Destination - Kingdom of Tonga


Updated May 2020
Malo e lei lei, below is a guide to the main Tongan island - Tongatapu and three small islands nearby. A list of accommodation options is also included for 'Eua, Ha'apai and Vava'u. The guide has been put together after visiting Tonga four times, most recently in 2019.

The Kingdom of Tonga is made up of over 170 islands, many are uninhabited. The country is divided into five island groups - Tongatapu, 'Eua, Ha'apai, Vava'u, and the Niuas. Tongatapu is the most populated island and is home to Nuku'alofa (Abode of Love), the Kingdom's capital.

Pangaimotu Island
Flying Foxes hanging upside down
Ha'atafu Beach

Tonga is a naturally beautiful country with white sand beaches, clear waters, and swaying coconut palms. Wildlife watchers can see the flying foxes or fruit bats, and go whale watching and swimming between July and October when whales mate and calve in the warm waters.

 
Mapu 'a Vaea blow holes
Kava House Tongatapu
Nuku'alofa Harbour

Currency - Pa'anga (TOP)

All prices quoted are in Tongan currency. NZ$1 buys approximately TOP$1.40 as at May 2020. The exchange rate makes Tonga a great value destination.

If you are an ANZ customer there is no charge to use the ANZ ATMs. In the town centre on Taufa'ahau Road you will find ATMs next to Cafe Escape, and at the waterfront end of the Tonga Post building. There is a limit of 900 pa'anga per withdrawal.

Climate

The wet season is November to April and this is also cyclone season, however the majority of cyclones occur between January and March. May through October is the best time to visit and the average temperature is between 25 - 29 degrees celsius.

Travel or Health Warnings

Visit Safe Travel to see if there are any travel or health related warnings for Tonga.

Language

Hello - Malo e leilei
Thank you - Malo

Tongan is the official language but English is widely spoken. Learn some Tongan phrases.

On the way to Church
Horses grazing on a back road
Snorkelling at Ha'atafu

Get Connected

Your options are Digicel and Tonga Communications Corporation. We found the Digicel shop first, if you go direct to the shop on Fata Fehi Street they will be able to help you if you have a problem connecting. A sim card costs $5 and it's $5 for 500mb or $20 for 2GB.


Fua'amotu International Airport/Domestic Airport

There is a nice new departure area at Fua'amotu International Airport. A flat white is $6 at the cafe, and there are sandwiches, pies, soft drinks etc. Leiola Duty Free sells Tongan coffee, and Heilala Vanilla beans and syrup, the prices are almost the same as shown on the website. If you've run out of pa'anga just ask if they can accept your currency.

A taxi from the airport to Nuku'alofa takes about 30 minutes and costs $40.

Domestic Airport - The domestic airport is alongside Fua'amotu International. (See 'Getting To The Outer Islands' for more information about domestic flights).


Religion

Tonga is a church going nation and Sunday is sacred, almost everything closes. The first missionaries arrived from London in the late 1700's and so began the spread of Christianity. There are lots of churches in Tonga and religious denominations include Mormons, Seventh-Day Adventists, Roman Catholics, Methodists and Anglicans.

Going to Church on Sunday
Church on Tongatapu


Rugby

The late, great rugby legend Jonah Lomu was Tongan, and rugby is a popular sport in the country. When we visited in 2010 there was a score board counting down the days until the Rugby World Cup 2011. We cheered, but I'm sure not as loud as the Tongans when they beat France 19-14 in a 2011 World Cup match in Wellington, NZ.

Rugby World Cup 2011 Countdown, Tongatapu
Rugby Jerseys, Tonga


Whale Watching & Swimming

Whale watching and swimming with whales is possible in Tonga from July - October. Tonga Holiday has a list of operators and encourages visitors to use only those that are licensed. We haven't been whale watching or swimming with whales so we are not the best resource, but we picked up a tip from a Tongatapu local worth sharing....

Deep Blue cruise boat in Nuku'alofa harbour

Seeing whales from the beach in Ha'atafu, Tongatapu
We were told that September is one of the best months to see whales from the beach in Ha'atafu because the whales and calves are usually on their journey back to Antarctica. The mothers are often teaching their calves to breach and their journey is slower than earlier in the season when the whales are passing through on their way to Vava'u.

Whale swim and watch tours operate out of Tongatapu, 'Eua and Ha'apai, but by far the most popular place for whale watching and swimming is Vava'u. There are some amazing photos taken by Don Silcock on Photography Life from when he went diving with whales in Vava'u, he also describes the types of whale encounters you may have. There is more information and additional photos on his website Indo Pacific Images. Thanks to website visitor Oli for pointing me in the direction of this link showing swimming with whales in Vava'u.

Nuku'alofa

As well as being the country's capital, Nuku’alofa is the Kingdom’s industrial and commercial hub as well as the centre of government and home to the Royal Palace. A variety of eateries, government agencies, retail stores and the Talamahu Market are sprinkled around the six or so streets that make up the relaxed town centre. Walk down Vuna Road and along the waterfront for views of palm fringed islands across the bay. (If you'd like to do a walking tour of Nuku'alofa pick up the 'Explore Nuku'alofa' 2 hour walking trail flyer from the Visitor Bureau).

Cottage on Tongatapu
Royal Palace in Nuku'alofa
Downtown Nuku'alofa on a Sunday

The majority of Tonga’s population lives in Nuku’alofa and its surrounding villages. Outside the little capital you'll see small villages with colourful cottages on large sections full of tropical flowers, chooks, piglets and children. You’ll pass makeshift kiosks set up by enterprising locals selling coconuts, watermelon and vegetables. Churches and small village stores are plentiful, and off the main roads you'll see rows of root crops and grazing farm animals.

Offshore Island, view from Vuna Road, Nuku'alofa

Talamahu Market, Salote Road (Monday-Saturday, early morning - 4.30pm)
Coconuts, pineapples and taro spill around groups of women and children outside the Talamahu Market. Inside the market, fruit and vegetables are laid out in orderly piles on wooden tables. You will also find stalls selling handcrafted handbags, carvings, woven trays and mats, and jewellery. Upstairs is clothing and more jewellery. Please note: Bargaining is not practiced in Tonga. I was offered a discount at the market in 2016 when I bought a handbag ($30) but the prices are so reasonable I thought it was only fair to pay full price.

