Tonga and South Pacific Cruise Tips
The South Pacific is an incredible cruising ground, where cruises experience diverse cultures and islands from day to day. Here at TongaPocketGuide.com, we’re a little biased in saying that Tonga is one of the best Pacific Islands to hit on a cruise itinerary, boasting amazing water and land experiences. In this list of tips for taking a cruise to Tonga and the South Pacific, we share our advice on making the most of a cruise to Tonga!
1. Look for Cruises Departing from New Zealand and Tahiti
The departure ports for most Pacific Island cruises featuring Tonga include cruises from Auckland (New Zealand) and right in the heart of the South Pacific Islands, Papeete in Tahiti (French Polynesia). Look for cruises from these cities to find the widest range of options. Check out which cruises depart from where in the 10 Best Cruises That Visit Tonga.
2. Get Familiar with the Tonga Ports of Call
Tonga has two main cruise ship ports, one in Nuku’alofa on the main island of Tongatapu and one in Neiafu in the island group of Vava’u. Tongatapu is where you’ll find most of Tonga’s iconic land attractions like the Ha’amonga ‘a Maui (Stonehenge of the South Pacific), royal sights, as well as water activities like whale swimming. Vava’u is more about water activities, also including whale swimming, island boat tours, scuba diving and more. Learn more about each destination in The Complete Guide to Nuku’alofa and The Complete Guide to Vava’u.
3. Book Tonga Shore Excursions Independently
While booking shore excursions through your cruise ship is an easy go-to, know that you could be spending up to 300% of the original tour price! To save money, and perhaps have a larger offering of activities to choose from, we recommend booking shore excursions in Tonga independently. On Tongatapu, this is certainly easy with tours being on Viator and many tour operators have websites, Facebook Pages and contact details for booking – see the 10 Best Shore Excursions in Tonga and How to Book Tours in Tonga for more tips. Vava’u is a little less developed in this way, but we list some of the tours you can contact in the 5 Best Guided Tours of Vava’u and 50 Best Things to Do in Vava’u.
4. Bring Snorkelling Gear and Swimwear on Shore Excursions
Like anywhere in the South Pacific, there’s almost always an opportunity to snorkel and/or swim on a tour of Tonga. While whale swimming tours, snorkelling tours and scuba diving excursions have snorkelling gear for you to borrow, it’s best to have your own snorkelling gear for other types of tours. As for swimming, tours in Tonga will often take you to glorious beaches or even caves with pools, so you don’t want to miss out on a refreshing dip!
5. Prepare for Sea Days
Getting to the South Pacific islands does involve quite a few days at sea. For this, you need to be prepared with entertainment. Pack a few games, some entertainment for the kids, and a good book. Of course, there will always be things to do on the ship too.
6. Bring Cash with You
There are a few reasons to bring cash with you to Tonga. First, many tour operators and shops don’t accept debit/credit cards. Second, those that do will often have a credit card surcharge (combined with the exchange fees from your bank). Third, exchanging currency on cruise ships is often an expensive business of unfavourable exchange rates. You’re more likely to find a better exchange rate on Tongan Pa’anga in your home country, and cheaper still at the banks in Nuku’alofa and Neiafu. We have more information on the subject in The Best Place to Exchange Currency in Tonga.
7. Know Your South Pacific Seasons
While South Pacific cruises run year-round, note that it won’t always be smooth sailing. The South Pacific experiences two distinct seasons, the dry season (March-October) and the wet season (November-May). While the wet season sees the South Pacific experiencing the highest temperatures, it also experiences the highest rainfall and tropical storms – not ideal if you’re a weak sailor. Another thing to note is that the whale season in Tonga is only between July and October, so make sure you’re coming at the right time if you want to swim with the whales. Learn more about the best time to cruise to Tonga in The Best Time to Visit Tonga.
8. Stretch Your Legs
After days at sea eating too much and probably not moving around too much either, it’s always a good idea to get walking on port days. Sometimes, putting some time aside to explore the port towns is a good way to spend a morning or an afternoon. Especially in Tonga, you will find an astonishing array of handicrafts at the markets, see interesting royal sights like the Royal Palace and Royal Tombs and discover a wealth of Tongan eateries worth indulging in. Check out our walking tour in A Self-Guided Day Tour of Nuku’alofa: One Day Itinerary.
9. Pack Right for Your Cruise
Whatever the season, lightweight summer clothes will be appropriate for days in the South Pacific. During the evenings, it’s always a good idea to have something warmer, like a light jacket or a sweater. You’ll also want to remember swimwear, sunscreen, snorkelling gear, flat shoes (to make slippery decks easier for walking), and comfortable walking shoes for days at port. See more recommended things to pack in The Complete Packing List for Tonga.
10. Buy Souvenirs Onshore
There are two reasons you will want to buy souvenirs in Tonga, rather than at your ship’s gift store. The first is to pay better prices for Tongan souvenirs, while the second is because the souvenirs in Tonga are almost always handmade and unique – you’ll see craftspeople making the souvenirs right before your eyes at the markets! Check out gift stores worth visiting in the 10 Best Shops to Buy Souvenirs in Tonga and see some of the gorgeous pieces in the 10 Best Souvenirs & Gifts From Tonga.
And for more money-saving tips, also check out How to Save Money When Visiting Tonga on a Cruise.
More About Taking a Cruise to Tonga and the South Pacific
That’s it for our tips for taking a cruise to Tonga and the South Pacific. For more on the subject, take a look at the following:
- How to Save Money When Visiting Tonga on a Cruise
- 10 Best Cruises That Visit Tonga
- The Complete Guide to the Ports of Call in Tonga
Finally, for more ways to get to Tonga, take a look at Getting Here: How to Get to Tonga.