One of the least visited countries in the world, The Kingdom of Tonga is an unspoiled paradise. More than 170 South Pacific islands, make up the island country. Stunning white beaches and coral reefs, combined with tropical rainforest are obvious draw-cards. There’s no doubt that Tonga is a little piece of heaven.
On the main island, Tongatapu, limestone cliffs and lagoons make for fantastic photo opportunities. Tonga has some of the most beautiful beaches in the Pacific Ocean. This makes it the perfect getaway for a relaxing break. The people of Tonga are some of the nicest in the world and are always willing to help. No wonder then that Tonga carries the moniker of ‘The Friendly Islands.’
Visitors sometimes overlook Tonga in favor of neighboring Fiji. However, there is much that this island country just under three hours from New Zealand, has to offer. We’ve outlined the top 10 things to do in Tonga to help you plan your visit.
Nuku’alofa is the capital of Tongatapu, Tonga’s main island, and home to the royal family. Compared to other capital cities in the world, Nuku’alofa is different. You won’t find a skyscraper here or any of the usual trappings of a capital. However, it is a bustling place with much of the action centered around the main market. Although not your typical tropical paradise, it’s an ideal place to base yourself, with accommodation to suit almost any pocket.
Highlights of the city include the Royal Palace, impressive views from the broad waterfront, and plenty of churches. You’ll find plenty of dining options from deli-style takeouts, sit-down restaurants, and food stalls. If you want to discover more of what the city offers, we recommend the one-hour guided tour of the city.
Like many of the islands in the South Pacific, Tonga has plenty of stunning beaches. One of these is Ha’atafu, located on the main island of Tongatapu. It’s possibly Tonga’s best-kept secret. Getting to the beach is easy from the capital city of Nuku’alofa. The best options are to take a taxi or hire a car.
If you’re lucky, you may arrive to find the beautiful sand and clear waters all to yourself. This is where Tonga with its smattering of tourists really works to your advantage. Unlike other similar beaches, which are usually filled with crowds, Ha’atafu Beach will feel like your own personal island paradise. After a day on the beach, there are plenty of restaurants and bars to choose from. It’s a great way to end the day, relaxing whilst watching an incredible sunset.
If you’re staying on the main island of Tongatapu, then you can arrange day trips out to some of the neighboring islands. Just ten minutes from Tongatapu is the Pangaimotu Island which boasts of pristine beaches and incredible waters for snorkeling. There’s also a shipwreck which you can dive off. It’s a great place to spend a relaxing Sunday. You can catch the morning boat ride and return to Nuku’alofa by sunset.
Mapu’a ‘a Vaea Blowholes
Stretching five kilometers along the coastline on Tongatapu is one of the must-see attractions in Tonga. Hundreds of blowholes dot the area. When the conditions are right, these blowholes can blast water 30 meters into the air. Like most tourist spots in Tonga, you may be the only visitor. The best time to visit is when it’s a windier day. The rougher waters mean that water blasts higher, creating an incredible spectacle.
If you’re looking for the most incredible wildlife experience, then Vava’u should definitely be on your itinerary. This is one of the best attractions in Tonga and with good reason. The best time to visit is between July and October when you’ll have the opportunity to swim with humpback whales. This is a once in a lifetime chance to get up close and personal with these majestic creatures.
Arriving on Vava’u, be sure to arrange a yacht trip. You can visit isolated beaches, explore caves, snorkel, and dive incredible reefs. There is an abundance of marine life, from turtles to reef sharks. It’s a place like no other.
Located on the east side of Tongatapu, Arahulu Cave is a large sprawling network of limestone caves. Visiting these caves is a definite must. There is also a natural underground swimming pool that is perfect for a swim. If you plan to visit these caves, then make sure you book a tour with Teta Tours who run excursions to the cave.
Ha’amonga ‘a Maui Trilithon
Ha’amonga ‘a Maui Trilithon is known as the South Pacific equivalent of Stonehenge. This ancient monument has an intriguing history. Its construction has been credited to Tu’itatui, the 11th Tu’i Tonga by some, and to ancient Chinese explorers by others. The structure is made of three large coralline stones, weighing about 40 tonnes each. Just like Stonehenge, mortised joints keep the top stone intact.
The impressive Hufangalupe Archway is also known as the pigeon’s doorway. It is a natural land bridge that crosses over the pounding waves of the Pacific, formed when a sea cave roof collapsed. You can walk across the top and look down into the pit. From here you can enjoy a great view of the craggy coastline. If you do venture onto the natural bridge it’s best to wear good footwear as it can be slippery.
Located in Nuku’alofa, Talamahu is your chance to get to see the real Tonga. The market is the lifeline of Tonga and is a great place to feel the local vibe. Take a stroll through the aisles of this large market to enjoy Tonga’s fresh produce. However, it isn’t just fruit and vegetables that the market has to offer. There are stalls selling cooked foods and others that sell locally made handicrafts. It has the very best in Tongan arts and crafts. We recommend you head along on a Saturday morning as the market is at its liveliest then.
This sand-cay island on the Ha’apai islands of Tonga is largely uninhabited. Barring five small resorts, you’ll have the place all to yourself. It offers up one of the best South Pacific experiences. You can while away your time staring out at the waves, snorkeling or fishing. It’s one of the perfect places to relax and get away from it all.
During migration season from June to October you’ll also spot whales close to the shore. Getting to the island is pretty easy by boat or on foot from the south tip of Lifuka.
Just So You Know…
- Tonga is well-known known for limestone caves.
- Polynesians have lived on Tonga for over 3,000 years. The Dutch were the first to explore the islands. British explorer James Cook landed on the islands in 1773 and named them the Friendly Islands.
- According to the Tongan creation myth, the islands were fished from the ocean by Maui, one of the three major gods.
- When a child is born, it is one of the most important events. A child is officially introduced to the community at the end of a child’s first year.
Where to Stay:
- ⭐⭐ ⭐ – Little Italy Hotel – Close to the beach, the hotel offers airport shuttles, free wifi, parking, and even child care service on arrangement.
- ⭐⭐⭐⭐ –Tanoa International Dateline Hotel offers excellent service in a great location on the waterfront. It comes with a fitness center, swimming pool, restaurant, and two bars.
- ⭐⭐⭐⭐- Seaview Lodge and Restaurant in Nuku’alofa offers a tour desk and is close to both the town and the sea. The on-site restaurant serves international, gourmet cuisine. Other amenities include airconditioning, flatscreen TV, and cable channels.
Get Some Culture:
- The Tonga National Museum in Nuku’alofa is the cultural heart of Tonga. It features a library, gallery, and cultural center.
- ‘Eua Tourism Festival is an annual festival on the island of ‘Eua. It’s held in the second week of May and attracts visitors keen on learning about traditional Tongan culture.
Grab A Bite:
- Friends Cafe – This is a popular meeting place for locals and visitors in the capital. You can visit any time of day from early morning till 10 p.m as the cafe serves all meals.
- Seaview Restaurant – The Seaview Restaurant is recognized as the best restaurant in Tonga and one of the best in the South Pacific. Here you can enjoy the delectable taste of contemporary European Haute cuisine fused with traditional Polynesian tastes.