Talamahu Market
Talamahu Market
Talamahu Market

If you are particularly interested in handcrafted items I also highly recommend LangaFonua Handicrafts Centre next to Friends Cafe on Taufa'ahau Road. Open Monday - Friday 9am - 5pm, Saturday 9am - 1pm. LangaFonua Handicrafts Centre was established in 1953 by the late Queen Salote and was set up to preserve and promote traditional Tongan handicraft skills.

Handcrafted Handbag
Langafonua Handicrafts Centre
Handcraft

Friendly Islands Bookshop, Taufa'ahau Road, town centre
If you are looking for stationery or new fiction and non fiction books visit the Friendly Islands Bookshop. (The Langafonua Handicrafts Centre next to Friends Cafe has second hand books to buy or swap).


Tongan National Centre
Unfortunately the Tongan National Centre has closed permanently, staff at the Visitor Bureau advised that the museum will reopen at a new location at some stage.

Ancient Tonga, Tamakautonga Road (around 4km from town)
www.ancienttonga.com
Ancient Tonga is filling the gap left by the National Centre and it's where you can learn about Tongan history and traditions. We didn't make it to Ancient Tonga but reviews are very positive. Tours from $45.

Tapa



Tongan Feasts on Tongatapu
Oholei Beach and Hina Cave Feast and Show, Wednesday and Friday nights, and Sunday lunch.

Liku'alofa Beach Resort*, Cultural Night & Buffet Dinner on Wednesday and Friday nights, $40.

Note: Book a feast via Friends Cafe on Taufa'ahau Road or at Tonga Visitors Bureau on Vuna Road.

*In 2016 we went to a Friday night feast at Liku'alofa Beach Resort in Kanokupolu, and what a feast it was. Our plates were piled high with ota ika (raw fish in coconut milk), fish curry, pork straight from the spit, battered egg plant, purple taro and salad. We didn't try everything, and could just manage a piece of pineapple cake for dessert. You are encouraged to EAT at Liku'alofa so arrive hungry.

This is where the feasting happens - Liku'alofa Beach Resort
Liku'alofa feast
Liku'alofa fire dance
Liku'alofa dancers

The owner and staff were really welcoming and it felt like we were dining with family. There were also some really lovely touches like fresh flowers on the tables and in the toilets. The feast is the first part of the evening, next comes the show that includes fire dancing and dancers representing a few Pacific Islands. After the show the band continues to play and everyone is encouraged onto the dance floor, it's a really good night out.

Day trips from Tongatapu

Fafa Island Resort
www.fafaislandresort.com
Day trips to Fafa Island Resort are not currently offered, however the photos below give you an idea of what to expect if you book to stay. You can swim in the crystal clear water and have lunch and drinks beside the sea. The island is small and you can walk around it in 15 minutes or so.

Fafa Island Resort
Fale at Fafa Island Resort
Fafa Island Resort


Pangaimotu Island Resort
Facebook

Big Mama's Yacht Club on Pangaimotu Island

Pangaimotu is especially popular on Sundays when almost everything is closed on Tongatapu. Boats leave Faua jetty and it's a quick 10 minute trip across the harbour. Transport and lunch is $60 for adults (you are asked not to take your own food and drink to the island). There's good snorkelling around the ship wreck, and the big sandy, rustic bar and restaurant are laid back and relaxed.

Bar at Big Mama's on Pangaimotu Island
Big Mamas Yacht Club
Lunch at Big Mama's on Pangaimotu Island

You can leave your mark on the graffitied beams in the bar or claim a patch of sand on the beach. As far as accommodation goes, the fales look run down so I'd recommend heading over for a day trip and asking to see the accommodation before deciding if you wanted to stay there. For a day trip though it's well worth it (our last trip to Pangaimotu was in 2016).

Wreck at Pangaimotu Island
Snorkelling around Pangaimotu Island
Pangaimotu ferry

'Atata Island - Royal Sunset Island Resort
www.royalsunset.to and Facebook
'Atata Island is 10km from Nuku'alofa and a 30 minute boat ride across the harbour. It's a small island with a fishing village at one end and Royal Sunset Island Resort at the other. We stayed at Royal Sunset in 2004, and returned on a day trip in 2016. Day trip cost is $78 including boat trip, welcome drink, lunch and 30 minutes of snorkelling around the reef (from a boat).The fales look to have been rebuilt from when we stayed, although the interior of some of them appeared to be the same. Check out Trip Advisor for up-to-date reviews.

roaming pig
Catch the boat to Royal Sunset
Village House on 'Atata Island

There is now a walk way through the village and it was good to see all the solar panels supplying the villagers with power. Our day trip was on a Saturday, week day guests may be able to visit the school. There is at least one little shop in the village for those staying a few days. Spot the flying foxes and the roaming pigs as you walk around the island.

Fish 'n' Chip lunch at Royal Sunset
Royal Sunset pool
Royal Sunset Fale

The impressive main fale at Royal Sunset remains with its bar and dining area, the swimming pool was out of action on our latest visit. We highly recommend Royal Sunset for a day trip, the staff couldn't have been friendlier, and the 30 minutes of snorkelling off the boat is an excellent bonus, we saw big clams and plenty of fish.

Royal Sunset bar
Snorkelling at Royal Sunset
Snorkelling at Royal Sunset

Ha'atafu Beach Reserve
A number of accommodation options are on the beach at Ha'atafu including Heilala Lodge, Vakaloa Beach Resort, Ha'atafu Beach Resort and Liku'alofa Beach Resort. Ha'atafu is easily a 30 minute drive from down town Nuku'alofa so it's best reached with your own transport. If you want to snorkel close to shore, we highly recommend heading out to Ha'atafu, we loved snorkelling there (reef shoes highly recommended). The beach road is well sign posted - look for the sign pointing to Namo 'O-Lie Beach. While it's easy to find, the short road to the beach is full of pot holes, so take it slow.

