thecuriouskiwi

Destination - Kingdom of Tonga


Updated September 2016
We've visited Tonga three times - 2004, 2010 and July/August 2016. An overview of part of the Tongatapu island group follows.

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 curious 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$1.35 as at August 2016. 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.

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 65mb.


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. If you are flying from New Zealand or Australia note that you can't fly direct to the outer islands. Scenic Hotel is close by for those in transit. (See 'Getting To The Outer Islands' for a flight schedule).


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.

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 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 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.

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

Talamahu Market, Salote Road (Monday-Saturday, early morning - 4.30pm)
Outside Talamahu Market, coconuts, pineapples and taro spill around groups of women and children. 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. The Catholic Womens League Handicraft Centre on Vuna Road (near Waterfront Lodge) is also worth a visit, although it was closed (possibly temporarily) when I visited twice in July.

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 & Ancient Tonga
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. Usual hours are Tuesday and Thursday 10am - 12 noon and 2pm - 4pm. Tours from $35.

Tapa



Tongan Feasts on Tongatapu
Oholei Beach and Hina Cave Feast and Show, Wednesday and Friday nights $46, and Sunday lunch $34.50.

Liku'alofa Beach Resort*, Wednesday and Friday nights, $40.

Note: There are cheaper rates for children. If you require transport expect to pay from $15, Liku'alofa currently don't provide transport so you would need your own rental car. 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 dinner
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
If a stay at Fafa Resort doesn't fit your budget you can visit for the day. A return boat transfer and lunch is $92, under 12, $46.

Fafa Island Resort
Fale at Fafa Island Resort
Fafa Island Resort

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. The resort and island are well maintained, as visitors for the day we couldn't explore too much but if you judge a property by its most basic facilities, ie. the toilets, it gets the thumbs up.


Pangaimotu Island Resort
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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 on Sunday at 10, 11, 12 and 1, returning at 4,5 and 6. It's a quick 10 minute trip and costs $45 including lunch, $25 under 12. (The trip used to be $20 for transport and you paid extra for food and drinks, we thought it was still good value at $45 including lunch - you are asked not to take your own food and drink to the island). We revisited on a Sunday in 2016 and there's still good snorkelling around the ship wreck that's close to shore, and the big sandy, rustic bar and restaurant are still 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 looked run down in 2016 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.

Wreck at Pangaimotu Island
Snorkelling Pangaimotu
Pangaimotu ferry

'Atata Island - Royal Sunset Island Resort
www.royalsunset.to
'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 $70 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

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 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

Makaha'a Island
www.deepbluetonga.com
The Visitor Bureau advertises day trips to Makaha'a Island for $60 adults including lunch and transfer. Follow the link above for information about accommodation and day trips.


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 four 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

We stayed at Heilala Lodge in 2004 when it was located at Tofoa, recent reviews still rave about Heilala and its great location on Ha'atafu beach. One of the many reasons I have fond memories of Tonga is because of our stay at Heilala all those years ago. New owners took over early 2017, may the great memory making continue. (The photos below were taken in 2004 however the fale styles are still similar today).

Heilala fale
Heilala fale
Heilala fale

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 two 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, 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, and Toni's Tour (part of Toni's Guest House).

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


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


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'. However 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 'whould [sic] 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.

Captain Cook's landing site
Pacific Reef Heron

At the Landing Site there is also a building that used to be a restaurant and handicraft centre that was funded by New Zealand aid, it looks like it's been a while since it was trading. 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
We revisited 'Anahulu Cave in 2016 and there is now a $10 charge. You see what your pa'anga buys here as when you pay, a generator is switched on which provides lighting in the cave. 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). (You can see the island of 'Eua from the cave entrance).

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

It can be a bit slippery so sturdy shoes are good, a torch would also be handy to get a closer look at the interior, and a towel if you plan to swim in the clear fresh water pool at the bottom. You may see and will probably hear flying foxes. 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. '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.
 
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, spookily one flew over my head when we arrived back at Little Italy after spending ages watching them. If you don't visit Kolovai Village 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 & Tourist Centre, 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 ($10), all the better for me I'm sure. The slices of cake were twice the price of Friends Cafe, but the prices aren't going to drain the budget. There's a big menu at Escape including The Great Escape Breakfast ($25) and tuna sushi ($15). There is also Internet access, and a travel booking centre. Open Monday - Saturday for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea.

 

Coconut & Cake, Cafe Escape

Friends Cafe & Tourist Centre, Taufa'ahau Road, town centre
www.friendstonga.com
Friends Cafe was our favourite cafe on our latest trip to Tonga, fans circulate inside, and outside is a leafy courtyard. My favourite dish was seasonal fruit salad with grated coconut for only $8, I've never had fresh grated coconut before and it was a delicious topping. If you're a big tea drinker a pot for two (for one if you're me) is $5.30. There is a big menu and Friends is open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and anything in between. Wednesday and Thursday lunch time is a good time to dine as you will be treated to some Tongan singing. You can book tours and accommodation at the Tourist Centre, and use the Internet - visit their website for more details and menus. Open Monday - Saturday.

