Known as the ‘Friendly Islands’, Tonga is an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean. Visiting Tonga is like stepping back into the past and this is a good place to watch local life unfold and discover the customs and traditions of the people who live here. There is also abundant natural beauty here such as beaches, rainforests and volcanoes.
Best place to visit in Tonga
Tongatapu is the main island in the Kingdom of Tonga and for most holiday travelers is the point of arrival. One can find a variety of accommodation on the island, either in the laid-back capital of Nuku’alofa or on the beaches to the east, south, and west. The Fua’amotu International Airport is no more than about 30 minutes from any point on Tongatapu so it is easy to get around.
The capital of Nuku’alofa is located on the waterfront on the north side of the island and offers all kinds of places to stay, including backpacker guest houses, self-catering units suitable for budget travelers and families, hotels, and boutique accommodation lodges. Resorts are mainly found on beaches outside of Nuku’alofa, or on small offshore islands that can be reached by ferry transfer in about 20-35 minutes.
Things to see and do on Tongatapu: The main island has a range of sightseeing opportunities. Nuku’alofa is the business and government center and also the residence of the Royal Family. Don’t miss the Royal Palace and the Royal Tombs. Other points of interest elsewhere on the island include the stunning southern coastline, including the Houma blowholes and a natural land bridge at Hufangalupe. To the east, there are interesting limestone caves along the coast, as well as historic sites such as Captain Cook’s Landing Point, ancient terraced tombs and a mysterious stone trilithon (similar to Stonehenge). The western beaches at Kanokupolu offer the largest amount of beachfront accommodation on Tongatapu. Guided day tours around the island are possible or consider exploring by bicycle, bus or hire vehicle. From Nuku’alofa day trips are possible to three of the small nearby islands of Atata (Royal Sunset Island Resort), the upmarket Fafa Island Resort and Pangaimotu Island Resort. If you have time, also consider taking the ferry to ‘Eua, a large island to the east and geologically much older than any of the other Tongan islands. There are guesthouse and fale accommodation and a National Park for hiking.
The scenic island group of Vava’u is located in the central region of Tonga and is one of the top tourist destinations in the Kingdom. Its protected harbors and bays around the main town of Neiafu attract international yachts, with many sailing regattas throughout the year.
Vava’u offers one of the widest ranges of holiday accommodation in Tonga. In and around Neiafu this comprises mostly lodges and apartments (usually self-catering). The only true beach accommodation accessible by road is found at ‘Utungake a short ride away (such as Mystic Sands and The Tongan). The offshore islands offer a number of beach resorts, with boat transfers ranging from 5 minutes to around 35 minutes.
Things to see and do in Vava’u: The protected bays and inlets of Vava’u make this one of the top South Pacific destinations for yachts and sailboats. Large cruise ships also regularly visit the islands allowing passengers to enjoy a day out in Neiafu for souvenirs and sightseeing. Between June and November is the best time to see the humpback whales that migrate through Tonga for mating and calving. There are a number of whale-watching charters, some offer ‘swimming with the whales’. Sport and game fishing is another hugely popular activity, with excellent marlin, trevally and other species. There are good dive sites for scuba diving enthusiasts, while island trips give the opportunity of a beautiful day out, as Vava’u is a cluster of many islands, often uninhabited. Neiafu is a small town with its main road running alongside the harbor. Lots of cafes, restaurants, bakeries and produce markets, plus a selection of handicraft shops, duty-free and supermarket. Nearby Mount Talau is a great little hike and offers photo opportunities over Neiafu and the islands. Take a guided tour of the main island; it has some interesting sightseeing spots and fantastic lookouts over the west, north and east coasts. (They are a little hard to find if you try to hire a vehicle and go it alone as they are not all signposted).
In the far north of the Kingdom of Tonga is a small group of far-flung islands known as the Niuas. The main island is Niuatoputapu; though less-traveled than other parts of Tonga, this in fact adds to the feeling of a South Seas island paradise. The main towns are Hihifo, Vaipoa and Falehau.
Guest accommodation in Niuatoputapu comprises a number of local guesthouses. There is also the Palm Tree Island Resort, which offers beach fales and a restaurant on an otherwise uninhabited island just offshore from the main island. It is suitable for singles, couples or families.
Things to see and do on Niuatoputapu: Activities are mostly relaxed and laid-back, with beach lounging, swimming, snorkeling and kayaking. There are two high points on the island of Niuatoputapu with an inter-connecting ridge walk that offers outstanding views of the island and the dramatic Tafahi volcano (see top photo). Palm Tree Island Resort has bicycles for its guests to explore the island.
The most direct way to get to Tonga is by flying into Fua’amotu Airport, which is located on Tongatapu, about half an hour from Tonga’s capital. Air New Zealand provides regular flights from Auckland and Los Angeles, while Virgin Blue flies passengers from a number of Australian destinations as well as Auckland and Fiji. A large number of people also sail to Tonga on private yachts.