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Photograph courtesy of Wilderness Travel
Whale World

Each June, some 450 humpback whales arrive in the shallow waters off Tonga’s Ha’apai Islands to mate and calf, transforming the archipelago into an oversize nursery until September. The Ha’apai are one of the only places in the world where you can snorkel with the 50-foot-long mammals—and starting next year, Wilderness Travel will be the only tour operator to bring clients here to do it. “They’re really curious and let you get very close,” says the outfitter’s Barbara Banks. Just don’t expect a Sea World encounter. “It’s done with the absolute strictest guidelines about behavior around the whales,” adds Banks. “There is no contact.” When not ogling underwater family dynamics and reefs of hard and soft corals, you’ll be kayaking between islets, which author and professional curmudgeon Paul Theroux once called “the perfect area for paddling a kayak—perhaps the best in the Pacific . . . All were secluded, all were lovely.” For the second half of the trip, clients board a catamaran bound for even more remote reefs and islets. Accommodations range from a village homestay to a bunk on the catamaran to over-water bungalows; Tongan feasts of suckling pig, fresh octopus, and root vegetables are nightly affairs.

Outfitter: Wilderness Travel;
Price: $5,400 ($$$)
Length: 18 days
Departs: July

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