Tonga’s idyllic tropical world

Photo by Jon Imhoof

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Sea Kayaking and Snorkeling in Ha'apai

Tonga’s Remote Tropical Islands, Pristine Coral Reefs, and Swimming with Humpback Whales
Repertory Trip: Next Offered October 5-16, 2014

Sea Kayaking and Snorkeling in Ha'apai route-map

Trip Details at-a-Glance

Cost From: $5595  
Length: 12 days
Arrive: Auckland, New Zealand
Depart: Tongatapu, Tonga
Lodging: 10 nights Tongan-style beach resorts, 1 night hotel
Meals: All meals included
Activity: Snorkeling, Wildlife & Natural History, Cultural Adventures, Sea Kayaking, Whale Watching, Whale or Dolphin Swimming
Trip Level: Snorkeling, sea kayaking (no previous experience necessary), whale watching, swimming, beachcombing


  • Swim with humpback whales—the experience of a lifetime!
  • Sea kayak in a remote, untouched South Pacific paradise, snorkel over colorful reefs
  • Enjoy warm Tongan hospitality and traditional feasts, including a kava ceremony

We loved every minute of the trip.Kathleen G.—Overton, NV

Choosing the Right Trip

We work hard to help you choose the right trip for you, paying attention to your individual interests, abilities, and needs. If you have questions about the level of comfort or any of the activities described in this itinerary, please contact us.


We are proud to have an exceptionally high rate of repeat travelers. For more information, we would be happy to put you in touch with a client who has traveled with us.

Departure Notes

Once you have signed up on the trip, we send a complete packing list, relevant health information, and required travel documents.

Repertory Trip

This is one of our special Repertory Trips offered every two to five years.  It will be several years before this journey is offered again. Now is the time to go!

In Tonga’s enchanting Ha’apai Islands, we paddle sea kayaks, snorkel amid an abundance of dazzling tropical fish, and delight in encounters with the humpback whales who migrate here annually to court, mate, and bear their young. This is one of the few places in the world where you can swim right alongside these majestic creatures, and our heart-pounding experiences may include witnessing mother-calf interactions. Along the way, we meet the Ha’apai islanders, the friendliest in the Tongan kingdom, who welcome us with time-honored hospitality and Polynesian ‘umu feasts. Swimming with whales, fabulous snorkeling, sea kayaking in crystalline waters, overnights in traditional beach lodges set on white-sand beaches—this is adventure in the South Seas!

Itinerary at a Glance

For a more complete description, Download Full Detailed Itinerary

Days 1-5
Auckland, New Zealand / Foa Island, Tonga / Whale Watching and Swimming

Meeting in Auckland, we fly to the remote Ha’apai Islands, a group of low, coral islands with vibrant reefs and miles of deserted picture-perfect beaches. From our comfortable lodge on a private beach, we set out by sailing catamaran in search of humpback whales, a chance for up-close observations of these marvelous cetaceans breaching and spy hopping. Then, with snorkel, mask, and fins, we swim alongside them!

Days 6-12
Uoleva Island / Snorkeling / Kayaking / Whale Watching

Traveling as the ancient Polynesians did, we paddle our kayaks to Uoleva Island, where our base is a tranquil hideaway on a white-sand beach. Uoleva’s amazing geography of caves, canyons, vertical walls, and colorful coral gardens makes for incredible snorkeling, with plenty of reef fish, including Moorish idol, butterfly fish, wrasse, and clown fish, as well as stingrays and sea turtles. While here we enjoy more whale watching and swimming encounters, and attend a local church service to hear the harmonious sound of Tongan choir singing—a memorable experience! Throughout our journey, we experience warm Tongan hospitality as well as traditional ’umu feasts with our island hosts. Depart on Day 12 via Tongatapu.

For a more complete description, Download Full Detailed Itinerary

What the Trip is Like

This trip is Level 3, Moderate. Because one of the primary enjoyments of the trip is snorkeling and swimming with whales, we require that trip members know how to swim. Please bring your own good quality, well-fitted equipment with you, including wetsuit, mask, snorkel, and fins. Try out your gear in a swimming pool before you go to make sure that it works for you and is comfortable. We will have a “refresher” snorkel in calm waters at the beginning of the trip. There is ample time for both scheduled snorkels and free snorkeling, and for the most part the water time is “at your own pace.”

