Boat Transport in Tonga: Travel Tips
With 169 islands, needless to say, boat transport is going to play a part in your trip to Tonga. From budget ferries to get between island groups to resort island transfers, there are multiple water transport options available. In this list of tips for travelling Tonga by boat, we give you advice on taking ferries, how to island-hop, as well as give a few tips for sailing in Tonga.
Before we jump into our tips for travelling Tonga by boat, be sure to bookmark our Tonga Transport Guide: 10 Ways to Get Around Tonga for even more transport tips.
1. Arrange a Boat Transfer with Your Island Resort Before Arrival
Unless you’re staying on the islands of Tongatapu, Vava’u, Lifuka, Foa or ‘Eua, you’re going to have to get to arrange boat transfers to get to your island. Island resorts offer their own boat transfers to get between the arrival wharf/airport, which must be organised before you arrive – usually when booking your accommodation. These transfers don’t typically run on schedules but are arranged to connect with your arrival time.
2. Scheduled Boat Transfers From Tongatapu are Available Daily…
… Even on a Sunday! The only island group where you will find scheduled boat transport to outer islands is in Tongatapu. Resorts put on daily boats between Faua Wharf in Nuku’alofa and their island resort, available for both guests and day-trippers. These island day trips are just about one of the only activities available to do in Tonga on a Sunday. Find out more about the boat schedules and prices in How to Catch a Water Taxi in Tonga.
3. Take the Ferry to Get Between Island Groups
Water transport to get between the island groups of Tongatapu, ‘Eua, Ha’apai, Vava’u and The Niuas are available through ferry transport. This transport method is much cheaper than flying between the islands, making it a popular choice with the locals. Learn more about ferry travel in the 10 Tips for Taking the Ferry in Tonga.
4. Know the Different Types of Ferries
Even on the same routes, like the Tongatapu-Ha’apai-Vava’u route or the Tongatapu-‘Eua route, there are different ferries offering different prices, travel durations and experiences. For instance, there is a mix of catamaran ferries and cargo ferries to ‘Eua, while there are two different cargo ferries that travel the Tongatapu-Ha’apai-Vava’u route. Compare ferries in The Guide to Travelling in Tonga by Ferry.
5. Boat Tours are a Great Way to Explore the Islands
While there might not be water taxis in Tonga to experience different islands, island-hopping can be experienced in various boat tours across the country. In Vava’u, there are multiple boat tours available to take you to impressive sea caves like Swallows’ Cave and Mariner’s Cave, as well as various coral gardens. Tongatapu boat tours are also available departing from Faua Wharf to take you to uninhabited islands and stop by snorkelling hotspots. Check out the Best Boat Trips in Tonga for recommendations.
6. Sailing Charters are Available
Another way to travel Tonga by boat is to hire a sailing charter. Vava’u is the best place to do this, with several sailing charters available. Either hire a bareboat or a skippered boat for exploring some of the most famous sailing grounds in the South Pacific. Some of the sailing operators are also certified for whale swimming. Alternatively, whale sailing tours between Tongatapu and Ha’apai are also available between July and October. Find out more in The Best Sailing Tours in Tonga.
7. Yachties Need to Go Through Clearance and Domestic Check-Ins/Outs
Speaking of sailing, if you are travelling to Tonga on your own yacht, then there are a few formalities you need to be aware of. First, you need to submit an Advance Notice of Arrival (Small Craft) form to Tonga Customs with at least 24 hours notice. You will then need to go through clearance with officers from the Departments of Health, Agriculture, Immigration and Customs. When travelling between island groups, there is also a domestic check-in and check-out process to go through. Find out more in the 10 Tips for Sailing in Tonga.
8. Tonga is on the Itinerary of South Pacific and Round-the-World Cruises
Although you won’t find cruises sailing the ocean within Tonga, you will find Tonga on the itinerary of international cruises, particularly from Australia, New Zealand and the US. Even round-the-world trips from London call into Tonga during its South Pacific portion of the sailing. Find out more about experiencing Tonga by cruise ship in 10 Tips for Taking a Cruise to Tonga & the South Pacific.
9. Check and Double-Check the Ferry Schedule
A top tip for anyone taking the ferries in Tonga is to check and recheck the schedules. The ferry schedules are a little erratic in Tonga, often leaving visitors at the dock scratching their heads when they see the ferry pulling away well before it’s meant to. Check up-to-date ferry schedules when you arrive in Tonga at a Visitor Information Centre or at the ferry terminal. It’s also worth calling on the day of departure to get an update on ferry times.
10. Don’t Expect Much to Happen on a Sunday
Whether it’s ferry sailings, yacht clearance or boat tours, almost nothing happens in Tonga on a Sunday. This is due to Tongan law making Sunday a day of rest. The only exception to this rule is the boat transfers in Tongatapu to the island resorts, which you can find more information in the 7 Best Island Day Trips from Nuku’alofa.