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Even the name sounds exotic, and the more than 170 islands that make up the South Pacific’s Kingdom of Tonga don’t disappoint above or under water with the purity of their tropical bliss. Every year from July to October, humpback whales come to Tonga to calve and mate in the warm waters, and in water encounters are possible through licensed tour operators. The diving, which takes place off the four main island groups of Tongatapu, ‘Eua, Vava’u and the Ha’apai, features a hard coral seascape with clownfish, eels and lots of glittery tropicals flitting over the reefs. Pinnacles and drop-offs, walls and coral gardens are found off most islands with many sites rarely visited or still undiscovered. There is also the opportunity to gain certifications, such as completing the PADI Carvern Diver course, which you may need to dive certain sites. Between dives Tonga is like being awake within an island dream of blissful, untouched beaches, a traditional Polynesian culture and friendly, welcoming people. In the Niuas at the remote northern corner of the island nation, the people live unspoiled lives not very different than their ancestors. Traveling there is like a step back in time to experience an authentic South Pacific civilization.

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