The South Pacific kingdom of Tonga is an archipelago of 169 islands, 36 of them inhabited. Three main groups cover 800km north-south, and the capital city Nuku'alofa is on Tongatapu, the largest island. They are made up of volcanic islands rising from the ocean and seismically uplifted coral limestone islands. A new volcanic island broke the ocean surface in the 1990s.
Known as The Friendly Islands, Tonga became a constitutional monarchy in 1875, a British protectorate in 1900 and acquired independence in 1970. It remains the only monarchy in the Pacific.
Tonga is one of three locations in the world where you can snorkel with majestic and gentle humpback whales. It is an important breeding ground and whales can be seen bearing young, caring for calves and engaging in elaborate mating rituals. These beautiful creatures are also known as singing whales as males sing during courtship. Their low notes can reach a shattering 185 decibels and carry 100km across the open ocean.
More than 160 have been identified as returning year after year to the calm, reef-protected waters. Polar waters are far too cold for the survival of calves.
Rae Gill, owner of WhaleSwim, had a humpback whale encounter off the Dominican Republic coast in 1997 and it became her passion to raise whale conservation awareness to as many people as possible.
Between July and October, Rae and her team of conservationists, a marine biologist and wildlife photographers, provide seven- and nine-day snorkelling expeditions. They are totally committed to whale conservation and tours have strict guidelines.
Expeditions include education, guidance, activities, meals and accommodation. A hydrophone on the vessel allows you to hear the singing whales and video footage will be taken of you swimming with them.
They have three group sizes eight and 12, and five on photography expeditions.
Blue Lagoon Resort is a Pacific gem. It has just six comfortable bungalows, known locally as fales. They have been constructed on the island's white sand beach from local materials woven pandanus and thatched coconut leaves. Beds have crisp white cotton sheets and mosquito nets. Each has its own bathroom and hot and cold water.
The restaurant has excellent food prepared by the resort's owner, and the whole experience is delightfully remote. No telephones, faxes or e-mails just VHF radio and the beautiful turquoise waters lapping at the door.