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Tonga: Snorkeling with Humpback Whales

Spend six full days snorkeling with humpback whale mother-calf pairs on their calving grounds in Tonga, and explore coral gardens off the coast of Vava'u. Named a National Geographic Traveler "Tour of a Lifetime" in 2009.


  • A once in a lifetime opportunity to snorkel with humpback whale mother-calf pairs and explore coral gardens off the coast of Vava'u Tonga.
  • Observe unique whale behaviors from above and below the surface, including courting adults and playful calves.
  • Explore Tonga and experience authentic Polynesian culture.
  • Our 2018 departure is guided by renowned underwater photographer and whale expert, Doug Perrine.

This trip was named one of National Geographic Traveler's "50 Tours of a Lifetime" in 2009!

>> Read our 2018 naturalist's trip report including photos, recordings of whale vocalizations, and more!

Tonga's tropical waters are the mating and calving grounds for endangered humpback whales who migrate here annually from their feeding grounds in Antarctica. From July through November, the cows remain in Tonga to allow their newborn calves to grow in strength and stamina in preparation for their journey to summer feeding grounds in the south. The whales' prolonged presence in Tonga's calm, tropical waters creates a unique opportunity to observe and even snorkel with these gentle giants, and our expedition is designed around these experiences.

Off the beautiful coral formed island of Vava'u, we immerse ourselves in whale watching above and below the water's surface. From our comfortable beachfront accommodations we make daily excursions by private boat to snorkel with and observe the whales and other colorful marine life. We also take time to explore the unique island of Vava'u, to meet with local conservation groups, learn about local culture and natural history, and we enjoy a day of relaxation by the beach.

This is an unforgettable and intimate experience available in just a few places on Earth.

Wildlife Highlights

The focus of our trip will be to see and snorkel with the humpback whale mother and calf pairs that reside here for several months each year. We will have the opportunity to observe many whale behaviors and may also hear the whales' beautiful songs.

We'll also take time to snorkel the beautiful and relatively untouched coral reefs that surround Vava'u, where we'll see a colorful array of invertebrates, fish, and corals. On land, we will learn about Tonga's unique plant and bird diversity, which includes some endemic and endangered species, like the Tongan Whistler.

Trip Dates & Cost

2019: August 24 - September 4 SOLD OUT. Check out our Tonga & Fiji Expedition for more availability in 2019. $5,595 per person.*

2020: Dates to be announced. Please inquire.

* Single supplement $1,200. Trip price does not include international airfare. Click here for our full expedition terms and conditions. Take $500 off your total booking cost when combined with our Fiji snorkeling expedition.


Doug Perrine earned a master’s degree in marine biology from the University of Miami and worked as a marine biologist, naturalist, and scuba instructor before taking up nature photography and writing as a full-time profession. Doug is now widely regarded as one the world’s foremost marine wildlife photographers. His photographs have been published in thousands of magazines (including National Geographic, Time, BBC Wildlife, etc.), books, calendars, and other graphic products. He is the author of seven books and numerous magazine articles on marine life. His images have been displayed at the Smithsonian Institute, the British Museum of Natural History, and numerous other prestigious institutions. His photographs have won a number of awards, including the grand prize in the prestigious international Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition in 2004. He has continued to be involved in marine science, including 20 years as a volunteer with the Hawaii Whale Research Foundation, studying humpback whales. Perrine currently lives in Kona, Hawaii.


Day 1: Arrive in Vava'u
Fly to Vava'u, Tonga (crossing the International Date Line), transfer to hotel.

Days 2–4: Whale Watching and Snorkeling
Full days spent whale watching and reef snorkeling. Typically we will head out at 9:00 am and return around 3:00 pm. We should be able to observe a variety of whale behaviors, from mother and calf interactions to the sometimes combative behavior of mature bulls. Humpback whales are the most acrobatic whale species, and will often perform spectacular displays of breaching, lob-tailing, spy-hopping, and fin-slapping. During times when we are not whale watching, we will have plenty of opportunities to snorkel along the nearby reefs. The sheltered waters of Vava’u offer a variety of snorkeling sites. Soft coral walls, large sea fans and an abundance of tropical fish and colorful invertebrates are found in these clear, warm waters. Set against the lush tropical coastline, we will also search for birds such as brown boobies, noddy terns, great frigate birds, and herons.

Day 5: Free Day
Sunday will be a day of leisure. By law, Tonga doesn't allow any activities to take place on Sundays. You can spend the day relaxing under the warm sun at the beach, snorkeling in nearby seagrass beds, or sea kayaking the area's calm waters.

Days 6–9: Whale Watching and Snorkeling
Full days spent whale watching and reef snorkeling. Typically we will head out at 9:00 am and return around 3:00 pm.

Day 10: Snorkeling / Community Visit
The morning will be spent either snorkeling or visiting with local community conservation projects directed by our in-country partner, the Vava'u Environmental Protection Association (VEPA). One of their projects is to restore mangrove forests, which are critical ecosystems for fish and marine invertebrates. Your afternoon will be left free for you to visit any last minute places in Vava'u and prepare for your return trip.

Day 11: Fly Home
After breakfast you will be transferred to the Vava'u airport in time for your flight home.


Participants will stay in double-occupancy rooms at the highly-rated, beachfront Tongan Beach Resort. This small resort, known for its great staff, features 12 guest rooms and 180 meters of beachfront. All rooms are only steps away from the water’s edge and are fitted with electric ceiling fans with open entrances allowing for a natural sea breeze if desired. Each room has its own covered decked balcony with table and chairs to relax on. Daily excursions will be made by private boat or vehicle.

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