Travel Advice for Taking the Ferry in Tonga
Crossing the archipelago of Tonga can be a memorable and rewarding experience when opting to tackle the journey by ferry. Not only is taking the ferry in Tonga much cheaper than flying, but it often provides an interesting locals experience, giving you a slice of life into South Pacific travel. From modern fast catamaran ferries to cargo ships on their own “island time”, there’s quite the variety of ferry experiences in Tonga. To make sure you know what you’re getting into, be sure to wise up with these ferry travel tips!
1. Check and Double-Check the Ferry Schedule
The number one rule of taking the ferry in Tonga is to check and recheck the schedule! Ferry schedules change often, where it’s best to look up the latest schedules at the Visitor Information Centres or at the ferry terminals before making your travel plans. On top of that, we recommend checking the ferry departure time on the day of travel, as ferries can depart a little later or, more annoyingly, earlier than scheduled! Don’t get left behind.
2. Prepare Yourself for a Lengthy Journey
Ferry trips in Tonga are not a quick business. With some ferry journeys known to take a whopping 24 hours, needless to say, you will need to be prepared for the journey. Pack enough food and drink and plan what you’re going to be sleeping on if it’s an overnight crossing – take a sleeping bag, sleeping mat, travel pillow, etc.
3. Get the Right Ferry for Your Budget
[Update: With a recent change in ferry services in Tonga, the price difference between ferry companies are now minimal, typically only NZ$15 price difference between the Tongatapu-Vava’u ferries and NZ$5 difference between the Tongatapu-‘Eua ferries.]
It’s important to note that there are different ferry options for the same route in Tonga. For instance, the ferry route between Tongatapu, Ha’apai and Vava’u are serviced by two different ferries. You’ll also find differences between the ferries that go to ‘Eua, with a modern ferry and two cargo-style ferries available. Learn more about the prices in How Much Do Ferries Cost in Tonga?
4. Know Which Ferries are the Fast Ferries
As mentioned in the previous point, the experiences between some of the ferries in Tonga are very different, which includes the journey duration. For travelling between Tongatapu, Ha’apai and Vava’u, both ferries take approximately 16 hours if bypassing Ha’apai or up to 23 hours if calling in at Ha’apai. For journeys between ‘Eua and Tongatapu, the MV Maui is your fastest option at around a one-hour crossing, while the MV ‘Onemato and MV Alaimoana takes about 2h30mins.
5. Make Sure Ferry Travel is Right for You
The combination of the lengthy journey, crowds of people and, in some cases, sleeping on the floor, isn’t for everyone. Just because ferry travel is much cheaper than air travel, doesn’t mean you should sacrifice comfort and time if you can’t handle it. If you think that might be you, take a look at The Guide to Flights in Tonga instead…
6. A Cabin is Available in the MV ‘Otuanga’ofa
The typical passenger experience on the MV ‘Otuanga’ofu includes cosying up with crowds of people on the long journey between the islands of Tongatapu, Vava’u and even as far as The Niuas. You can find a little extra comfort, however, by staying in the cabin. The cabin has 28 bunks, giving passengers who pay the little extra dough the opportunity to find a little more comfort for the overnight sailings.
7. Buy Tickets from the Ferry Terminal or On Board
You can’t pre-book a ticket online for the ferries in Tonga. You’re going to have to turn up in person at the ferry terminal to purchase a ticket. Ferry terminals are located at Queen Salote Wharf in Nuku’alofa, Taufa’ahau Wharf in Pangai (Ha’apai), Halaevalu Wharf in Neiafu and Nafanua Wharf in Ohonua (‘Eua). Otherwise, you can buy ferry tickets when boarding the ferry. Make sure you have the right cash available. Learn more about payment methods in Tonga here.
8. Try to Be One of the First to Get on the Ferry
Spaces fill up fast on the ferry. For lengthy ferry journeys, especially on the ferries between Tongatapu and Vava’u, you’ll want to find yourself a comfortable place to relax on the multi-hour journey. It’s like claiming a good spot on the beach with your towel, find a comfortable(ish) spot on the floor and lay out your sleeping bag/towel/picnic blanket. If you leave it too late, most of the good spots will be gone so don’t hang about!
9. Have Some Seasickness Tablets at the Ready
The weather is ever-changing in Tonga, even in the dry season. So if you happen to have a sailing when the swell is up, you’ll be thankful to have some seasickness tablets. Or if you’re a weak sailor, you’ll be happy to have seasickness tablets no matter what!
10. Don’t Expect to Get Anywhere on a Sunday
Like the rest of Tonga, the ferry services shut down every Sunday under Tongan law. Don’t expect to take a ferry anywhere on a Sunday.
More Tips on Taking the Ferry in Tonga
- How to Catch a Water Taxi in Tonga
- 10 Tips for Taking a Cruise to Tonga & the South Pacific
- The Guide to Taking a Cruise to Tonga
That’s it for our tips on taking the ferry in Tonga. Be sure to bookmark our Tonga Transport Guide: 10 Ways to Get Around Tonga for even more transport tips.