The trip is relaxed enough to allow ample time for snorkeling, photography, kayaking, and beachcombing. Our kayaks are stable, seaworthy crafts well suited to novices and the ocean environment. No previous kayaking experience is required. All trip members should be comfortable in small boats.

A moderate level of fitness is recommended and you should be in good health and physical condition to get the most enjoyment from your trip. The Ha’apai islands are separated by reefs or open water, but they are not great paddling distances apart. In general, we choose routes that are largely protected from high winds and strong currents. We also adapt our daily schedule to local conditions. We generally paddle two to four hours on kayaking days, with daily snorkeling and island exploration.

Our nights are spent at simple yet well located Tonga-style beach resorts in fales (bungalows) that lend an authentic, laid-back experience of this island paradise. We spend seven nights at Sandy Beach Resort, within walking distance of the nearest village. The 12 bungalows feature comfortable beds, en suite bathrooms, and private verandas with chairs and table. Three nights are at Serenity Beaches Resort, with five private bungalows spread out on the beach. Since Uoleva is an isolated island with no electricity, the fales are lit by solar lamps, candles, and battery lamps. (There is a generator for refrigeration and charging cameras.) All resorts are staffed by friendly people and you’ll soon feel like an extended member of the family. We spend one night at a hotel in Auckland at the start of our journey.

Explanation of Trip Levels


Departures & Leaders

This is one of our special Repertory Trips offered only every two to five years. This journey will not be offered again for several years. Now is the Time to Go!

Oct 5-16, 2014  Jon Imhoof

Trip Cost

Prices are for 2014
$5595 (7-8 members)
$5995 (4-6 members)
Single supplement: $925
Forced single supplement: $750
Internal airfare: $475 (subject to change) Tongatapu/Ha'apai/Tongatapu
more on pricing

Trip Cost Includes:

  • Expert leadership of Trip Leader Jon Imhoof and local guides
  • All accommodations
  • All meals included
  • PFDs (life jackets) and sea kayaking equipment
  • All land and boat transportation, airport transfers for passengers on recommended flights

Trip Cost Does Not Include:

International airfare (including fare from Auckland to Tongatapu); internal airfare within Tonga (see separate cost above); transfers for independent arrival or departure; any meals not specified after each itinerary day; airport departure taxes; optional activities; optional gratuities to leaders or staff; additional hotel nights necessitated by airline schedule changes or other factors; pre-trip expenses of medical immunizations (if any), travel insurance, or passports and visas; and other expenses of a personal nature (alcoholic beverages, laundry, etc.).

Trip Payment Schedule

At time of reservation: $500
120 days prior to departure: 20% of trip cost
60 days prior to departure: Balance

Cancellation and Transfer Fee Schedule

More than 90 days prior to departure: No charge!
46-90 days prior to departure: 25% of trip cost
45 days or less: 100% of trip cost

Langham Hotel

Langham Hotel

Day 1 (1 night), Auckland, New Zealand

The elegant Langham Hotel, an oasis of tranquility in New Zealand’s busy capital city, is conveniently located within walking distance of the ...
Click here for full description and more photos

Sandy Beach Resort

Sandy Beach Resort

Days 2 to 5 (4 nights),
Days 9 to 11 (3 nights), Foa Island, Tonga

With spacious bungalows set in a tropical garden close to the water’s edge, Sandy Beach Resort has a relaxed ambiance and a friendly staff ...
Click here for full description and more photos

Serenity Beaches Resort

Serenity Beaches Resort

Days 6 to 8 (3 nights), Uoleva Island, Tonga

This simple, low-key island hideaway is situated in a beautiful location on a white-sand beach amid swaying palm trees. The Bali-style bungalows ...
Click here for full description and more photos

Note: Listed above are our signature accommodations for this trip. Although it is highly unlikely, we may make substitutions when necessary.