Sunset Bar & Restaurant at Liku'alofa Beach Resort
Snorkelling at Ha'atafu Beach
Liku'alofa Salt Water Pool

If you want lunch close by we can recommend two options - Sunset Bar & Restaurant at Liku'alofa Beach Resort (currently open 7 days for visitors), and Hideaway Cafe at Holty's Hideaway, a short walk down the beach road from the sand (look for an Open sign at the gate). Holty's is run by two friendly Australians and along with a nice little cafe they have self contained accommodation options out the back, a salt water swimming pool, and BBQ area. It was a neat find and my enthusiasm for the place meant I was offered a tour so I could take photos. Holty's is well maintained and if you like small, owner operated accommodation near the beach, definitely check it out.

Fale at Holty's Hideaway
Snorkelling at Ha'atafu Beach
Salt water pool at Holty's Hideaway

Tongatapu Island Tour

The island of Tongatapu is small enough that you can see the majority of natural sights on a day tour. In 2004 we did an organised tour, on our last three trips we've done our own tour in a rental car. I'm a fan of organised day tours for a couple of reasons - you don't get lost and end up on bumpy back roads, and you don't just get to see things, good guides will explain the history or story behind what you're looking at which makes seeing sights more meaningful. I'm also often curious about a lot of things I've seen, guides are usually more than happy to answer all sorts of questions.

Your accommodation option should be able to organise a tour for you, the Visitor Bureau on Vuna Road also has a list of tour operators including: Jones Travel, Teta Tours, Hibiscus Tours Tonga and Toni's Tour (part of Toni's Guest House). If you're doing a self drive tour pick up a Discover Tonga map, it is well marked with scenic sights.

Sights you may see include:

Royal Palace (on the waterfront in Nuku'alofa)
Tonga is the last remaining Polynesian monarchy and has never been colonised. The Royal Palace was built in 1867 by King Siaosi (George) Taufa'ahau Tupou I. The Palace is an attractive white wooden building with a red roof, it was renovated by the late King George Tupou V. It's a short one block walk from town to the Palace and although it's surrounded by a high fence you can easily get a good look and take a photo if you'd like to. (See Nuku'alofa above for a full view of the Palace).

Royal Palace, Nuku'alofa


Royal Tombs (Mala'ekula), corner Taufa'ahau and Mateialona Streets, Nuku'alofa
Tongan royalty have been buried in the tombs since 1893. The tombs are fenced and are in the middle of a field so you can only see them from a distance.

Royal Tombs, Nuku'alofa


Mapu 'a Vaea blow holes (near Houma Village)
The blow holes are located near Houma, around 14 kilometres from down town Nuku'alofa. We got lost twice looking for the blow holes in 2016, they're not hard to find though, turn toward the coast at Houma Ink Tattoo. As waves break, sea water is pushed up through holes in coral limestone terraces causing jets of water to surge toward the sky. The rougher the water, the better the show.

Mapu 'a Vaea Blow Holes
Mapu 'a Vaea Blow Holes
Mapu 'a Vaea Blow Holes

The blow holes stretch a few kilometres around the coast, but Houma is a good viewing spot. We've found the blow holes deserted on other visits, but this time there were a few people there as well as Tongan woman selling jewellery, carvings and sarongs.


Captain Cook’s Landing Site (Holonga Village)
A stone with a plaque marks the site of a banyan tree where Captain Cook is said to have rested when he came ashore in 1777 to visit the Sacred King of Tonga. According to the Captain Cook Society, Cook visited Tonga three times in the 1770's. On the first two visits he was well received and due to the courtesy he was shown he is said to have named Tonga the 'Friendly Islands'.

Captain Cook's Landing Site
Pacific Reef Heron

On his third visit Captain Cook was invited to the island of Lifuka by great chief Finau. Unbeknown to Cook, the chief had hatched a plan to kill him and his men and loot their ship. Due to infighting among chiefs the attack never happened and Captain Cook remained oblivious to the plan, enjoying entertainment that 'would have met with universal applause on a European Theatre'. If Captain Cook had been aware of the plot to kill him, no doubt he would have changed his description of the Friendly Islands. (If you're a birder look out for what I think are Pacific reef herons in the water).


Terraced tombs

Langi (terraced tombs) of Lapaha
We were told that in years gone by village chiefs were buried in a terraced tomb. The practice at the time was that two commoners were chosen to take the chief to the burial ground and they were not allowed to return to their village, they had to be buried as well. (How long ago? And is it true? I don't know, but it makes a memorable story).

Trilithon



Ha’amonga ‘a  Maui Trilithon
There are a few explanations about what the Trilithon is or what it symbolises - an entrance to a royal compound; a symbol of brotherhood to remind the sons of the 11th Tu'i Tonga to stay united after his death; or an ancient type of sun dial?


'Anahulu Cave at Haveluliku, on the eastern side of Tongatapu
It costs $10-$15 to walk down inside 'Anahulu Cave. You see what your pa'anga pays for here as when you enter the cave a generator starts up and provides lighting. It's an impressive looking cave dripping with stalagmites and stalactites and it only takes a couple of minutes to walk down to the bottom (malo to whoever built the stairs). It can be a bit slippery so sturdy shoes are good, a torch would also be handy to get a closer look at the cave interior, and a towel if you want to swim in the clear fresh water pool at the bottom.

Steps inside 'Anahulu Cave
'Anahulu Cave
Stalacitites & Stalagmites in 'Anahulu Cave

You may see and will probably hear flying foxes. 'Anahulu Cave is open 10am - 5.30pm, I expect it would be closed on Sunday. There are toilets onsite although we didn't use them. (PS. We could see a grave below the cave on the beach so thought it was respectful not to go down, if you're looking for beach access ask the friendly cash collector to point you in the right direction).
 
Tsunami Rock (Maka Sio'ata), Kala'au Village
Either Maui had a strong right arm or the scientists are correct and the big tsunami rock was thrown inland by an underwater volcano-triggered tsunami. There is no doubt the rock came from the sea as shells are clearly visible. Tsunami Rock is one of 7 similar rocks located 100-400 metres from the coast. Read what the scientists have to say. It's a bumpy but short track to get to Tsunami Rock and we thought it was well worth the detour.

Tsunami Rock
Close up of Tsunami Rock
Interesting fact: In January 2015 an underwater volcano erupted in the Ha'apai group creating a new island the Tongans called Hunga Tonga. The island is eroding and sinking back into the sea but you can see some photos of Hunga Tonga here.

