The Top Budget Activities in Ha’apai
Don’t worry, a holiday in Ha’apai doesn’t have to be about expensive sailing tours, whale swimming and scuba diving. There are plenty of ways to keep the costs low yet still have a blast in Tonga’s less-visited islands. Ha’apai has an interesting backstory with plenty of historical sites to scout out, while the shores are full of excitement between snorkelling among tropical fish to seeing whales leaping from the ocean! So get inspired for some of the more affordable activities you could be getting up to with this list of the free and cheap things to do in Ha’apai.
While you’re here, get more tips for budget travel in The Guide to Ha’apai on a Budget.
1. Hire a Bike and Ride to Houmale’eia Beach – FREE
Some of the mid-range resorts, such as Matafonua Lodge, Sandy Beach Resort and Ha’apai Beach Resort offer complimentary bike hire for guests – as do any additional operators listed in Where to Rent Bicycles in Tonga. Once you’re set, you can cycle between the main town of Pangai with its cultural and historical offerings and the glorious Houmale’eia Beach at the top of Foa Island! There, pop into Matafonua Lodge‘s cafe for a bite to eat (you may need to call ahead to order in the whale season). We also recommend stopping by the Port au Prince Massacre Monument, a few hundred metres north of the airport, where a sign points west to a beach and the monument.
Location: Lifuka and Foa Islands! From Pangai, follow the main road north (across the airport landing strip and causeway) all the way to the northern point of Foa Island. It’s 14 km (9 mi) one way. For more details, head to The Best Bike Trails in Tonga.
2. Check Out Hihifo’s Archaeological Sites – FREE
Ha’apai has a colourful history dating back some 3,000 years! Checking out some of the historical sites is a free way to enjoy your time here. The village of Hihifo holds many interesting sites, including the Olovehi Tomb, which is a burial ground for Tonga’s ancient nobles (as well as their subjects who are said to serve them even into the afterlife). Nearby is the Velata Mound Fortress, which was a type of ditch fortification that was used throughout the South Pacific in the 19th Century. Find out more about these sites and many others in the 8 Best Historical Sites in Ha’apai.
Location: Hihifo, south of Pangai, Lifuka Island. See the link above for specific locations for each historical site.
3. Get Awesome Views and Visit a Tomb in Southern Lifuka – FREE
More sights await at the south of Lifuka where the road ends at Hulu’ i Paongo Point. Here, you’ll get amazing views of a sweeping white sand beach, as well as Uoleva Island. Just before you reach the point, there is also the Hulu’ i Paongo Tomb, a burial site of a long line of chiefs. Learn more about this beautiful place in our guide to Sightseeing in Ha’apai: Top 10 Sights in Ha’apai.
Location: At the very southern end of the main road, Hala Holopeka, Lifuka Island. The last kilometre of road is a dirt road, but it’s still suitable for 2WD vehicles.
4. Browse the Pangai Market and Fish Market – FREE/CHEAP
By the time you make it to Ha’apai, you will likely have seen a few of the amazing markets in Tonga. Nevertheless, it’s always an experience mingling with the locals and checking out the pyramids and bundles of tropical produce for sale, as well as local handicrafts. The Pangai Market is in usually in action from 8 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday. However, it gets an early start on Saturday morning at around 5 am with much more stalls than throughout the week. In this case, the best time to visit is between 6:30 am and 7 am on Saturday when the market is in full swing. Complement the experience by heading to the wharf to see the local fisherfolk selling fish, also on a Saturday morning.
Location: Corner of the Waterfront and Palace Road, Pangai, Lifuka Island.
5. Go Snorkelling Off the Shores – FREE
Ha’apai is one of the very few places in Tonga where there is so much snorkelling to be done straight from the shore! You don’t need to worry about paying for a boat to the outer reefs to enjoy an amazing snorkelling experience. Snorkelling over coral bommies and among tropical fish can be done from just about any resort in Ha’apai, which is listed in The Best Snorkelling in Ha’apai: 6 Best Places to Snorkel. Mid-range resorts tend to have snorkelling gear free for guest use, but be sure to bring your own if you are staying at one of the budget accommodations in Ha’apai.
