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 two weeks 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!
For more advice on planning a trip to the Kingdom, take a look at The Complete Guide to Tonga.
1. Check Out Ha’amonga ‘a Maui
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 attraction near Niutoua on Tonga’s main island, Tongatapu, also features ‘Esi Makafakinanga or “Tu’itatui’s Backrest”, which is said to be where the king leant while he watched the construction of the monument. It’s just one of the free historical attractions to check out in Tonga.
Location: Niutoua, eastside of Tongatapu
2. Snap a Pic of the Royal Palace
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 waterfront grassy areas on the west and east side of the palace – 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, Tongatapu
3. Go on a Hike in ‘Eua
The ancient island of ‘Eua is a nature lover’s paradise, best explored on foot. There are two options 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: guided and self-guided. Both are extremely affordable, with self-guided walks only having the expense of the transfers to and from the trails, while guided walks are around TOP$80-$100. Learn more about each hike available in the 5 Best Hikes in ‘Eua. Plus, check out more free and cheap activities in ‘Eua here.
Location: ‘Eua, 40km/23miles southeast of Tongatapu
4. Hire a Bike and Ride to Homale’eia Beach
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 or for cheap from the Mariner’s Cafe. Starting from Pangai, the main town on the island of Lifuka, ride up to the northern tip of Foa Island. Your reward for the 14km (9-mile) journey is reaching the glorious Houmale’eia Beach! There, pop into Matafonua Lodge‘s cafe for a bite to eat and snorkel at the marine reserve just off the beach. We also recommend stopping by the Port au Prince Massacre Monument, a few hundred metres north of the airport, where a sign points west to a beach and the monument. Check out more suggestions for this island group in the 10 Free & Cheap Things To Do in Ha’apai.
Location: Ha’apai. From Pangai, follow the main road north (across the airport landing strip and causeway) all the way to the northern point of Foa Island. It’s 14km (9 miles) one way.
5. Hike to the Top of Mt Talau
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 10-20-minute climb through forest and up some steep (and slippery) 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: Vava’u. From Neiafu, follow Tapueluefu Road for approximately 2km (1.2 miles) until you see the entrance signs for the Mt Talau National Park.
6. Swim at ‘Anahulu Cave
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: Fatumu, eastside of Tongatapu
7. See the Hufangalupe Landbridge and Cliff Lookout
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 50m 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 Amazing Natural Attractions in Tongatapu.
Location: Off Liku Road, west of Fua’amotu and south of Vaini. Eastside of Tongatapu
8. See the Amazing Arts and Crafts at Talamahu Market or Utakalongalu Market
Even if you’re budget won’t allow purchasing 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 and carved ornaments and so much more! Alternatively, if staying in Vava’u, the Utakalongalu Market is smaller but the arts and crafts for sale are no less awe-inspiring. Learn more about the markets in Tonga in Where to Buy the Best Souvenirs in Tonga.
Location: Talamahu Market, Salote Road, Nuku’alofa, Tongatapu and Utakalongalu Market, Neiafu waterfront next to Halavalu Wharf, Vava’u
9. Go to a Sunday Church Service
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 into 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
10. Check Out Ha’apai’s Archaeological Sites
Ha’apai has a colourful history of kings, tribes and European encounters dating back some 3,000 years! Checking out some of the historical sites is a free way to enjoy your time in this island group. The village of Hihifo, in particular, holds many interesting sites, including the fenced-off Olovehi Tomb, which is a burial ground for Tonga’s ancient nobles. Nearby is the Velata Mound Fortress, which is an ancient ditch fortification.
Location: Ha’apai. Hihifo, south of Pangai. Olovehi Tomb is on Loto Kolo Road. Velata Mound Fortress is approximately 1.2km (0.7 miles) south of Pangai on a turn-off toward the east.