Kolovai Village - known for its flying foxes (fruit bats) 
I was fascinated by the flying foxes in Kolovai Village and having a better camera in 2016 meant we could have a closer look at these curious creatures. As the name suggests, they have the furry head of a fox, and a wing-like cape just like batman. During the day the flying foxes tend to hang upside down on tree branches, tucking themselves into their capes turned sleeping bags. The bats are most active in the evening and at night, however it's likely you'll see a few unfold and fly away.

Flying Fox
Getting ready to fly like Batman
Tree full of Flying Foxes
Flying Fox

The flying foxes are the property of the king and are protected. You may have to stop and really look for them in the trees at Kolovai Village, they may not be that obvious but once you see one it's likely you'll see plenty. We found the most in a tree near the cemetery, opposite the church with the dome shaped roof. Kolovai Village isn't the only place you will see flying foxes though, just watch the sky, it could well be that what you think is a bird is actually a flying fox overhead.

Talafo’ou - 'Village of the Snorkelling Pigs'
When we stayed on 'Atata Island in 2004 one of the most surprising sights were pigs digging their snouts in the sand looking for something to eat. On a day tour of Tongatapu we were taken to Talafo'ou - described as 'Village of the Snorkelling Pigs'. We returned to Talafo'ou Village in 2016 and the pigs are still leaving their little pig trotter footsteps in the sand and digging up the beach looking for salty treats.

Snorkelling pig
Snorkelling pigs

Snorkelling pigs

Talafo'ou Village was one of the best kept villages we drove through and there were a couple of small playgrounds, although I think big pigs and little piglets may trump a swing and a slide any day, at least for visitors. (Low tide is the best time to see the pigs at the beach).


Eating Out

Cafes

Cafe Escape, Fund Management Building, Taufa'ahau Road, town centre
Cafe Escape is modern and air conditioned, it's popular with visitors and locals. As we were on a Pacific island the usual coffee and cake became coconut ($3.50) and cake ($12), all the better for me I'm sure. There's a BIG menu at Escape including The Great Escape Breakfast ($25), soup, salads, burgers, paninis, toasted sandwiches, pasta, fish dishes etc. There is also free wifi. Open til late Monday - Friday, 4 pm on Saturday.

 

Coconut & Cake, Cafe Escape

Friends Cafe & Tourist Centre, Taufa'ahau Road, town centre
www.friendstonga.com
In 2019 we found Friends Cafe had split into two dining options - a cafe on one side and a bar/restaurant on the other. There is a lot of choice at Friends, my favourite meals of the trip were the two dinners of Ota Ika (raw fish marinated in coconut cream) with Tongan fries ($16). You can book tours and accommodation at the Tourist Centre, and use the Internet - visit their website and Facebook page for more details and menus. Open Monday - Saturday.

Ota Ika and Tongan fries at Friends Cafe
Friends Cafe
Seasonal Fruit Salad at Friends Cafe
Friends Cafe


Coffee Post Cafe, Tonga Post building, Taufa'ahau Road, town centre
Facebook
Coffee Post have a long coffee menu and beans are locally grown and roasted, I enjoyed my latte ($5). The cafe doesn't have the food selection that other cafes have however Friends especially can get really busy, so Coffee Post may be a nice quiet alternative. Mike had a late breakfast of bacon and eggs ($10), eggs on toast are $8, so prices are very reasonable. You can sit inside or out from 7am - 3pm Monday - Friday. (Last dined at Coffee Post in 2016)

Coffee Post
Bacon & Eggs at Coffee Post


Tupu'anga Coffee Factory & Cafe, Houmakelikao Village, Tongatapu
www.affirmingworks.org.nz
If coffee is your thing definitely seek out Tupu'anga Coffee Factory & Cafe to try the coffee that is Tongan grown, harvested and brewed. Try the Tongan Bullet for $4.50 or a latte or flat white is $4. Corn beef pies are in the warmer and there are muffins, scones etc on the counter. There are also packets of chips made from local root crops. Tupu'anga is a social enterprise and is well worth supporting, in New Zealand you can drink Tupu'anga coffee at The Community Cafe at Mangere Arts Centre which is staffed by young Pacific people. Also look out for Tupu'anga Coffee at the Auckland Chocolate and Coffee Show.

Tupu'anga Coffee Factory Cafe
Tupu'anga Coffee


Ice Cream - Leihuni Waffle Bar
There are a few places to have an ice cream in Nuku'alofa, we went to the colourful Leihuni Waffle Bar on Taufa'ahau Road. The Tip Top ice creams (10+ flavours) are big and cheap. Waffle bowls, milkshakes and ice mochas are also on the menu. Check the Facebook page for up-to-date hours.

Ice Cream at Leihuni Waffle Bar
Leihuni Waffle Bar

Restaurants & Bars (also see Tongan Feasts above)

Reload Bar, opposite Friends Cafe on Taufa'ahau Road, town centre
Facebook
We went to Reload early on a Friday night and the downstairs bar was filling up with young locals looking for a good night out. We took our older selves upstairs to the lounge bar and had a couple of bottles of Ikale lager. There was a sign advertising pizza for $2.50 a slice, if you visit the Facebook page you can keep up with the latest specials and promotions. (Visited 2016)

Seaview Restaurant & Lodge, Vuna Road (west of, and a short walk from the Royal Palace)
www.seaview-lodge.com
If you're looking for fine dining in Nuku'alofa you will find it at Seaview Restaurant. We had grilled parrot fish with Tongan greens ($39.50), and pan fried pork loin with taro gratin ($43.50), followed by profiteroles ($15.50) for dessert. Bread and an appetizer are complimentary, there are a few New Zealand wines (from $51 a bottle), Australian wine by the glass ($10.50), and beer from $7.50. Seaview has a really lovely atmosphere that is matched by the staff, we had a very nice evening here. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner from Monday - Sunday. (Dined 2016)

Seaview Restaurant
Dinner at Seaview Restaurant
Dessert at Seaview Restaurant

Little Italy Hotel & Restaurant, Vuna Road (west of the Royal Palace, 10 or so minutes walk from town centre)
www.littleitalytonga.com
Little Italy has a bright and airy restaurant with doors opening out to the waterfront. There are large Italian paintings on the walls and patterns on the ceiling, it could be a 'little too much Italy' for some. Pasta and pizza (yum - both from $23+) fill the menu along with seafood dishes and steak. Wine by the glass is $13.50+, beer $7.50+. Open Monday - Saturday for dinner, and Sunday for guests only. Note: Little Italy is no longer open for lunch. It's very popular for dinner so reservations might be a good idea. (Dined 2019)

