Our Team

Our small, but dedicated whale-passionate Team is:

Rae_2013Rae Gill
- Founder/Tour Director/Co-ordinator

Rae grew up in New Zealand, where most weekends and holidays were spent near or in the ocean and 25 years of her adult life was spent living, working and experiencing many countries  and cultures around the world – all of which prepared her what she does now!

Rae operates her ‘swim with whales’ eco-tour business from her laptop, whether she is at her home in Kerikeri NZ with her daughter Pou and two scruffy mutts Georgie & Elmo, elmo_georgietravelling somewhere in the world or in her home in the village of Toula in Vava’u, during the whale season.
Her role is General Manager, marketing, sales & logistics, when she is not in swimming with humpback whales in Tonga.

In Vava’u, Rae joins the groups on the whaleswim boat with the guests most days PLUS managing logistics on the ground.

Her enthusiasm and passion for the humpback whales and the environment is definitely catchy and her willingness to share her understanding of the local Tongan culture and its people is refreshing which certainly adds to her guests experience of the beautiful islands of Tonga.

geoff_patricknic_xiaolingRae’s son Geoff, his wife Xiao Ling and her grandchildren, Nicole (13) & Patrick (10) live in Taiwan and operate the wholesale agency for Bauer, (Inline and Ice Hockey Equipment) for Taiwan and parts of Asia and their retail store,  SkatePro Asia in Taipei. Geoff also manages the Taipei Tigers hockey teams and has both advisory & coaching role in their international hockey tournaments.


Pou, Rae’s adopted Tongan daughter, lives with her in Kerikeri, attends Kerikeri High School with the intention of studying Marine Sciences at Bay of Plenty Polytechnic in Tauranga in 2015 and to qualify as a Marine Biologist in 2018.
Pou has loved the ocean since she could barely walk and she was swimming with the humpbacks for the first time in 2006 (age 10). It was no surprise when she announced she wanted to be a Marine Scientist!


lynda 2014Lynda Johnson
- Booking Support & Admin Manager

Lynda has been part of our Team since 2004. She works from her home -office and looks after our guests bookings, accommodation and makes sure everyones holidays runs as smoothly as possible .
So once you have booked – just email Lynda lynda@whaleswim.com with questions and information about extra accommodations, flights, transfers etc.
Lynda grew up in Dallas, Texas and immigrated to NZ 25+ years ago. She lives on the beautiful island of Waiheke, (35 min by ferry from Auckland city) among the vineyards, olive groves and surrounded by magnificent beaches. Her  lovely daughter Jesse, is our neoprene vest model!

Darren JewDarren Jew
- ‘Canon Master’ Professional Wildlife Photographer,
 Photography Advisor & Guide

Winner of 2007, 2009, 2010, 2012 & 2013 Canon/AIPP Australian Science, Environment and Nature Photographer of the Year.
Having been inspired to explore a career in nature photography by his father’s travels in Antarctica, Darren now pursues a passion for capturing and sharing the wonder of the natural world.
After graduating from the Queensland College of Art, he first worked in commercial photography, before taking up a position as photographer with the Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service, where he worked for 8 years.
He moved on from that part of his career in 1994 and his work is now published widely in books, magazines and paper products. He has had the opportunity to photograph extensively across Australia and in Africa, Alaska, Patagonia, Tonga and Antarctica and have introduced many people to the world’s great wildlife and landscape destinations first hand, through small group photography tours, predominantly to Africa and Antarctica.
Darren_3_08Darren was part of the Team in the early days as guide for our photography groups in Vava’u during 2001 and 2002 seasons then his focus turned to family and other destinations and photo-opportunities around the world. However in 2008 we were very happy that he was able to join our WhaleSwim Team again and he has worked with us ever since!!
His passion for the whales and his dedication to his guests during their time with him, is more than appreciated, as we have many guests returning to learn more from him every year! He’s now humpback whale-addicted like the rest of the team!

For advice of camera equipment email Darren on darren@darrenjew.com
Check out his website at www.darrenjew.com

Our Tongan Crew

WhaleSwim Adventures are proud to be working alongside two of Tonga’s finest skippers and WhaleSwim Guides in the whale watching industry.
Their passion for the humpback whales (and all marine life!) has created a special ‘sensitivity’, especially around Mum’s and calves. Their uncanny awareness of the whales behaviour towards our boats and having humans in the water with them, enables us to maximise our in-the-water time with the whales each day. Consequently, they have earned the label – ‘Whale-whisperer’.

MV ‘Blue Sky’

Noa_1074ASkipper 2015: Noa Pulini

Noa has worked in the whaleswim and dive industry for 9 years as both a whale-watching boat skipper and as an in-the-water Guide. Noa is a qualified PADI Dive Master.

His dedication to making sure each whale encounter is a gentle invitation to the humpbacks to safely interact with us . . .  a skill not many skippers have.  This allows our guests to experience the best in-the-water encounters with the whales possible. Noa’s happiness and his sense Tapaita_Ana-marie_puliniof humour makes each day an exciting and fun experience.  His love of the whales is obvious by the constant smile on his face!

Noa is a very highly respected skipper within the industry and there are no finer to work with.

Noa is married to beautiful Tapeita and they have a beautiful  baby daughter, Ana-Marie – they are both the twinkle in Noa’s eyes!

mika_sydney2014WhaleSwim Guide 2015: Mika Havili

Mika has worked as a Whaleswim Guide for 2 seasons now and is definitely a ‘natural’  in the water and has earned the title of ‘Whale Whisperer’!

His love of the ocean and the whales is obvious!

Mika’s growing experience on the ocean is to be admired. Over the past 3 years, Mika has crewed on several ocean going polynesian vaka’s (a traditional outrigger canoe) as part of the Pacific Voyaging  -Vakas sailing these traditional canoes across the Pacific, learning the traditional methods of navigating by the stars.

During October 2014, Mika and the crew will commence a long journey from Fiji on the Samoan vaka “Gaualofa” to Vanuatu, onto Brisbane and down the coast of Australia to Sydney and will be in Auckland New Zealand by Christmas 2014! Mika will return to his home in Vava’u in time for the humpback whale season 2015.

MV ‘Dreamcatcher’

ali2Skipper: Ali Takau
Ali has over 12 years experience working in the waters of Vava’u, as both in-the-water Humpback whale guide and as skipper.
Over the years, he has worked on numerous television productions, where his skill in understanding whale behaviour and movement patterns have allowed film makers to capture footage that would have otherwise remained unseen. Ali, was hugely responsible for the male  heat-run sequence in the successful BBC’s ‘Life’ program.
Ali is soon to be featured in a new 3D IMAX  documentary surrounding the Tongan humpback whales, due for release in 2015. Ali is a qualified PADI dive masters and between them have been responsible for finding some of the best dive sites in Vava’u.

Noa, Ali  & Mika all have strong, family roots in Vava’u and call the islands home.

Marine Sciences Student Program

Chloe_students2011Each whale season WhaleSwim Adventures sponsors Marine Sciences student’s from the Bay of Plenty Polytechnic in Tauranga NZ to spend 3 – 4 weeks on our boats in Vava’u. They collect data about the whales and the whale watching industry to write a final paper for their degree.
Each student has a different project. Some are tourism focused and others more scientific. We love having these refreshing young marine-life lover’s involved with us every year!

Kelly Ratana & Chloe Autridge (2011 students)