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 Australia, New Zealand and Tahiti
The departure ports for most Pacific Island cruises featuring Tonga include cruises from Sydney (Australia), 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. You’ll also find cruises departing from San Diego in the US. Check out which cruises depart from where in The Guide to Taking a Cruise to Tonga.
2. Or Consider a Round-the-World Cruise
Tonga and the South Pacific islands are also a highlight of itineraries on round-the-world cruises. For instance, Viking Ocean Cruises takes a whopping 119-day voyage from Los Angeles to London featuring a port day in the beautiful Kingdom of Tonga. Alternatively, the Columbus with Cruise & Maritime Voyages runs a round-the-world 120-day cruise from London to London! Note that these cruises usually only spend one day at port in Tonga, while shorter cruises tend to call in at two ports in Tonga.
3. Get Familiar with the Tonga Ports of Call
Speaking of ports of call, Tonga has two 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 the 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.
4. 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, Tripadvisor and many tour operators have websites and contact details for booking – see some shore excursions for Tongatapu listed here. Vava’u is a little less developed in this way, but we list some of the tours you can contact in 5 Best Guided Tours of Vava’u and 10 Must-Dos in Vava’u.
5. 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!
6. 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.
7. 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 card. Second, those that do will often have a credit card surcharge (combined with the exchange fees from your own 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 so at the exchange bureaus in Nuku’alofa and Neiafu.
8. Know Your South Pacific Seasons
While South Pacific cruises run from Australia and New Zealand year-round, note that it won’t always be smooth sailing. The South Pacific experiences two distinct seasons, the dry season (June-November) and the wet season (December-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 June and October in Tongatapu and July and October in Vava’u, so make sure you’re coming at the right time if you want to swim with the whales. Learn more about the seasons in Tonga here.
9. Stretch Your Legs
After days at sea eating too much and probably not moving around too much, 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.
10. Pack Right for Your Cruise
Whatever the season, lightweight summer clothes will be appropriate for the days in 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, your own 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.