Little Italy
Pizza and pasta at Little Italy

Billfish Bar & Restaurant, Vuna Road, wharf end (25 minutes or so walk from town centre, or get a taxi)
Facebook
No stay in Tonga is complete for us without a beer and a burger at Billfish. Billfish is a casual and popular spot for locals and visitors to enjoy drinks, dinner and sports matches on screen. Open Monday - Saturday. (Dined 2019)

Pina Colada at Billfish
Billfish Bar & Restaurant
Burger at Billfish Restaurant & Bar

'Ahopanilolo Technical Institute - Pot Luck Training Restaurant (look for the sign on Vuna Road, about 20 minutes walk from town toward the wharf)
Facebook
Pot Luck dinners are on the menu again at 'Ahopanilolo Technical Institute - see Facebook for details. If you dine here you will be supporting hospitality students in training - highly recommended.

Pot Luck Restaurant
Pot Luck Restaurant
Pot Luck dinner

Down at the wharf you will find Ngutulei Bar & Restaurant, we haven't dined here but it's handy for those looking to fill in time before or after catching ferries or boats to the outer islands.

Self Catering

Talamahu Market, Salote Road, town centre
The place to purchase coconuts, pineapples, bananas, watermelon and vegetables.

Siamelie Market, Vuna Road (near the wharf in Ma’ufanga)
A fruit and vege market.

Fish market, Vuna Road (in the big car park at the wharf)
Mornings, especially Saturday morning, and afternoons are the time to see all things fishy off the boats at the open air fish market.

Flea market, Vuna Road (same car park as the fish market)
On Saturday mornings there is a flea market, there may be a permanent stall selling clothes in the car park every day except Sunday.

Clams at fish market
Chicken on a spit trailer at flea market
Vege stall

Roadside Stalls
Lots of locals have roadside produce stalls outside their homes on Tongatapu.

Roadside Shops
Each village will have at least one roadside shop that sells packaged goods, UHT milk, water, etc.

Supermarkets
Packaged food and personal products are mostly imported so some items can be expensive. If we need groceries we go to Molisi Supermarket opposite Talamahu Market. On our last visit the shelves weren't overflowing with goods, perhaps they were waiting for stock deliveries. However if there is something particular you want I'd suggest bringing it with you from home. (You will find a few other supermarket type shops as you drive around town, quite a few will be owned and staffed by Chinese people who have settled in Tonga).

Taro Chips
Talamahu Market
Roadside Stall

Wheels

Bicycle Hire
Your accommodation provider may hire bikes, also see Kingdom Travel (corner Vuna Road and Fatafehi Road), and/or enquire at the Visitors Centre on Vuna Road. Tongatapu is relatively flat so it's a good island to cycle.

Bicycle Hire
Bicycles

Car Hire
In 2019 and 2016 we hired a two door Toyota Vitz from the lovely staff at Sunshine Rentals on the corner of 'Unga and Laifone Roads (a short walk down Taufa'ahau Road, then turn left at the big Sunshine Rental sign). Expect to pay from $45 per day** (we paid $70 per day in 2019), plus $100 deposit (refunded when the car is returned). With rates so reasonable we hired the car for five days so we could drive to different places for dinner in the evening and get around the island easily. There are a number of petrol stations on Tongatapu so you shouldn't have a problem finding somewhere to fill up, petrol was $2.70 a litre in 2019.

Sunshine Rentals
The Vitz

** Rates will vary depending on what cars are available and what size vehicle you need. We were quoted $100 a day at another car hire company for a similar vehicle so it pays to compare prices.

Other car hire companies: Avis and Star Rental Car.

Driver licence
The cost of a Tongan driver licence is $40 and it is valid for three months (it's a nice little souvenir). You get the licence at the Ministry of Infrastructure & Tourism on Hala Alaivahamama'o Bypass Road (opposite the Central Fire Station). Note that the office is closed for lunch, the hours are Monday - Friday from 8.30am - 12.30pm and 1.30pm - 4pm. You're supposed to get your licence before you get your car, but the Ministry office isn't that close to town so we got the hire car first, it's not too far to cycle if you have a bike. (Don't forget to take your driver licence).

Taxis & Buses
A taxi from Fua'amotu International Airport to town is $40. Before you get in a taxi ask the driver what the cost to your destination will be (taxis don't have meters). There is a taxi stand near the Talamahu Market.

Bus Stop

We've never used the buses but the main bus station in town is opposite the Tonga Visitor Bureau on Vuna Road. On Sunday there are no buses, it's possible that your accommodation provider may be able to arrange a taxi.


A note on the condition of some cars and roads in Tonga - There are some cars on the road that would be in a wreckers yard if they were in New Zealand, fortunately for all concerned the speed limit is 40km/h - 50km/h in town and in villages, and slightly faster on the open road. The busier roads tend to be in good condition however get off the well driven track and there are plenty of pot holes, take care and drive slowly. I should have clicked a lot earlier that the reason for a lot of broken windscreens is probably falling coconuts, I suspect it's not easy or cheap to get a replacement.

Plymouth Belvedere? Rusting in Peace on Tongatapu


Getting to the outer islands - 'Eua, Ha'apai, Vava'u and The Nuias
Ferries
The Japanese government funded the flash new domestic passenger terminal and extension to Faua Wharf. If you want up-to-date ferry timetable information I suggest contacting Tonga Tourism on Vuna Road.

We met a couple who went to 'Eua by ferry for the day. They suggest that day visitors take food and drink, and it sounds like if you want to go anywhere you will need to ask someone for a lift, and then a lift back to the ferry. They were told the ferry would depart at 4pm, they arrived at the boat at 3pm and were sailing away at 3.30pm, so be aware that timetables are flexible.

The Family Without Borders wrote about and photographed their 24 hour ferry trip to Vava'u. They are an adventurous family who really know how to 'get away from it all' - 3 days alone on an uninhabited island (in the Vava'u group).