Friends Cafe
Seasonal Fruit Salad at 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 - 4pm Monday - Friday.

Coffee Post
Bacon & Eggs at Coffee Post

Ice Cream - Leihuni Waffle Bar
We don't remember seeing ice cream shops in Tonga on previous visits, however in 2016 we noticed a few. We went to the colourful Leihuni Waffle Bar on Taufa'ahau Road. You don't have to decide whether you want to pay extra for a waffle cone as they are standard issue here. The Tip Top ice creams (10+ flavours) are big and cheap - $4 each for ours. A deluxe triple scoop is $7, toppings $1 extra. Waffle bowls, milkshakes and ice mochas are also one the menu. We wish the friendly staff all the best for the business. Open until around 8pm Monday - Wednesday, Thursday - Saturday night could be later.

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 ($5). 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.

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 - Saturday (Sunday currently for inhouse guests only).

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 has more than doubled in price since our last visit - $13.50+ but beer is $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. Tax is also now included in the prices.

Little Italy
Pizza and pasta at Little Italy

Waterfront Lodge, Vuna Road, wharf end (20 minutes walk from town centre)
www.waterfrontlodge-tonga.com (as at August 2016 the website hasn't been updated to show the new restaurant decor or menu)
Waterfront Lodge is no longer Italian owned and pasta is currently off the menu, it has been replaced by a selection of mostly seafood entrées (from $18), and fish, steak and pork belly mains (from $30). We thoroughly enjoyed our fish dishes and chocolate fondant ($16) at Waterfront and really liked the new decor - simple but stylish with an island feel. Waterfront Lodge is currently open for lunch and dinner Monday - Saturday.

Waterfront Lodge Restaurant
Fish dish at Waterfront Lodge
Chocolate Fondant at Waterfront Lodge

Billfish Bar & Restaurant, Vuna Road, wharf end (25 minutes walk from town centre, or get a taxi)
Facebook
Do you like pina coladas? We found out we did at Billfish where they cost $5 during happy hour from 5-7pm Monday - Saturday. If you also like massive burgers try the Killer Billfish Jucie Lucie ($20). Steak ($38), seafood dishes, and salads ($16) are also on the menu. Billfish is a casual and friendly place popular for after work drinks and watching sports matches on screen. Open Monday - Saturday.

Pina Colada at Billfish
Billfish
Killer Billfish Jucie Lucie

'Ahopanilolo Technical Institute - Pot Luck Training Restaurant (look for sign on Vuna Road, 20mins walk from town, wharf end)
www.atitonga.com
If you're looking for somewhere a little different to dine try Pot Luck, you will be supporting hospitality students in training. The photos below were taken when we had dinner at Pot Luck in 2010, follow the link to the website above and then check their Facebook page to get up-to-date information about the dinners and entertainment.

Pot Luck Restaurant
Pot Luck Restaurant
Pot Luck dinner

Down at the wharf there are two restaurants we didn't get to - Nauti Ruby's and Ngutulei, handy for those looking to fill in time before or after catching ferries or boats to the other 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)
An outdoor fruit and vegetable 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
Quite a few people set up stalls on the side of the road selling fruit and vegetables all around Tongatapu.

Supermarkets
Packaged food is imported so some items are expensive. A few examples of supermarket prices (from Molisi Supermarket opposite Talamahu Market, some prices may be specials): 80gms Grain Waves $3.50, 30 pack of Bell tea bags $3.90, 50 pack of Twinings Earl Grey tea bags $13.50, Griffin's gingernuts $4.90, one litre of UHT milk $2.60, 1.5 litre of Tongan water $2, $4.80 for 1.25 litre of coke/fanta/sprite, can of Watties spaghetti $2.99, can of Homebrand spaghetti $1.99, Craig's jams $7.90 for 375gm jar, 375 grams of Anchor cheese $3.95, 1kg Mild Cheddar $29, eggs 60 seniti each, Weet-bix $7.95 for 750 gram box.

Taro Chips

Aquasun sunscreen 125mls $20, Vaseline cocoa glow body lotion 750 mls $20.

Alcohol prices at Molisi Supermarket: local beer - Ikale/Popao $3-4 per 330mls, Vodka Cruiser $4.50 275mls (carton of 12 bottles $54), Fosters lager $3 a can, bottle of Shingle Peak Chardonnay (NZ) $25.90, bottle of McGuigan Cabernet Sauvignon (Australia) $29.50.

