We travel to remote Rurutu Island in French Polynesia to swim with humpback whales in the pristine, clear waters of the South Pacific. Rurutu is part of the Austral Archipelago, and is blessed with a fringing reef, which is why it attracts so many breeding and nursing whales during the annual humpback migration from Antarctica. We will stay with a traditional Rurutuan family while bonding with humpback whales every day.
Matt is a co-founder of Inertia and experienced expedition leader. He's previously lead some of our wildest programs in Socotra, Afghanistan, Siberia, Greenland, the Congo and beyond. He coordinated the recon for this expedition in Sumatra. He's an avid photographer, documentarian and geopolitics nerd.
- Swim with humpback whales (4 people in the water at a time) during their annual migration from Antarctica to Polynesia.
- Learn about humpback whales, concerns facing our oceans, and help document the behaviours of these majestic animals.
- Stay with a local Rurutuan family, share Polynesian-French meals with them and bond both at home and in the water (they are also our whale guides).
- Relax, meditate and wander the beaches and mountains of this tropical island in Polynesia.
KARIM ILIYA DANCES WITH WHALES. A film by Matt Reichel and Karim Iliya
Every year hundreds of humpbacks migrate from their rich feeding grounds in Antarctica to the warm shallow waters of the South Pacific to breed, give birth and raise calfs, as well as learn important whale skills. Watch our 2017 short documentary on the work of photographer Karim Iliya documenting humpback whales off the coast of Vava’u, Tonga.
Day 1. Sunday, September 8, 2019. Arrive in Tahiti, transfer to Rurutu
Participants arrive at Tahiti’s Faa’a International Airport to catch an early afternoon domestic flight on Air Tahiti to the remote island of Rurutu. Rurutu is located in the northern Austral Archipelago, several hundred kilometres south of Tahiti. After a two hour flight, you arrive in this tropical paradise, surrounded by a fringing reef, white sand beaches, palm trees and traditional Polynesian culture. Our team meets you at the Rurutu airport, and we drive to our Bed and Breakfast run by the Tavita family. We spend the rest of the afternoon enjoying the island, visiting the town, relaxing in the warm waters of the South Pacific. Over dinner, we discuss methods and rules for how to swim with whales.
Day 2-7. Monday-Saturday, September 9-14, 2019. Rurutu
We begin each day at 5:30am for breakfast, followed by a gear briefing. We then load into our private boat for the morning, departing daily at 7am, where we will spend the next five hours looking for whales. When we find a calm or playful group, we slowly enter the water and assess the situation to see if they would like to swim with us.
Rurutu is home to many transient humpback whales, who travel from Antarctica to the warm shallows of the South Pacific to breed and raise their newborn calfs. The fringing reef around Rurutu provides a safe nursery for the whales, away from predators such as orcas and false killer whales who may make a meal out of a baby humpback whale. Coming across mothers and calfs is common, and once we build trust with them, we can spend a lot of time swimming with the pair. It is important to follow the rules and listen to the instructions from our whale guides.
We are be lead by an experienced boat captain from Rurutu as well as our whale guide to help the group interact with these magnificent mammals.
We return to shore for lunch in town, followed by free afternoons to explore, relax, swim, hike, and enjoy Rurutu’s beaches. Each evening, we have dinner together with our host family at the Bed and Breakfast.
Day 8. Sunday, September 15, 2019. Rututu / Tahiti (depart)
We depart Rurutu in the morning for our flight back to Tahiti. For those connecting out of Tahiti, you should book your flights at least four hours after our scheduled arrival time, as delays may occur.
All nights are spent at the Tavita family guesthouse in Moerai town, Rurutu. Breakfasts and dinners are home-cooked meals prepared by the Tavita family and are hosted at the house every day, while lunches are at local restaurants in town.
The Tavita family helps us throughout our stay in Rurutu. We stay in their house, eat with them, use their boat for our daily excusrions, their daughter guides us in the water with the whales, and our activities provide a lot of support for the family.
Prepare to spend five hours per day on the boat looking for whales to swim with, swimming, light hiking, beaches, family meals, discussions and laughter. Each participant should be a relatively strong swimmer (at least 200 metres unassisted without difficulty).
Airport pick-ups and drop-offs.
Breakfasts and dinners daily.
Private whale boat (6 days on the water).
Professional trip leader, whale guide and captain.
All entrance fees and permits.
Domestic flights between Tahiti and Rurutu.
Round trip international airfare to Tahiti.
French visa fee (if needed).
Travel and medical insurance.
Any activities not mentioned in the itinerary.
Tips for local guides.