home. This UNESCO World Heritage Site contains coral-encrusted walls, channels, and easy snorkeling trails busy with marine life. Simply follow the underwater trails and enjoy!

With dozens of islands to choose from, there are numerous other snorkeling options around New Caledonia. The extensive marine reserves ensure the waters are teeming with life, including mantas, dugongs, dolphins, stingrays, sea turtles, and an array of corals. With few people in the water and great conditions year-round, it is one of the best places to go snorkeling in Oceania.

Vanuatu

Nearby Vanuatu is the perfect place to reconnect with nature, offering untouched rainforests, natural swimming holes, and excellent snorkeling.

Pristine reefs abound in Vanuatu, with many accessible simply by walking off the beach. The amount of marine life in Vanuatu is impressive and similar to New Caledonia, though the landscapes are quite different.

Tanna Island has breath-taking snorkeling among deep blue rock pools and coral gardens. At Lemnap, you can snorkel in the sun-dappled waters of a huge grotto. There is excellent snorkeling with sea turtles at Tranquility Island and you can go snorkeling in jaw-dropping inland blue holes at various islands.

Million Dollar Point is one of the most unique snorkeling destinations and hosts an array of machinery and equipment dumped by the US after World War II. Boasting wrecks in 15 to 25 meters of water off the beach, you can simply grab you snorkeling kit and explore.

Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world, with more than 850 known languages and hundreds of different tribes. It is unlike anywhere else in Oceania.

Along with the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea has some of the healthiest coral reefs in the world, including at Kimbe Bay. This special bay was once ranked as the most beautiful reef by National Geographic and is an exceptional place to go snorkeling, with huge corals and large reef fish.

Milne Bay has great conditions for snorkelers, with gorgeous beaches and sands full of bizarre-looking critters and plenty of fish life. New Ireland Province boasts snorkeling among war wrecks, big fish, thriving reefs and sharks, whilst East New Britain has a spectacular drop-off at Tavui Point.

Some of the best snorkeling sites are at Tufi. These fjords are covered in lush rainforest and have crystal-clear waters. There are beautiful corals, countless fish and sea turtles, plus Birds of Paradise in the surrounding forests.


Kathryn Curzon, a shark conservationist and dive travel writer for SSI (Scuba Schools International), wrote this article.

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Top 12 Snorkeling Destinations in Oceania – Part 1

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Encompassing over 8 million square kilometers, Oceania hosts some of the world’s most idyllic snorkeling destinations. There are untouched reefs and shallow wrecks, countless forest-draped islands, and volcanic landscapes with rich black sands full of weird and wonderful critters. With abundant marine megafauna, including manta rays, whales, dolphins, seals, sharks, and thousands of sea turtles, it is a paradise for every ocean fan. Read on for part I of our round-up of 12 great places to go snorkeling in Oceania.


Australia

Drop a pin on a map of Australia’s vast coastline and you will likely land close to some epic snorkeling spots. There are dozens of places to experience the best of Australia’s rich and varied underwater landscapes.

In the remote northern reaches of the Great Barrier Reef, there is a sea turtle nesting area that hosts more than 60,000 green turtles each nesting season. A little further south at Cairns, there is classic Great Barrier Reef scuba diving and excellent snorkeling, with reef sharks, friendly dwarf minke whales, and vibrant coral reefs teeming with fish. If you’re keen to try diving, this is one of the best places to get your diving license and then hop on a short liveaboard to explore.

The southern Great Barrier Reef hosts Australia’s best-known manta ray hotspots, Lady Elliot Island and Lady Musgrave Island. Diving in Australia isn’t just about the Great Barrier Reef though. There is excellent snorkeling close to many of Australia’s coastal towns and cities.

You can snorkel with beautiful weedy sea dragons near Melbourne, go cage diving with great white sharks off Port Lincoln, or swim with enormous stingrays in Port Philip Bay. Ningaloo Reef’s many whale sharks are one of the top reasons to go snorkeling in Australia, but you will be spoilt for choice wherever you choose to explore.


New Zealand

New Zealand may be a lot smaller than Australia, but it packs a punch when it comes to snorkeling. With over 600 islands, 44 marine reserves, and the 9th longest coastline in the world, snorkeling in New Zealand is diverse, unique and fascinating.

Sun-soaked Northland is the best place to start your snorkeling trip in New Zealand and features the famous Poor Knights Islands. These unique islands were rated as one of the world’s top ten dives by Jacques Cousteau and offer sub-tropical snorkeling among sun-dappled kelp forests that huge shoals of fish and stingrays.

Further south, the Mercury and Aldermen Islands are a summer playground for Aucklanders and tourists alike. This picture-perfect area is dotted with white sand beaches and has fantastic warm-water snorkeling. There are volcanic rock formations with an abundance of marine and birdlife. Seasonal visitors include whales, bronze whaler sharks, makos, marlin and other prized finds.

You can go swimming with wild bottlenose, common and dusky dolphins in the Marlborough Sounds or head south to Kaikoura to meet some ocean giants. Kaikoura is one of the only places in the world where you can see sperm whales all year and is a great place to go swimming with seals. Make sure you spend a few days there to snorkel the coastline and join a local boat tour to meet Kaikoura’s albatrosses, dolphins and sharks.


Fiji

Fiji is a classic destination in Oceania, offering a wealth of forest-draped islands and snorkeling highlights worthy of any bucket list. If you’re looking for a destination that has something for every snorkeler, and plenty for non-snorkelers too, Fiji could be for you.

Viti Levu, the main tourism hub and largest of all Fijian Islands, is famous for its bull and tiger shark diving, and has beautiful coral reefs for snorkelers. Go island hopping from Viti Levu and you’ll be immersed in a world of rainbow-hued soft coral landscapes, pelagic fish, and manta rays. You could easily while away your days simply drifting over Fiji’s many thriving coral gardens.

Just make sure you leave some time to explore topside. The friendly Fijian welcome, excellent jungle hikes, lush rainforests and waterfalls are not to be missed.


The Federated States of Micronesia

Micronesia is high on the wish list for many divers and consists of over 600 islands strewn across the western Pacific Ocean. This stunning destination is best-known as a wreck diving mecca and hosts dozens of World War II wrecks calm lagoon waters.

The wrecks of Chuuk Lagoon are renowned among divers and some of the wrecks are accessible to snorkelers. This calm, warm lagoon was the site of a fierce battle in World War II that resulted in hundreds of ships, planes and submarines sinking. The wrecks remain there to this day and are covered in rainbow-hued corals and surrounded by fish. Diving among the tanks, trucks and airplanes of this special lagoon brings history to life in the most vivid way.

As well as an enviable list of wrecks, Micronesia also has countless shallow reefs, manta rays at Yap, and some of the world’s most pristine snorkeling at Kosrae Island.


Palau

Palau is a snorkeler’s paradise with dazzling coral gardens and over 1300 fish species. Made up of 340 coral and volcanic islands, this stunning destination offers exceptionally good snorkeling.

The Rock Islands hosts the most popular snorkeling spots in Palau and can only be accessed by boat. This UNESCO World Heritage Centre is dotted with forest-draped islands surrounded by coral reefs. There are diverse underwater landscapes to explore, including drop-offs, walls, channels and sheltered bays.

With over 1300 fish species, 700 coral species and numerous prized critters, there is plenty for underwater naturalists and photographers to enjoy at Palau. Being the world’s first shark sanctuary, Palau’s waters are also busy with sharks.


Kathryn Curzon, a shark conservationist and dive travel writer for SSI (Scuba Schools International), wrote this article.

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