11. See the Flying Foxes in Kolovai
For your wildlife fix in Tongatapu, head to the village of Kolovai to check out its flying fox sanctuary. It’s likely that you’ll 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, westside of Tongatapu
12. Watch the Fishing Pigs in Mu’a
Another free wildlife encounter that is verging on the strange, the Fishing Pigs, also in Tongatapu, is essentially a bunch of pigs in the village of Mu’a 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 out in the right direction of this attraction that Tonga is extremely proud of!
Location: Mu’a, eastside of Tongatapu
13. Snap Up a Pic of the Three-Headed Coconut
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 in Tongatapu 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 well sight-posted so, once again, you can’t miss it!
Location: Loto Road near Liahona, westside of Tongatapu
14. Go Horse Trekking on the Beach
Back to some more serious (but fun) cheap activities, horse trekking on the island of ‘Eua is another option. ‘Eua might be known for its wild horses, but at least some are tame to provide a unique way to explore the island. You can hire a horse for approximately TOP$15 for a half-day hire or TOP$30 for a full-day to hire if you know how to ride a horse. Rates will be a little more expensive with a guide. Either way, there are many quiet roads and dirt tracks to enjoy exploring the island on horseback, with a popular choice being from the village of ‘Ohonua riding down to ‘Ufilei Beach for a beach ride.
Location: Available from Taina’s Place, The Hideaway and Blue Water Retreat, ‘Eua
15. Do Some Bird Watching
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 of 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 south coast of ‘Eua
16. Learn Tongan Arts, Crafts and Dance
Tonga has a rich island culture, where traditional arts, crafts and dance are a part of everyday life. Immerse into the Tongan way of life through cultural classes, from weaving to tapa cloth-making to traditional Tongan dancing. A few affordable ways to get involved is through cultural classes offered by the local villagers in ‘Eua and organised through accommodations on the island. Alternatively, in Ha’apai, the Fonongava’inga (Langi Langi) Guesthouse also offers handicraft lessons for around TOP$10. Learn more about trying Tongan handicrafts in Where to Learn Tongan Handicrafts.
Location: All over ‘Eua, inquire with your accommodation and the Fonongava’inga (Langi Langi) Guesthouse, Pangai, Ha’apai.
17. Go Snorkelling off the Beach
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 reefs and more! The snorkelling is particularly fantastic off the western shores of Tongatapu, from just about anywhere in Ha’apai, and from the outer islands of Vava’u. Although we recommend bringing your own gear for comfort, most waterfront accommodation in Tonga offer free use of snorkelling equipment. Check out The Guide to Snorkelling in Tonga for more advice on the subject.
Location: Check out the best spots in the 10 Best Places to Snorkel in Tonga
18. Explore the Islands by Kayak
Another watersport that’s easy to access and free/cheap 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
19. Do a Tour of the Vava’u Pearl Centre
Back to Vava’u, the island group is renowned for its production of mabe pearls. See some amazing mabe pearl art and jewellery and learn all about the production process at the Vava’u Pearl Centre at the Halavalu Wharf in Neiafu. Either call in to take a look at all the pretty pearl jewellery, artwork and handicrafts in the centre which is open Monday to Friday, 9am-4pm, or join one of the super affordable tours. Tours cost around TOP$10 and take place every Thursday and Friday at 10am where you’ll discover how pearl oysters are born and bred, see the difference between the types of pearls, and take you on a tour of the workshop.
Location: Halaevalu Wharf, Neiafu, Vava’u
20. Take in the Views from the ‘Utula’aina Lookout
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 rough dirt road (make sure your rental car has high clearance), you’ll reach the ‘Utula’aina Lookout with breathtaking views over Vava’u’s rugged cliffs, turquoise waters and white-sand beaches. There is also a turn off in the road leading down to one of the beaches, but it can be a little too rough for some cars, so we recommend parking up and walking down. Check out more like this in the 10 Amazing Natural Attractions in Vava’u.
Location: North of Holonga, Vava’u