Free and Affordable Activities in Tonga
After your whale swim, perhaps scuba diving among the coral reefs or even heading out on the fishing charter to reel in the big ones, well, that often doesn’t leave a whole lot left in our travel budget for Tonga. Luckily, MOST of Tonga’s attractions and activities are free or cheap. The islands are awash in intriguing historical sites, natural wonders and crystal-clear waters for snorkelling or kayaking. You can fill up an entire month exploring the islands and their waters on the cheap, so check out this list of free and cheap things to do in Tonga to help keep your travel budget to a minimum!
1. Check Out Ha’amonga ‘a Maui (Tongatapu) – FREE
One of the most iconic historical sites in Tonga and the South Pacific is the Ha’amonga ‘a Maui Trilithon. Also known as “Maui’s Burden”, this megalithic structure is believed to have been constructed in the 13th Century by the 11th Tu’i (king) of Tonga, Tu’itatui. The site near Niutoua on Tonga’s main island, Tongatapu, also features ‘Esi Makafakinanga or “Tu’itatui’s Backrest”. It’s just one of the free 10 Best Historical Sites in Tonga.
Location: Signposted along Taufa’ahau Road, Niutoua, east side of Tongatapu.
2. Snap a Pic of the Royal Palace (Tongatapu) – FREE
Standing proud on the waterfront of Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa, the Royal Palace is a symbol of the South Pacific’s only monarchy. With that in mind, you might as well get a good photo of it while you’re there, which will cost you nothing! Although the palace grounds are not open to visitors, you can get good views of the Victorian building from the parks on the west and east side – better from the west side. Check out more attractions like this in the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Nuku’alofa.
Location: Corner of Vaha’akolo and Vuna Road, Nuku’alofa city centre.
3. Go on a Hike in ‘Eua – FREE
The ancient island of ‘Eua is a nature lover’s paradise, best explored on foot. There are three main areas for hiking; the tropical forest of the ‘Eua National Park, the limestone caves and cliffs of Fangatave, or the Rock Gardens on the southern coast. Fangatave requires a guide which may send you over budget, so follow our self-guided routes listed in the 5 Best Hikes in ‘Eua to make this a free activity! Plus, check out more inexpensive activities in the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do on ‘Eua.
Location: ‘Eua, 40 km (23 mi) southeast of Tongatapu.
4. See the Sights by Bike (Ha’apai, Tongatapu and Vava’u) – FREE/CHEAP
Visit the idyllic central island archipelago of Tonga, Ha’apai, and you’ll have plenty of opportunities to hire bikes for free at some resorts. Once you’re set, you can cycle between the main town of Pangai with its cultural and historical offerings and the glorious Houmale’eia Beach at the top of Foa Island! Alternatively, affordable mountain bike hire is available in Nuku’alofa (Tongatapu) and Neiafu (Vava’u) to explore its islands’ sights. See Where to Rent Bicycles in Tonga to learn more!
Location: Ha’apai, Vava’u and Tongatapu. For more details, head to The Guide to Cycling & Mountain Biking in Tonga.
5. Hike to the Top of Mt Talau (Vava’u) – FREE
Visiting the islands of Vava’u? A great place to start with your exploration is from the top of Mt Talau! Located in the Mt Talau National Park, just a 20-minute walk from Neiafu town or a TOP$10 taxi ride, the Mt Talau walk is a 10-minute climb through forest and up some steep steps to a rewarding view. Take in the vistas of Neiafu, the Port of Refuge, faraway islands and, well, a phone tower directly behind you… We recommend walking back into town through the villages for interesting sights like churches, pigs and roosters. Check out more suggestions for Vava’u in the 10 Free & Cheap Things To Do in Vava’u.
Location: From Neiafu, Vava’u, follow Tapueluefu Road (just past the Police Station) for approximately 2 km (1.2 mi) until you see the entrance signs for the Mt Talau National Park.
6. Swim at ‘Anahulu Cave (Tongatapu) – CHEAP
This majestic limestone cave on the east coast of Tongatapu is a must-see, and not too expensive to visit either! Duck through a small cave entrance which instantly opens up into a vast limestone cavern lit up in all of its glory to reveal stalactites, stalagmites and more. A well-formed walkway leads to a refreshing swimming hole – so bring your swimwear! Entry is approximately TOP$15 per person. Check out the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do on Tongatapu for more affordable attractions on the main island.
Location: Signposted from the southern end of Haveluliku village, east side of Tongatapu.
7. See the Hufangalupe Landbridge and Cliff Lookout (Tongatapu) – FREE
Yes, Tongatapu has no lack of natural attractions which will take at least a day or two to see them all. One of the many impressive natural features to admire is the Hufangalupe Landbridge and its nearby cliff lookout and beach. After a drive down a dirt track (the last 50 m/yards is really rough, so it’s best to park up and walk the rest of the way if you’re in a rental car), you’ll first come across a side trail to an astonishing lookout over Hufangalupe Beach. Then continue down the dirt road and follow a well-formed trail down to a cliff archway covered in vegetation and with the waves crashing below. Walk over the landbridge and for approximately five minutes before turning back to see an amazing view of Tongatapu’s rugged cliff coastline. Check out more places like this in the 10 Best Natural Attractions in Tonga.