Talamahu Market
Roadside Stall

Supermarket locations
Molisi Supermarket opposite Talamahu Market, Salote Road (I'm fairly sure it closes at 5pm)
Luna 'Eva, opposite the Seven Day Adventist Church on Taufa'ahau Road


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


Wheels

Bicycle Hire
You can still hire bikes from the Bicycle Hire office next to the International Dateline Hotel (in the process of being refurbished) on Vuna Road. Tongatapu is flat so it's a good island to cycle.

Bicycle Hire
Bicycles

Car Hire
In 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). The hire rate was $50 per day**, plus $100 deposit (refunded when the car was returned), the excess was $3000. With rates so reasonable we hired the car for five days which meant we could drive to different places for dinner in the evening and get around the island easily. Petrol - $2.60 a litre, it cost $65 to fill the Vitz. There are a number of petrol stations around the island so you shouldn't have a problem finding somewhere to fill up.

Sunshine Rentals
The Vitz

*Sunshine Rentals also rent cars at the international airport, and Scenic Hotel. (+676 23848, email: sunshinerentalcar@gmail.com)
** 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, Star Rental Car, Fab Rentals (+676 23077) leeintonga@gmail.com, Jetsave Rentals (+676 22333) jetsave.rentals@diginet.to

Driver licence
The cost of a Tongan driver licence has been reduced to $40 and it is valid for three months. 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? Rusting in Peace


Getting to the outer islands - 'Eua, Ha'apai and Vava'u
Ferries
Ferries go to 'Eua, Ha'apai and Vava'u - timetables. We met a couple who went to 'Eua by ferry for the day, although given the note on the timetable says 'This ferry comes back the same day but usually stays overnight in 'Eua without notice', they may have been lucky to go there and back in a day. They suggested that day visitors take food and drink, 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 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 (around 15 minutes), Ha'apai and Vava'u. (The domestic airport is alongside the international airport).

Fiji Airways fly direct from Nadi to Vava'u.

Accommodation

The Visitor Bureau on Vuna Road has a lot of flyers for accommodation in Tonga, I picked up more than 30 for Tongatapu alone. Below is a list of properties that have their own web presence so you can get further information. The two properties marked with an * are where we stayed on Tongatapu in 2016 and 2010.

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

Accommodation options on 'Eua, Ha'apai, and Vava'u are also listed, although please note that this list is unlikely to have all the accommodation options available.

Tongatapu Accommodation
Budget - shared facilities
Backpackers Townhouse

Dayspring Lodge

Lodge 96 Touliki

NOA Guest House

Petani Lodge

Toni's Guest House

Self Contained/Apartments
The Seaview Lodge (has one bungalow with private kitchen + 12 ensuite rooms)

Villa Apartments

Hotels
City Hotel

Emerald Hotel

Jezami Hotel

Little Italy Hotel & Restaurant*

Scenic Hotel

The Friendly Islander Hotel

Tungi Colonade Hotel

Resorts/Lodges
Fafa Island Resort

Ha'atafu Beach Resort

Heilala Holiday Lodge

Liku'alofa Beach Resort

Makaha'a Island Resort

'Oholei Beach Resort & Hina Cave

RobyAnnes Lodge

Royal Sunset Island Resort

Vakaloa Beach Resort

Waterfront Cafe & Lodge *

White Sands Beach Resort


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 to stay there, 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 the onsite restaurant, Cottage Breeze Restaurant and The Seaview Lodge Restaurant (see Eating Out above) are both a short walk away).

Pool at Scenic Hotel

** If you're a pool hunter on your holidays, Scenic Hotel near the airports has a good one. The pool is free for guests, adult day visitors can use the pool for $20 (includes a restaurant credit), there is a charge for children as well. There is also a mini golf course, driving range and adventure playground. Unfortunately my photo of the charges is blurry so the adult price for the pool is all I can confirm. The swimming pool is open to day visitors from 11am - 5.30pm. Scenic Hotel is around 30 minutes drive from Nuku'alofa, it's ideally placed near the airports for those catching international or domestic flights.


Waterfront Lodge, Vuna Road, wharf end (20 minutes walk from town centre)
www.waterfront-lodge.com
We spent seven nights at Waterfront Lodge in a garden view room in 2010. We really liked the lodge and it continues to get great reviews in 2016. Waterfront is opposite the wharf where you catch boats to Royal Sunset Island Resort, Fafa Island Resort and Pangaimotu Island. Ferries also depart for 'Eua, Ha'apai and Vava'u We recommend the onsite restaurant (see Eating Out above), Waterfront is also a short walk from Billfish Bar & Restaurant (see Eating Out above). (Note that the small palm trees (photo below) have grown very tall so the sea view rooms may now be palm tree view rooms).

