Bus Tips for Tonga
Taking the bus in the South Pacific is renowned for being a cultural experience, which is no different in Tonga! Buses casually make their way around the islands of Tongatapu and Vava’u, blaring loud music with faulty doors that often don’t close and buzzing crowds of locals, especially if part of the school run. What’s more, getting around Tonga on a local bus is incredibly cheap, where you’ll go from destination to destination paying a few senitis to a couple of pa’anga to get around. Just so you know how to use the buses, we’ve put together this list of tips for taking the bus in Tonga!
To learn about more ways of getting around in Tonga, see The Guide to Commuting in Tonga.
1. Take the Bus in Tongatapu; Vava’u’s Bus Services are Less Reliable
Local buses can only be found on the island of Tongatapu and the main island and its causeway-connected islands of Vava’u. Tongatapu’s local buses run more like a public bus system, following routes around the island on the western side, the eastern side and around Nuku’alofa. On Vava’u, buses run more like a school bus service, which happens to pick up locals too. Sometimes buses will wait in Neiafu, only departing when full, making bus travel in Vava’u a less reliable method of travel compared to on Tongatapu. Learn more about using the buses to travel around Tonga here.
2. Know Where to Find Bus Stops
In Tongatapu, the bus stations are easy to find along the waterfront of Nuku’alofa next to Vuna Wharf. They are well sign-posted with “Bus Station East West” and “Bus Station Central”. Otherwise, bus stops in urban areas can be identified with signs saying “Pasi” or “Bus Stop”. In villages, you’ll need to hail the bus down from the village’s main road. In Vava’u, there is a well-signed bus stop on Tu’i Road and Fatafehi Road in Neiafu. Some villages in Vava’u have bus shelters to catch the bus from or you can hail down the bus from the side of the road.
3. Learn How to Identify the Buses
Buses on Tongatapu have destinations written in capital letters on the front of the bus to identify the name of the village or district it is travelling to. Buses that travel around the eastern side of Tongatapu say “HAHAKE” on the front, on the western side say “HIHIFO” on the front and around Nuku’alofa say “VAIOLA” on the front.
4. Hail Down the Bus
Even if you’re waiting at a bus stop, you will need to hail down the bus by waving at the driver as the bus approaches. Don’t expect buses to stop automatically at each bus stop. In some villages without official bus stops, hailing the bus from the main road is the only way to get the bus.
5. Buses Don’t Have a Schedule but Have Operating Hours
In Tongatapu, buses start moving from Nuku’alofa from 7am and stop around 5pm on Monday to Friday and stopping earlier in the day on a Saturday. Buses from villages outside of Nuku’alofa tend to start making their final journey back to town by 3pm, so don’t leave getting back to town any later than then! Buses do not operate on a Sunday.
6. Ask the Driver the Return Time
You won’t find bus timetables in Tonga. Buses don’t have schedules. Even the school bus runs can change if schools close early. So your best option is to sit and wait for the bus, which won’t be long on Tongatapu but might be on Vava’u. When you get on the bus, ask the driver when the bus returns from your destination, as buses run the same routes throughout the day.
7. Let the Driver Know Your Destination
The first reason to let the driver know your destination is so the driver can inform you of the bus fare (more on that in the point below). The second reason is so the driver can advise you when your stop is coming up. If you know where you’re going, call out to the bus driver “Tu’u atu heno!”, which means “Stop there!”
8. Pay with Cash
You pay for your bus fare to the driver when you get off the bus. Pay with small notes and coins, as bus fares are usually no more than TOP$3 and the bus driver might not have change for large notes. Learn about the typical fares in How Much Does it Cost to Travel Tonga by Bus?
9. Find Alternative Transport for the Airport
No, there are no bus services for the airport. Alternatively, airport shuttles are available through tour companies and accommodations. Airport transfers can be arranged through most accommodations that offer their own transfer services. Alternatively, taxis meet incoming flights in Tongatapu, Vava’u (and occasionally Ha’apai) and provide another way of getting to your accommodation from the airport. See the Guide to Taxis in Tonga for more information.
10. Bus Tours are Available, Kind of…
Bus tours are available on certain islands in Tonga, but not the big coach tours that you might be used to. Guided tours are available in mini-buses, vans and cars on the islands of Tongatapu and Vava’u. On the islands of ‘Eua and Ha’apai, island tours are often in 4WD due to the less-developed roads. Learn more about bus tours in The Best Bus Tours in Tonga.