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 local experience, giving you a slice of life into South Pacific travel. From two-hour barge ferries to ‘Eua to cargo ships to Ha’apai and Vava’u on their own “island time”, there’s quite a 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, so it’s best to look up the latest schedules on Facebook, by calling the ferry companies, 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. Phone numbers for each ferry company can be found in our Tonga Ferry Guide: How to Use Ferries for Interisland Travel.
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 (or pa’anga to buy pies, noodles, snacks and drinks from the canteen) 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. Keep Ahold of Your Ticket
One that catches many travellers out, some ferry companies check ferry tickets when passengers depart the vessel, sometimes when boarding the vessel, and sometimes both! In other words, keep ahold of your ferry ticket for the entire trip.
4. 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 Domestic Flights in Tonga instead…
5. Cabins are Available on Longer Trips
The typical passenger experience on the MV ‘Otuanga’ofu or MV Taka I Pomana includes cosying up with crowds of people on the long journey between the islands of Tongatapu, Ha’apai, Vava’u and even as far as The Niuas. You can find a little extra comfort, however, by staying in the cabin. The cabin on the MV ‘Otuanga’ofu has 28 bunks, while the MV Taka I Pomana has multiple cabins, giving passengers who pay a little extra dough the opportunity to find a little more comfort for the overnight sailings.
6. Buy Tickets at the Ferry Terminal
You can’t pre-book a ticket online for the ferries in Tonga (at least, you can’t book online unless you book over Facebook Messenger and do a bank transfer, which is pretty expensive from overseas). For international travellers, it’s best to turn up in person at the ferry terminal or ticket office to purchase a ticket, which can be done just before boarding the ferry (there’s usually plenty of space for passengers). Ferry terminals are located at Taufa’aha Tupou IV Domestic Wharf Wharf in Nuku’alofa, Taufa’ahau Wharf in Pangai (Ha’apai), Halaevalu Wharf in Neiafu (Vava’u) and Nafanua Wharf in ‘Ohonua (‘Eua) – there is also a ferry ticket office in the Malau Building, Angaha (‘Eua). Make sure you have the right cash available. Learn more about payment methods in What is The Best Way to Pay in Tonga?
7. 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, Ha’apai 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!
8. 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!
9. Charter a Boat or Use resort Transfer to Get to Smaller Islands
It’s important to note that ferries in Tonga go between island groups, but necessarily between all the smaller islands that you might like to visit (although there are ferries to multiple islands in Ha’apai and The Niuas – see our Tonga Ferry Guide). For travelling to the outer islands of each island group, you’ll need to either charter a boat or use a resort boat transfer. Learn more about it in The Guide to Boat Transfers & Water Taxis in Tonga.
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. Instead, do the 10 Things to Do in Tonga on a Sunday!
More Tips on Taking the Ferry in Tonga
That’s it for our tips on taking the ferry in Tonga. For more advice on travelling across The Kingdom, take a look at the following:
- Tonga Ferry Guide: How to Use Ferries for Interisland Travel
- Tonga Ferry Fares: How Much Do Ferries Cost in Tonga?
- The Guide to Boat Transfers & Water Taxis in Tonga
Finally, be sure to bookmark our Tonga Transport Guide: 10 Ways to Get Around Tonga for even more transport tips.