Location: Access off Hufangalupe Road, southeast coast of Tongatapu.
8. See the Amazing Arts and Crafts at Talamahu Market or ‘Utakalongalu Market (Tongatapu and Vava’u) – FREE/CHEAP
Even if you’re budget won’t allow you to purchase some of the impressive Tongan handicrafts found at these markets in Nuku’alofa and Neiafu, they are still well worth a look! In Nuku’alofa, head to the central Talamahu Market for its wide array of arts and crafts filling just about every available space of this market building. See intricately woven baskets, Tongan clothing, tapa cloth paintings, carved jewellery, ornaments and so much more! Alternatively, if staying in Vava’u, the ‘Utakalongalu Market may be smaller but the arts and crafts for sale are no less awe-inspiring. Learn more about the markets in Tonga in the 5 Best Markets in Tonga.
Location: Talamahu Market – Salote Road, Nuku’alofa, Tongatapu. Utakalongalu Market – Neiafu waterfront next to Halavalu Wharf, Vava’u.
9. Go to a Sunday Church Service – FREE
Sundays are a time to slow down in the islands of Tonga. Harmonious singing floats through the villages and towns in the morning and afternoon church services, where visitors can immerse themselves a little further in Tongan culture. Churches in Tonga welcome all visitors but it is required that you wear respectable clothing for the occasion, covering the knees and shoulders. Check out 10 Best Churches in Tonga for Tourists for some suggestions on churches to attend.
Location: All over Tonga! See the link above for church recommendations and locations.
10. Check Out Hihifo’s Archaeological Sites (Ha’apai) – FREE
Ha’apai has a colourful history dating back some 3,000 years! Checking out some of the historical sites is a free way to enjoy your time here. The village of Hihifo holds many interesting sites, including the Olovehi Tomb, which is a burial ground for Tonga’s ancient nobles (as well as their subjects who are said to serve them even into the afterlife). Nearby is the Velata Mound Fortress, which was a type of ditch fortification that was used throughout the South Pacific in the 19th Century. Find out more about these sites and many others in the 8 Best Historical Sites in Ha’apai.
Location: Hihifo, south of Pangai, Lifuka Island, Ha’apai. See the link above for specific locations for each historical site.
11. See the Flying Foxes in Kolovai (Tongatapu) – FREE
For your wildlife fix on Tongatapu, head to the village of Kolovai to check out its flying fox sanctuary. You’ll likely hear the strange squeaks of the large fruit bats, locally known as “peka” before you see them hanging in the trees scattered across the village. While it’s possible to see flying foxes at any time of the year, the best time to see them is between October and February. Note, you only need to look up in the trees in Kolovai to see flying foxes, making it an easy and free activity in Tonga.
Location: Kolovai, west side of Tongatapu.
12. Watch the Fishing Pigs (Tongatapu) – FREE
Another free wildlife encounter, even if this one is verging on the strange, the Fishing Pigs on Tongatapu is essentially a bunch of pigs in the village of Navutoka that have decided that they prefer seafood to the usual land fodder. With that, you can almost always see pigs wandering the mudflats along the coast of the village, sticking their head in the water in search of briny goodness. Don’t worry, the brown tourist signs on the roadsides will point you in the right direction of this attraction that Tonga is extremely proud of!
Location: Signposted along Tahi Road, Navutoka, east side of Tongatapu.
13. Snap Up a Pic of the Three-Headed Coconut (Tongatapu) – FREE
Ok, if you thought the “Fishing Pigs” weren’t strange enough, then you might prefer to see a coconut tree with three heads?! The Three-Headed Coconut is an unusual coconut tree found on the side of Loto Road on the outskirts of Liahona. It is said to be the only coconut tree in the South Pacific with three heads! Don’t worry, it’s also well sign-posted so you can’t miss it!
Location: Signposted along Loto Road, western end of Liahona village, west side of Tongatapu.
14. Cool Off at Hafu Pool and Check Out Big ‘Ovava Tree #1 (‘Eua) – FREE
Although all of ‘Eua‘s natural attractions are a bit of a walk from the island’s villages, Hafu Pool and the Big ‘Ovava Tree #1 are a couple of the easiest attractions to access on foot or by rental car (therefore, making them free or very cheap). First, make your way to Hafu Pool, which is a series of refreshing freshwater pools among the forest. There are two small concrete dams to keep the water at prime dipping level but not too deep. Across the pool is a well-established trail to the “Big ‘Ovava Tree #1“. Cross the longer of the concrete dams and follow the trail for 5-10 minutes. At the fork, turn left and then left again to find the sign for the “Big ‘Ovava Tree #1”. Be mindful of your step, however, as the tree plunges deep into the caves below.
Location: Signposted between Mata’aho and ‘Esia villages, ‘Eua, down a narrow 1.8 km (1.1 mi) dirt road. A high-clearance vehicle is advised.