Waterfront Lodge
Waterfront Lodge Garden Room
Waterfront Lodge Garden Balcony
'Eua Accommodation
'Ovava Tree Lodge

Taina's Place

The Hideaway


'Ha'apai Accommodation
Ha'apai Beach Resort

Matafonua Lodge

Sandy Beach Resort

Serenity Beaches Resort

Taiana's Place

Talitali'anga Eco Resort


Vava'u Accommodation
Blue Lagoon Resort

Hakula Lodge

Lucky's Beach Houses

Mafana Island Beach Backpackers

Mandala Resort

Mounu Island Resort

Mystic Sands

Port Wine Guest House

Tongan Beach Resort

Treasure Island Resort

Twin View Motel

Vava'u Harbourview Resort

Vavau Villa


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)

  • Sunday is sacred and almost everything closes. Your options on Sunday include attending a church service or visiting Pangaimotu Resort (more information above). There are no buses and no taxis (unless your accommodation provider can organise one for you). Only a few cafes/restaurants located outside hotels and resorts open on Sunday.


  • You will find over 500 churches in Tonga.

Church, Nuku'alofa


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


  • Tongan beers include Maka, Ikale and Kingdom Gold. Popao and Outrigger are brewed by Outrigger Brewery in Nukua'lofa.


  • Kava is the traditional drink for men.
Mata Maka

What to pack

  • Mosquito repellent
  • Reef shoes, also consider taking your own snorkel equipment
  • Sunscreen and sun hat
  • Small umbrella for impromptu showers and to use as a sun shade
  • If you're going to hire a bicycle you might want to pack your helmet as they're not provided
  • Drivers licence
  • Chippies, peanuts etc can be expensive so you might want to take your own supply
  • 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. Pack clothes with sleeves, long shorts, long skirts and dresses for women. Most Tongans swim covered up so outside resorts swim in shorts and t-shirt. 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, the best one we found had Miss Heilala 2015-16 on the front. The map is well marked with scenic sights.

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.


Personal Note
If you've landed here first and you're thinking there is a lot of information to read, there is a condensed version of the guide on the blog - Detour to Tonga.

It was our third visit to Tonga in 2016 and yet again we spent the majority of our time on the main island of Tongatapu. What did change on this trip was that we hired a rental car for most of our stay which was a good move as we were able to drive around the island and go to different eating options at night.

While we are missing out on experiences by not going to the outer islands, we think visitors can have a great Tongan holiday on Tongatapu (including a day trip or two, or a stay on one of the close offshore islands). We recommend 7 nights bearing in mind that the first and last days are mostly taken up with getting there and away.

There is plenty of accommodation in the capital Nuku'alofa, but we don't recommend spending your whole time in town unless you have a rental car to get out and about around the island. A day is plenty to look around the little capital. However Nuku'alofa is a convenient place to stay to catch ferries for day trips so that could add a night or two.

If you're looking for a quiet island escape for a few nights, both Fafa Island Resort and Royal Sunset Island Resort are a short boat trip from Nuku'alofa. You can have a beach based holiday on Tongatapu by staying at one of the accommodation options at Ha'atafu (see Accommodation).

We also recommend allowing a day for an organised tour of Tongatapu, or a self drive tour in a rental car. That would fill in five days nicely allowing a day each side to settle in, and fly out.


Comments to date: 44. Page 1 of 2.

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 :)

Rachael

Hi Cherie
You're welcome, it's tricky as a first time visitor to know how long you need. If you can be flexible with time you could check how much it is to change your flights if you find you want to stay longer. Really hope you like Tonga as much as we do. Thanks for your comments.

Cherie

Thanks for a really informative page, we are going to Tonga for the first time, staying a week, and already thinking we should have booked longer

Rachael

Hi
Double check direct with Tonga Tourism Authority but I would say no, you would need to use cash in the local currency.

Chris

Can you use pre-paid travel cards in Tonga. We are Australian and were going to load the card with Australian dollars.

Rachael

Hi Tory
Glad we could help - I'm sure you have, but it's definitely worth visiting review sites to cross check our information as it's been a while since we've been to Tonga. Enjoy your trip to the Friendly Islands.

tory

Hi guys.
Great page.
Have been to Tongatapu 3 times, but this was 20 Years ago.
am returning again with sister who is tonga virgin.Your page has been really helpful in deciding where to stay :)

Rachael

Hi Kimberley
You'll both have a lovely time on Fafa I'm sure. I had a look at the 'What to pack' info above and thought of a couple of additions ...If you drink wine and are on a budget you might consider taking a couple of bottles with you as drink prices are likely to be higher on Fafa than on the mainland. As far as I know there is still no store on the island so packaged snacks and/or biscuits could be worth taking too. Reading material or crosswords etc for those relaxing days on the loun... read more »


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