Jon Imhoof

Jon Imhoof has a degree in Anthropology from the University of Hawaii, where he first began leading hiking and sailing trips in the 1980s. He moved to Queenstown, New Zealand in 1989. Jon has been an innovator in adventure tourism, starting the first river-surfing company in the world in Queenstown, New Zealand, and then also on the Zambezi River in Southern Africa. During the southern summer, Jon leads our hiking trips in New Zealand, and in the winter, guides our snorkeling and whale watching journeys in Tonga. He enjoys kite-surfing, surfing, kayaking, scuba diving, mountain biking, and just about anything outdoors. “What I think surprises most people about New Zealand is the effect it has on their world view,” says Jon. “The first thing that is immediately apparent is a more relaxed pace of living. And in conversation, people are not in such a hurry to move on—a remark to a stranger can become a lively conversation. The lack of crowds and the clean environment also have an effect on visitors, like suddenly being able to take a deep breath. New Zealand inspires adventure!” Jon also loves to introduce people to the wonders of Polynesian culture. “Tonga’s Ha’apai islands are off the tourist route and not easy to get to, so the traditional Tongan way of life still predominates. When I lived in Hawaii, I always found myself thinking ‘I wish I had been here 50 years ago.’ Of course you can’t turn back the clock—but you can go to Ha’apai!” Jon lives in Queenstown, New Zealand, with his wife and two children.

Upcoming Trips:

Sea Kayaking and Snorkeling in Ha'apai, October 5-16, 2014
New Zealand: Off the Beaten Path, November 23-December 6, 2014
New Zealand: Off the Beaten Path, February 1-10, 2015

Recent Photo Blog Posts

Client Testimonials:

Jon was a great leader. Well organized, fun, and professional. A. I., Manhasset NY John was our best guide ever. He did it all, including care and concern for each traveler. Truly amazing. R. K., Woodland TX Jon is a joy—informed, involved, fun, and concerned about each trip member. S. B., Redondo Beach CA Jon was patient with all and gave us his full attention. We all enjoyed his company and appreciated his excellent arrangements. Karen H., Albuquerque
Serious Fun in New Zealand
Jon is like Mary Poppins—practically perfect in every way. We covered an amazing amount of territory and did a lot in two weeks, but we never felt rushed. We may have been clients, but Jon treated us like friends. Lisa P., Falls Church VA Trips with Jon are always a blast. He makes every activity fun. Stephanie G., Saddle Brook, NJ
Island Kingdom of Tonga
Jon is an extraordinarily able and knowledgeable guide. Information on history, geography, flora, fauna, etc., was deep and well presented. He is organized and exceptionally good at adapting to changing circumstances. He makes everyone feel special and he has a super sense of humor! Brenda J. Jon was very knowledgeable about the Tongan people. He is very bright and a great joy to travel with. Cindy C., Santa Barbara, CA
Island Kingdom of Tonga
Jon is an excellent guide. He was very patient, helpful, and happy to share Tonga with all participants. Jeanne S., Charlotte, NC
Sea Kayaking and Snorkeling in Ha’apai
Jon was the best tour leader I have had the priviledge to travel with. His knowledge of the history and geology of New Zealand was so enlightening and enhanced our appreciation of this wonderful country. I did not want our trip to end! Marlene S., Washington, DC
New Zealand: South Island Adventure
Jon's enthusiasm for his country was contagious and his gracious hospitality was quintessentially Kiwi. He was helpful in all aspects of our travel - from photography to culture to hiking tips - and his ability to deal with diverse personalities was remarkable. Love him! Bonnie B., Bakersfield, CA
New Zealand: South Island Adventure
Jon is at the absolute top. It was like spending two weeks with a good friend with an extraordinary level of knowledge about the country. Bruce N., Oakland, CA
New Zealand: South Island Adventure
Jon is the best tour leader I have had the privilege to travel with. His knowledge of the history and geology of New Zealand was so enlightening and enhanced our appreciation for this wonderful country.
Marlene S., Washington, DC
New Zealand: South Island Adventure

Client Comments

We loved every minute of the trip. Kathleen G., Overton, NV A very well-organized and well-run trip. Snorkeling with the whales is one of my great lifetime experiences! Just awesome. And the Tongan people are so warm and friendly. Rick L., Falmouth, MA The experience of swimming with the whales was wonderful—it was a fabulous lifetime event! Robin K., Katy, TX The Tongans are the friendliest people we’ve visited, and their singing was awesome. Snorkeling with the whales was an incredible, indescribable experience. Hila L., Falmouth, MA
Snorkeling with the whales was spectacular. We also enjoyed getting to know the Tonga locals. The trip was everything we’d hoped for and more. Pam R., University Place, WA A very well designed itinerary, with plenty of time swimming with the whales..couldn't get enough of that! The time with the whales was the highlight of the trip. Jeanne S., Charlotte, NC The highlight of the trip was snorkeling with the humpbacks, as anticipated, and we were not disappointed. Larry M., Louisville, KY