Fly
REAL Tonga operate domestic flights from Tongatapu to 'Eua (less than 15 minutes), Ha'apai and Vava'u. (The domestic airport is alongside the international airport). From what I've read online I would suggest not having an international flight departing on the same day you return from an outer island, just incase the domestic flight is delayed or cancelled. Note: As at May 2020 Real Tonga is in financial difficulty and there is the possibility of another airline being established.

Fiji Airways fly direct from Nadi and Suva to Nuku'alofa.

Accommodation/Where We Stayed in Nuku'alofa

The Visitor Bureau on Vuna Road has a lot of flyers for accommodation in Tonga. Below is a list of properties that have their own websites or facebook pages so you can get further information (if there is no web link you'll probably find them on booking.com). The two properties marked with an * are where we stayed in Nuku'alofa in 2019 and 2016. Accommodation options on 'Eua, Ha'apai, and Vava'u are also listed. Please note that this list is unlikely to have all the accommodation options available.

The Seaview Lodge, Nuku'alofa
Captain Cook Apartments, Nuku'alofa

Tongatapu Accommodation
Budget - shared facilities
Backpackers Townhouse

Dayspring Lodge

Noa Guest House

Simon's Place

The Village Backpackers

Toni's Guest House


Self Contained/Apartments
Blue Banana Seaside Bungalows

Captain Cook Apartments

Villa Apartments

Teukava Beach Oasis (looks to be somewhere between budget and self contained accommodation)

The Friendly Islander (Papiloa's Place)


Hotels
City Hotel

Emerald Hotel

House of Tonga

Jezami Hotel

Little Italy Hotel & Restaurant *

Tanoa International Dateline Hotel *

Tungi Colonade Hotel


Resorts/Lodges
Fafa Island Resort

Ha'atafu Beach Resort

Heilala Holiday Lodge

Liku'alofa Beach Resort

Malau Lodge

'Oholei Beach Resort & Hina Cave

RobyAnnes Lodge

Royal Sunset Island Resort

The Seaview Lodge

Tonga Holiday Villa

Vakaloa Beach Resort

Villa Ishadora

Waterfront Cafe & Lodge

Winnie's B&B


Where We Stayed in Nuku'alofa
Tanoa International Dateline Hotel, Vuna Road (2019)
www.tanoadateline.com
Tanoa International Dateline is a 4.5 star hotel and has been recently refurbished. With the closure of Scenic Hotel near the airport, Tanoa International is the biggest hotel on Tongatapu. The hotel's location on the Vuna Road waterfront is a short walk into town and a longer walk down to Billfish Bar & Restaurant and the wharf to catch ferries to the outer islands.

Tanoa International Dateline Hotel
Tanoa International Dateline Hotel
Reception area at Tanoa International Dateline Hotel

The hotel has a decent sized outdoor pool with loungers, and a small gym. Fresh Bar & Grill is poolside for drinks and snacks. A buffet breakfast is served indoors at Tu'i Malila Restaurant, there is also a bar in the large and airy reception although it wasn't stocked and operating during our stay. Our room was nice and well equipped without being anything special. Tanoa International is a good choice if you like large, modern hotels with a swimming pool (can be hard to find on Tongatapu). We booked a cheap package deal for around $800pp for 5 nights, flights and transfers.

Tui Malila Restaurant
Fresh Bar & Grill


Little Italy Hotel & Restaurant, Vuna Road, Kolomotu'a (east of the Royal Palace)
www.littleitalytonga.com
We organised our own trip to Tonga in 2016 and booked Little Italy via the booking engine they use - booking.com, we paid NZ$125 per night. We'd been to Little Italy before and the pool was part of the reason we booked, we were surprised to find that the pool had been filled in, gone! We were a bit disappointed but you can't let a pile of concrete spoil your holiday.

Little Italy
Our room at Little Italy
Breakfast buffet at Little Italy

More importantly our room was a good size, had screens on the windows and a quiet and effective air conditioning unit. There was a fridge, tea and coffee making facilities, desk, chair, iron, ironing board, safe and a decent bathroom. The bed was really comfy and had a Venetian scene behind it, who needs a pool. The room rate included cooked and continental breakfast, and wi-fi. We thought Little Italy provided really good value for money. (See Eating Out above for more about Little Italy's onsite restaurant and The Seaview Lodge Restaurant, a short walk from Little Italy).


'Eua Accommodation
Alakoka Tahi Moana Guest House

Blue Water Retreat

'Ovava Tree Lodge

Taina's Place

The Hideaway


'Ha'apai Accommodation
Ha'apai Beach Resort

Matafonua Lodge

Sandy Beach Resort

Sea Change Eco Retreat

Serenity Eco Retreat

Taiana's Place


Vava'u Accommodation
Boathouse Apartments & Units

Blue Lagoon Resort

Hakula Lodge

Lucky's Beach Houses

Mala Island

Mandala Resort

Mounu Island Resort

Mystic Sands

Port Wine Guest House

Reef Resort

The Beach House & Coral Cottage

Tongan Beach Resort

Treasure Island Resort

Twin View Motel

Vava'u Harbourview Resort



Trivia

  • From 1984 to 1998 it was possible to purchase Tongan passports and citizenship for US$20,000. Imelda Marcos is said to have purchased a passport along with citizens from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. The new passport holders may have thought they could get easy access to New Zealand, Australia and the United States however these countries chose not accept the fee paying passport holders across their borders. Selling citizenship was a scheme masterminded by a previous Tongan King. The scheme proved successful in generating a considerable amount of money, however the King was persuaded by an American to invest the majority of funds in dubious US companies. The money disappeared but many “new” citizens now call Tonga home. (Source: old Lonely Planet publication)


  • You will find over 500 churches in Tonga and no traffic lights.



  • The name of Tonga's national mens rugby team is Ikale Tahi.


  • Boxer Paea Wolfgramm won a silver medal at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Paea is Tonga's only Olympic medal winner.

Church, Nuku'alofa


  • Tonga produces its own coffee - brands include Kingdom Koffie and Tupu'anga.


  • Tongan beers include Ikale and Kingdom Gold. The local Pacific Brewing Co craft Tiki Pale Ale, Maui Lager and Tangaloa IPA.


