Tonga’s idyllic tropical world

Photo by Jon Imhoof

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Swimming with the Humpbacks of Ha’apai

Tonga’s Remote Tropical Islands and Pristine Coral Reefs
Repertory Trip: Next Offered September 9-17, 2016 & September 23-October 1, 2016

Swimming with the Humpbacks of Ha’apai route-map

Trip Details at-a-Glance

Cost From: $4995  
Length: 9 days
Arrive: Tongatapu, Tonga
Depart: Tongatapu, Tonga
Lodging: 7 nights Tongan-style beach resort, 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

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, and overnights in a traditional beach lodge set on a white-sand beach—this is true adventure in the South Seas!

Itinerary at a Glance

Days 1-3
Tongatapu, Tonga / Snorkeling / Kayaking

Meeting in Tongatapu, Tonga, 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 on Foa Island, we enjoy excellent reef snorkeling practically right out our front door. Gazing underwater, we see the amazing geography of the reefs—caves, canyons, caverns, tunnels, vertical walls, and colorful coral gardens with plenty of fish, including Moorish idol, butterfly fish, wrasse, and clown fish, as well as stingrays and sea turtles. At night, we stargaze under the clear skies and bright Milky Way and learn how early Polynesians used the stars to navigate. On Sunday, we’ll have the opportunity to attend a church service at one of the nearby villages and listen to the beautiful sounds of Tongan singing. Later, we paddle kayaks to nearby Nukunamu, “The King’s Island,” just off the northern tip of Foa, and snorkel the channel between Nukunamu and Ha’ano Islands.

Days 4-9
Whale Watching / Snorkeling / Kayaking

We’re off on our search for humpback whales! To swim with a 45-ton whale in its natural environment is surely one of the biggest thrills and greatest privileges the natural world has to offer, and Tonga is one of the few places in the world where you are allowed to be in the water with them. We set out by sailing catamaran in search of them, a chance for up-close observations of these marvelous cetaceans breaching and spy hopping. Many migrating whales choose the northern Ha’apai waters, which means we seldom have to travel far before sighting the first whales of the day. Then, with snorkel, mask, and fins, we swim alongside them! In the late afternoons we'll have a chance to snorkel, kayak, or enjoy an easy bike ride around Foa Island, or simply relax on the beach soaking up the gentle evening sunlight. On our last night, we gather for a final farewell feast, a last look at the stars, and a walk along the beach. Depart on Day 9 via Tongatapu.

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 out in the islands are spent at Sandy Beach Resort, a simple yet well located Tonga-style beach resort in fales (bungalows) that lend an authentic, laid-back experience of this island paradise. The 12 bungalows feature comfortable beds, en suite bathrooms, and private verandas with chairs and table. The resort is staffed by friendly people and you’ll soon feel like an extended member of the family. We spend one night at a hotel in Tongatapu at the start of our journey.

Explanation of Trip Levels



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!

Sep 9-17, 2016
Sep 23-Oct 1, 2016

Trip Cost

Prices are for 2016
$4995 (7-8 members)
$5295 (4-6 members)
Single supplement: $675
Forced single supplement: $475
Internal airfare: $310 (subject to change)
more on pricing

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!
90-46 days prior to departure: 25% of trip cost
45 days or less: 100% of trip cost

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.).

Scenic Hotel

Scenic Hotel

Day 1 (1 night), Tongatapu, Tonga

Located near the Fua'amotu airport, the Scenic Hotel is a great place to relax after the long flight to Tonga. It's a quiet oasis, with attractive ...
Click here for full description and more photos

Sandy Beach Resort

Sandy Beach Resort

Days 2 to 8 (7 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

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

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 Swimming with whales is a once in lifetime experience. We were lucky enough to have two great days in which the whales were accessible—fantastic! Shelly A., New Haven, CT