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

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
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

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

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.

In Tonga’s enchanting and remote 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

For a more complete description, Download Full Detailed Itinerary

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.

For a more complete description, Download Full Detailed Itinerary

Optional Extensions

If you would like to continue your adventure, we offer the following extension:

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 shorty wetsuit of 2 or 3 mils neoprene (required), 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 session 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


Departures & Leaders

Sep 9-17, 2016   Jon Imhoof
Sep 23-Oct 1, 2016   Jon Imhoof
Oct 3-11, 2016 Added Departure  Jon Imhoof

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

Extension Costs
Fiji Extension
   from: $1695

Trip Payment Schedule

At time of reservation: $600
90 days prior to departure: Balance

Cancellation and Transfer Fee Schedule

Up to 91 days prior to departure: No charge!
61-90 days prior to departure: 25% of trip cost
46-60 days prior to departure: 50% 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

Extension Accommodations

If you would like to view the accommodations offered with our extensions option:

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:

Swimming with the Humpbacks of Ha'apai, September 9-17, 2016
Swimming with the Humpbacks of Ha'apai, September 23-October 1, 2016
Swimming with the Humpbacks of Ha'apai, October 3-11, 2016
Vanuatu: Adventures in the Islands of Happiness, June 2017

Recent Photo Blog Posts

Client Testimonials:

Jon was a joy to travel with. He was very responsive to everyone's needs and was unfailingly cheerful and fun to be around. Jennifer M., Santa Rosa, CA
New Zealand: Off the Beaten Path
Jon is a very accomplished guide, very knowledgeable about geology, culture, and history, and everything New Zealand from politics to agriculture, fauna and flora, film industry, etc. Catherine B., San Francisco, CA
New Zealand: Off the Beaten Path
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
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'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 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 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 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 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

Optional Extensions

If you would like to continue your adventure, we offer the following extension:


Fiji Extension

Majestic Manta Rays of Fiji’s Yasawa Islands

Sea Kayaking, Snorkeling
4 days  -  Level 3

Client Comments

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 The highlight of the trip was snorkeling with the humpbacks, as anticipated, and we were not disappointed. Larry M., Louisville, KY 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 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
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 The experience of swimming with the whales was wonderful—it was a fabulous lifetime event! Robin K., Katy, TX 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 We loved every minute of the trip. Kathleen G., Overton, NV