Location: All over in Ha’apai! See the link above for location recommendations.
6. Watch Humpback Whales – FREE
Humpback whales frequent the waters of Ha’apai between July and October. While amazing whale swimming encounters are available, which you can learn more about in the 5 Best Whale Swim Tours in Ha’apai, you’re unlikely to spend some time in Ha’apai during this season without seeing humpback whales from the shore! Just set yourself up on the beach and watch the horizon.
Location: From the coasts of any Ha’apai island.
7. Explore the Islands by Kayak – FREE
It would almost be a crime to head to the islands of Ha’apai and not get out on the water! If you’re staying at one of the mid-range resorts in Ha’apai, it’s almost a guarantee that complimentary kayak hire will be available, making it a relaxing and free way to spend your time in Ha’apai. Glide over Ha’apai’s crystal clear waters, see the marine life below, and explore the shores of Uoleva Island.
Location: Any of the mid-range resorts on Uoleva, Lifuka and Foa Islands.
8. Check Out the Shirley Baker Monument in Pangai – FREE
Another interesting sight you’ll notice while mooching around Likufa is the Shirley Baker Monument and European Cemetary. Amidst a cemetery of 19th and 20th Century European traders and missionaries is a grave and monumental plaque for the Rev. Shirley Baker. He was Tonga’s first prime minister and advisor to King Tupou I. Opposite the cemetery is an excellent example of a Tongan cemetery decorated with sand and coral mounds.
Location: Signposted along the main road (Hala Holopeka) at the northern entrance of Pangai, Lifuka Island.
9. Experience Faikava – CHEAP
For a more cultural experience, why not try kava? Kava is a slightly narcotic drink made from the ground-up root of a pepper plant grown across the South Pacific. Accommodations like Serenity Beaches Resort, Diana Beach Resort, Fanga ’o Ipu Lahi Resort and Lindsay Guesthouse are the best ones to go to help organise this experience for you. And just so you know what you’re drinking, kava is a slightly narcotic drink made from the ground-up root of a pepper plant grown across the South Pacific.
If you’re joining a faikava in a village, such as Pangai for example, it’s customary to bring some cash (TOP$50) or kava to contribute. Learn more about aspects of the Tongan culture in The Guide to the Tongan Culture and Traditions.
Location: All over Ha’apai! Inquire with your accommodation host to arrange the best faikava to attend.
10. Try Authentic Tongan Food – CHEAP
While resort restaurants tend to favour pizzas and burgers, it’s not that hard to find authentic Tongan cuisine while exploring Ha’apai. Head to the Pangai Market on a Saturday morning to pick up sweet treats like fai kakai wrapped in either tin foil or banana leaves. Try Tongan spinach cooked in coconut cream, known as pele, at Lucky Pot Restaurant or Leleno ki Moana. Raw fish marinated in coconut cream, known as ota ika, is a dish served at Matafonua Lodge‘s restaurant. Learn more about these dishes in the 10 Unique Foods in Tonga You Have to Try.
Location: Pangai Market and Lucky Pot – Corner of the Waterfront and Palace Road, Pangai. Leleno ki Moana – Hala Holopeka Road, 400 m (400 yards) south of Hihifo. Matafonua Lodge – Northern end of Loto Foa Road, Foa Island. For more dining options, check out The Food Guide to Ha’apai: Places to Eat & Food Tours.
More Free and Cheap Things to Do in Ha’apai
That’s it for the free and cheap things to do in Ha’apai, but it’s by no means the end of the island group’s offering! Check out more experiences in these guides:
- 10 Things to Do in Ha’apai with Kids
- 10 Most Romantic Things to Do in Ha’apai
- 10 Adult-Only Activities in Ha’apai
Finally, get more budgeting advice from The Travel Guide to Tonga on a Budget and Tonga Travel Budget: How Much Does a Trip to Tonga Cost?