  • Kava is the traditional drink for men.
Beer and coconut water by the sea at Fafa Island Resort

What to pack

  • Mosquito repellent
  • Reef shoes and snorkel equipment
  • Sunscreen and sun hat
  • Small umbrella for impromptu showers and to use as a sun shade
  • Drivers licence
  • Chippies, peanuts etc can be expensive so you might want to take some from home
  • Small reusable water bottle
  • Resealable plastic bags for camera/food storage
  • Maybe some cutlery to slice up fruit and veges from market stalls (depending on what your accommodation option supplies)
  • A torch in-case of lack of exterior lighting at night
  • It's against Tongan law to appear in public without a shirt. I think it's respectful to a country's culture and its people to follow their lead in terms of dress and behaviour. Tongans are in general religious, modest and conservative so out of respect consider wearing clothes that cover you up, at accommodation options the dress code is more relaxed.
  • If you intend to go to a church service pack a set of smart clothes and shoes.

Further Information
Look for a free 'Discover Tonga' map showing the scenic sights. There is also a 'Explore Nuku'alofa' 2 hour walking trail flyer at the Visitor Bureau.

The Visitor Bureau on Vuna Road has an extensive collection of flyers for accommodation, sights, tours etc for Tongatapu, 'Eua, Ha'apai and Vava'u. The staff are also friendly and helpful.

Pacific Island guide books, and Dr Google/Uncle Google ........


Personal Note
Tonga remains a destination for those who are happy to take a country as they find it, there is tourism infrastructure but Tonga is not as developed or as tourist orientated as its Pacific neighbours Rarotonga and Samoa. With the closure of Scenic Hotel near the airport on the main island of Tongatapu, Tanoa International Dateline Hotel in Nuku'alofa has filled the gap for a large and modern hotel, however don't expect to find a swim up bar or a focus on cocktails. Tonga's accommodation is in general at the budget - mid range level, but that doesn't mean you won't be pleasantly surprised.

Package deals from New Zealand for accommodation and flights can offer really good value for money and overall Tonga is an inexpensive destination. Over 30% of Tonga's GDP comes from family living overseas supplementing the income of their Tongan relatives. As such travelling to Tonga and supporting locals by taking taxis, buying locally made craft work and souvenirs, purchasing local coffee, coconuts, food etc helps the local people and the economy.

PS. This guide only covers the main island Tongatapu and three small islands nearby. We are obviously missing out on experiences by not going to the outer islands like 'Eua and Vavau, however we have always enjoyed our time in Tonga on the main island. As mentioned here before, we'd recommend hiring a car if you base yourself in Nuku'alofa, and if you're looking for a beach based stay see the accommodation options at Ha'atafu Beach or consider taking a short boat ride to either Fafa Island Resort or Royal Sunset Island Resort.


Comments to date: 51. Page 1 of 2.

Michelle

This piece was really informative thank you. I have used it to plan most of my holiday. Quick ? we are planning to bring duty free but wondering about availability of mixers at supermarket (ie tonic/Soda water) o expect it to cost more but hoping I can get more than just Coke/sprite?? Thanks in advance

Admin:  Hi, Pleased to help. I'm sorry I can't answer your question about tonic and soda water specifically as it's not something I've taken notice of, but we were in Tonga 2 months ago and Molisi Supermarket (opposite the market in town) had a lot less variety of food and drink on its shelves than its had on previous visits so maybe pop a bottle of one or other in your bag just incase. Hope you enjoy your trip.

Christine Barbour

Wow your page has been such a help Rachael. Your huge efforts are much appreciated. We depart next week for 2 and a half weeks volunteering at the maternity hospital then a 3 day holiday on Fafa after wards. We are sure to use your advice on everything! Cheers.

Admin:  You're welcome Christine, thanks for your comments. What a great experience it will be to volunteer and a good idea to take the chance for a break as well. I'm sure you'll love Fafa, happy travelling and volunteering in Tonga

Jewel

WOOOOOOOOW! I LOVE THIS!!!! THIS IS SO COOL AND VERY USEFUL, THANK YOU FOR THIS.

Lani

Wow you have put a lot of work into this. You have answered so many questions. Awesome stuff.
I've been trying to plan a round trip to Haapai and Haafeva but finding it hard. Will wait for when we get there. Do you know if taking meat from NZ is OK, we have a group of 16 going for the first time. Some staying in hotel and some with family. Trying not to burden them so much by taking food over.

Admin:  Hi Lani Thank you, I have put a lot of work into the guide and I'm glad it's useful. I emailed you directly, but for anyone else wondering about taking meat, fruit, veges and plants into Tonga, you can, but there are requirements you need to meet. There is information on the Tonga Biosecurity website - quarantine.gov.to. Click on the Importing to Tonga tab and you will find information about taking non commercial food and plants to Tonga.

Nikki

Thank you so much for this helpful guide! We found your blog online last year and have come back time and time again for your country guides, Samoa last year and now onto Tonga! Cheers :)

Admin:  Hi Nikki Cool, thanks for letting me know, I put a lot of time into the guides so it's much appreciated. Happy and safe travels in Tonga!

Karen

Hi guys,
wow, what a great review. I have been surfing the net for info on Tonga and none have been so comprehensive as this one. Impressive, thank you very much.

Admin:  Hi Karen, You're welcome, and thank you for your comments. I've been able to build the guide up with lots of info after visiting a few times, glad we could help.

Robyn

Thanks so much for taking the time to write up this info, very helpful for planning my first trip to Tonga.

Admin:  You're welcome Robyn, I hope you have a really good time and enjoy Tonga as much as we do. (Rachael not Admin)

Andrea

Hi,
I was just wondering what kind of cars can you rent? are they automatic or manual?
Thank you,
Andrea

Admin:  Hi Andrea The cars we've rented have been automatic, and if you look at the websites for Star Rentals & Avis most of the options are automatic, bigger vehicles may be manual.

kjwx

Any idea where I can buy postcards in Nuku'alofa? I tried the post office earlier today and our hotel gift shops doesn't have any either.

Admin:  Hi Try the Visitor Centre on Vuna Road or the info centre that's attached to Friends Cafe.

Rachael

Hi Candace, thank you for your comments, and I'm thrilled I could help you and your best friend have a memorable 30th birthday holiday in Tonga.

