Detour to Tonga

We recently returned from a week in Tonga and have updated our Tonga Guide. It was our third visit to the island nation and we spent our time on the main island of Tongatapu and took day trips to ‘Atata and Pangaimotu Islands.

Royal Palace in Nuku'alofa

Royal Palace in Nuku’alofa

If you’re looking for a good value destination Tonga is a good choice, although flying to the outer islands will make a stay more  expensive. We paid NZ$125 per night for accommodation and breakfast at Little Italy Hotel in Nuku’alofa and thought it was good value for money. More Tonga Accommodation.

Little Italy Hotel & Restaurant

Little Italy Hotel & Restaurant

One of things we like most about Tonga is that it doesn’t seem overly concerned with tourism, it feels more like visitors need to go with the flow and accept the country as they find it. This is reflected in the nature of accommodation, it pays to go without high expectations, hotels and resorts may not be of the standard you have experienced in other countries, although that doesn’t mean you may not be pleasantly surprised.

Pigs roam free, and eat shell fish in Tonga

Pigs roam free, and eat shell fish in Tonga

Nuku’alofa is a little capital but it has a surprising number of places to eat and drink. We highlight eight options for eating out but there would be at least another ten we didn’t get to. Eating out is relatively cheap, at the top end expect to pay around TOP$40 for a main, but TOP$15-$25 is more typical in casual eateries.

Billfish Bar & Restaurant - cheap Pina Coladas during happy hour

Billfish Bar & Restaurant – cheap Pina Coladas during happy hour

Tongan feasts are held on Wednesday and Friday nights in a few locations. It’s well worth going to a feast to sample local food and experience a cultural show. Feasts aren’t just for visitors, plenty of Tongans attend, especially on Friday nights.

Cultural Show at Liku'alofa Beach Resort

Cultural Show at Liku’alofa Beach Resort

Cultural Show at Liku'alofa Beach Resort

Cultural Show at Liku’alofa Beach Resort

You can see most of the scenic sites on Tongatapu on a day tour. If you plan to do your own tour in a rental car look out for a free ‘Discover Tonga’ map, the best one we found had Miss Heilala 2015-16 on the front. The map is well marked with scenic sights, there are road signs to help you find your way, although they can be few and far between.

Mapu'a Vaea blow holes

Mapu’a Vaea blow holes

Our highlights on this trip were the fruit bats in Kolovai Village, Mapu’a Vaea blow holes near Houma Village, and snorkelling at Ha’atafu Beach.

Snorkelling at Ha'atafu Beach in Tonga

Snorkelling at Ha’atafu Beach in Tonga

If you like caves definitely visit ‘Anahulu Cave at Haveluiku, you can swim in the clear fresh water pool at the bottom. All of the scenic sites are free except ‘Anahulu Cave which costs TOP$10.

Swim in the clear fresh water pool inside 'Anahulu Cave

Swim in the clear fresh water pool inside ‘Anahulu Cave

If you’re spending a few days in Nuku’alofa a day trip to one or two of the off shore island resorts is a good idea, especially on Sunday when almost everything closes. A day trip to Royal Sunset Island Resort includes the bonus option of going snorkelling to see big clams and if you’re lucky, plenty of fish.

Catch a boat to Royal Sunset Island Resort for the day

Catch a boat to Royal Sunset Island Resort for the day

Snorkelling near Royal Sunset Island Resort

Snorkelling near Royal Sunset Island Resort

To find good snorkelling and a nice beach on Tongatapu we recommend heading to Ha’atafu, around 30 minutes drive from downtown. There are a few accommodation options near the beach at Ha’atafu, however unless you have a rental car or are prepared to pay for taxis you will be restricted to the area. There will be a bus to Nuku’alofa if you wanted to buy supplies or look around the little capital.

Look for whales from Sunset Restaurant at Liku'alofa Beach Resort in Ha'atafu

Look for whales from Sunset Restaurant at Liku’alofa Beach Resort in Ha’atafu

Tonga is especially well known for whale watching and it is one of only a few countries to allow swimming with whales. July to October is the best time to see whales, we haven’t been out on a trip to see or swim with whales but the Tonga Guide has some useful information.

Deep Blue offer whale watching trips from Nuku'alofa

Deep Blue offer whale watching trips from Nuku’alofa

During the New Zealand Winter and first two months of Spring are perfect times to visit Tonga for good weather and warm temperatures without the humidity that can make some tropical islands uncomfortable.

We recommend Tonga to those looking for a laid back island experience where natural attractions are the main entertainment. If your experiences are anything like ours, the generosity and warmth of the people will also leave you with many fond memories.

Relax at Big Mama's Yacht Club on Pangaimotu Island

Relax at Big Mama’s Yacht Club on Pangaimotu Island

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