15. Do Some Bird Watching (‘Eua) – FREE
Although enjoyed on many of the islands in Tonga, one of the most accessible and inexpensive for bird watching is, again, the island of ‘Eua. While the island is renowned for its wealth of birdlife, the icon of the forest is the red shining parrot, locally known as a “koki”. Other bird species encountered include noddies, white-tailed birds, swiftlets and Pacific pigeons. Watching birdlife is particularly good in the ‘Eua National Park on the east side of the island, as well as the south coast of the island where the seabird population is especially vibrant in the Lakufa’anga Cliffs area. Check out more bird-watching tips in the 5 Best Places for Bird Watching in Tonga.
Location: ‘Eua National Park and the south coast of ‘Eua.
16. Learn Tongan Handicrafts (Tongatapu) – CHEAP
Tonga has a rich island culture, where traditional arts and crafts are an integral part of everyday life. Immerse into the Tongan way of life through cultural classes, from weaving to tapa cloth-making. A few affordable ways to get involved are through handicraft lessons at Tina’s Workshop (approx TOP$20-$30) or culture tours at Ancient Tonga with their “Half Culture Tour” (approx TOP$45) and the “Full Culture Tour” (approx TOP$75). Learn more about what these experiences entail in Where to Learn Tongan Handicrafts.
Location: Both tours are located in Popua, Nuku’alofa, Tongatapu.
17. Go Snorkelling from the Beach – FREE
We only list watersports like snorkelling in Tonga lower on this list because it’s one of the most obvious free things to do. There is so much snorkelling to be done straight from the shore, where you can get up close to tropical fish, coral and more! The snorkelling is particularly fantastic off the southern shores of Tongatapu, from just about anywhere in Ha’apai, and from the outer islands of Vava’u. We recommend bringing your own snorkelling gear. Check out The Guide to Snorkelling in Tonga for more advice on the subject.
Location: All over Tonga! Check out the best spots in the 10 Best Places to Snorkel in Tonga.
18. Explore the Islands by Kayak – FREE
Another free watersport, if you’re staying at an appropriate accommodation, is kayaking. Many of the waterfront accommodations in Tonga offer complimentary kayaks for guests to use to explore the coast, glide over crystal clear waters, and enjoy being out on the water. Don’t forget to take your snorkelling gear with you! Check out The Guide to Kayaking in Tonga for more information.
Location: All over Tonga! Check out accommodations with kayaks in the 10 Best Resorts for Kayaking in Tonga.
19. Take a Day Trip to the Islands From the Capital (Tongatapu) – CHEAP
Some of the best-value tours available in Nuku’alofa are day trips to the off-shore islands. For instance, take a day trip to Pangaimotu Island to experience Tonga’s idyllic islands. After a 15-20-minute boat trip, you’ll arrive on the island to enjoy it as you please: swimming from the beach, walking around the island, sunbathing or finding shade under a coconut tree, or snorkelling at the nearby reef (snorkel hire is an additional fee). At around TOP$50 for a full-day experience, that’s not a bad way to make your Pa’anga go further! See more island day trips in our 10 Best Island Day Trips from Nuku’alofa.
Location: Boats depart from Faua Wharf (behind the fish market and Ngutilei Restaurant) every Sunday at 11 am and 12 am. Trips throughout the week require at least 10 passengers to go ahead (so book at the Tourist Information Fale in advance and they’ll get back to you). Nuku’alofa, Tongatapu.
20. Take in the Views from the ‘Utula’aina Lookout (Vava’u) – FREE
Finally, in the north of Vava’u’s main island, ‘Utu Vava’u, the ‘Utula’aina Lookout provides a stunning photo stop and a whale-watching lookout. After a drive down a long but well-maintained gravel road, and looking out for the tomb hidden in the bushes as you drive, you’ll reach the ‘Utula’aina Lookout with breathtaking views over Vava’u’s rugged cliffs, turquoise waters and white-sand beaches. The interpretation sign also explains how this site was once the residence of the 10th Tu’i Tonga – find out more about this line of kings in A Brief History of Tonga. ‘Utula’aina is just one of around four official lookouts around the islands of Vava’u, so check out the rest (which are also free to visit) in our guide to Sightseeing in Vava’u: Top 10 Sights & Natural Attractions.
Location: Well signposted from the north of Holonga village, ‘Utu Vava’u, Vava’u. From Holonga, follow the gravel road north for approximately 1 km (0.6 mi) and turn left at the fork. The lookout is another 650 m (710 yards) down this road.
More Free and Cheap Things to Do in Tonga
That’s it for the free and cheap things to do in Tonga. For more ways to save the Pa’anga in The Kingdom, take a look at more of our insightful guides:
- The Budget & Backpacking Guide to Tonga
- 20 Best Budget Accommodations in Tonga
- 10 Tips to Save Money When Travelling in Tonga
Finally, inspire yourself with more experiences with the 101 Best Things to Do in Tonga: The Ultimate List. Plus, get more budgeting advice from our guide, Tonga Travel Budget: How Much Does a Trip to Tonga Cost?