Candace Higgie

So my best friend and I have just spent a week in Tonga for our 30th birthday holiday. We took your travel guide with us and wanted to thank you so much. This was so helpful. Without it our trip would not have been as good as it was. We spent four days using the massive pool at scenic hotel. We loved the cafes you mentioned and you gave us ideas on all the amazing things to check out. I even passed it on to a family staying when we left and they used it too. Thank-you, so very helpful. Keep this... read more »

Rachael

You're most welcome, best wishes for whatever comes next, maybe some well deserved time off after many years of providing fabulous hospitality.

Sven (Heilala)

Thanks so much for your kind words... we also hope that the new owners will be keeping the legacy alive ;-) Maybe our paths will cross again some day... if all goes well (maybe in NZ).

Rachael

Hi Erin, I like your travel style, fortunately it is easy to support locals in Tonga. You can buy produce from roadside stalls, use taxis (for many families taxi driving is how they make a living), buy handcraft from the makers at Talamahu Market and Langafonua Handicraft Centre, drink coconut water and local coffee - have a look at madeintonga.com, that will give you an idea of all the products and food you can buy that is Tongan made.

The article 'Coconut Industry Empowers Tongan Farmers' ... read more »

erin

Kia Ora guys, thanks for your blog. I have booked 7 days in August for us at Heilala as it does not sound like a resort. We loved Samoa and stayed in various fales, caught the buses etc. I would like to do things that would benefit local people rather than overseas businesses, any suggestions? I posted a question on TA forum but it was not replyed to. There doesn't seem to be much interest in Tonga on that site, cheers Erin.

Rachael

Message for Kirsty
I'm not sure why your message isn't displaying, but to answer your question - you're probably going to get a slightly better rate at the bank in Tonga - if you're an ANZ customer (and I think Westpac) withdrawals are free from money machines (you'll pay a fee if you do it over the counter), so you could take a small amount with you for taxi, first meal and make a withdrawal at a money machine in Nuku'alofa. However, unless you're exchanging a large amount it won't make too mu... read more »

Rachael

Hey Rob, Thanks for your comments. The prices are in Tongan dollars/pa'anga.

The duty free shop at the airport has a website - Leiola.com so that can give you an idea of what they stock. If you're after something specific it would be worth emailing them to check that they have it and what the price is incase the website isn't up-to-date (the website also says you can order online and pick up when you arrive). New Zealand has a much bigger duty free selection and I see you can look online for... read more »

Rob Christiaans

Hi Rachael.Great read thank you. Wife & I are going late march so looking forward to it. Are the prices in Tonga $ or NZ/AU? Also is there a duty free store at the airport or should we purchase from NZ on our way over? I have googled lots on Tonga but yours is the most helpful, well done. Regards Rob

Murielle Gill

Hi Very interesting blog. We are 4 adults in our 60s planning a trip to Tonga in 2017. We have been to Savaii in Samoa and stayed in very basic villas. We love the quiet spots away from screaming kids in pools, where we can just relax ,swim with the whales, read and immerse in the culture. We know nothing about Tonga. Where would be a good place to stay-happy with the basics Doesnt need to be flash and what area of Tonga would be best. Thank you in advance

Admin:  Hi Murielle I'll send you an email reply.

Tomasi

Thanks for including Teta Tours in Tours in Tongatapu.. We live and breathe tours .. Malo Aupito!!!

Just with Anahulu Cave where did u get the prices that if u swam in the pool it will be $15 TOP???

Admin:  Hi That's a good question, I checked my notes and I had written $10. I can't remember exactly whether I saw it on a sign there, probably not if you're questionning it, and I also trust my notes more than my memory so $10 it will be.

deb

Great page..very informative. I am traveling to tonga late September alone. Am interested in staying somewhere remote ish.. vava'u group I'm thinking.. any suggestions..?

Admin:  Hi In the Accommodation section there is a list of options for Vava'u, a few of them are off the main island of Neiafu.

Jane

Thanks very much for your information - very helpful
J

Admin:  You're welcome.

Sharon

Hi Rachael,
I'm going to Tonga in a few days for volunteer work. I'm travelling from Brisbane via Auckland. I have an entire morning in Auckland. I thought I'd change currency in A., on Queen St, because I assume I'll get a better exchange rate in NZ compared to the airport in Tonga or local money exchangers--would that be right? Are there restrictions to what food one can take into Tonga? I planned to take some food from NZ.
Thanks in advance.
Sharon

Admin:  Hi Sharon We got Tongan pa'anga on Queen Street from one of the exchanges three weeks ago at the rate of $1.35 pa'anga for a NZ$1. It's a good idea to take some pa'anga with you just incase the currency exchange is closed at the airport. As long as food is packaged and isn't fresh it should be fine. We declared some snack food we had and were just waved through. If you haven't been to Auckland for a while (or at all), there is now a New World Metro supermarket at 125 Queen Street. Best wishes for your volunteer work and travels in Tonga. Rachael

Rachael

Hi Oli
Thank you. It can be tricky choosing a destination, but I will send you an email that hopefully will help you make a decision.

Oli

Hi Rachael,
Congrats on your pages on the various Pacific Island, they are very well put together and informative.
I was wondering if there is a destination you'd recommend for me out of Rarotonga, Samoa and Tonga. I am in my 40's, single traveller on a budget and laying on the beach all day is not really my kind of holiday. I would like to discover one of these places for about 10-15 days and potentially do a diving course as one of the activities. Am tempted by the prospect of seeing the wh... read more »

Admin:  Hi Oli Thank you. It can be tricky choosing a destination, but I will send you an email that hopefully will help you make a decision.

Rachael

Hi Pip
Sorry I can't be much help but I have sent you an email with a couple of suggestions.

Pip

We're heading to Tonga in July and plan to explore the outer islands by boat. Keen to take some school supplies up with us. Do you have any advice on how to initiate contact with school(s), and possibly any ones in particular that may be able to use such supplies (pencils, exercise books, stickers, pens, rulers, etc). Thanks

Banwari Lal Jangid

Fantastic - very much informative. Thanks.

Rachael

Hi Meg - I've emailed you.

meg

Hi there,
Do you know what the name of the accommodation on Pangiamotu Island is?
I have been trying to book for a couple of nights but can't figure out how.
thank you!
ps please could you reply to my email address?

Meg :)


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