Scenic, Historic and Cultural Sights in Ha’apai
Ha’apai are not only islands of natural wonders, but they are steeped in a rich history. Most of the islands in this central island group in Tonga are uninhabited and unspoiled, making for a real Robinson Crusoe vibe, while villages like Pangai and Hihifo hide ancient fortresses and tombs that are fascinating to discover. This list of sights in Ha’apai should be endless, as the beaches, coral reefs, lagoons and islands all have something amazing to discover. Regardless, if you need some places to start your adventure off in the Ha’apai Group, take a look at our guide to sightseeing in Ha’apai below…
For more natural sights across the country, check out the 10 Best Natural Attractions in Tonga.
1. Houmale’eia Beach
Ha’apai has so many stunning beaches that it would be quite the mission to name them all here. However, Houmale’eia Beach (commonly known as Matafonua Beach, as it’s right by Matafonua Lodge) is well worth mentioning as it’s easy to get to and has excellent snorkelling. Located at the northern tip of Foa Island, an island connected to Ha’apai’s main island, Lifuka, Houmale’eia Beach has a 400 m (1,300 ft) reef a short swim from its shores which is an established marine reserve. The beach is even backed by a couple of resorts, should you want to stay there or at least pop in for a bite to eat at their restaurants (note that you’ll need to book a table during the peak season). Needless to say, this beach also features on our 10 Stunning Beaches in Tonga.
Location: The northern end of the main road, Loto Foa Road, Foa Island.
2. Hulu’ i Paongo Point
And at the southern tip of Lifuka, you’ll find amazing views where the road ends at Hulu’ i Paongo Point. Admire the scenery of a sweeping white sand beach, as well as Uoleva Island across the channel. Just before you reach Hulu’ i Paongo Point, there is also the Hulu’ i Paongo Tomb, a burial site of a long line of chiefs. Learn more about how to find the tomb in the 5 Best Historical Sites in Ha’apai.
Location: At the very southern end of the main road, Hala Holopeka, Lifuka Island. The last kilometre of road is a dirt road, but it’s still suitable for 2WD vehicles.
3. Velata Mound Fortress
Check out an example of a traditional ditch fortification that was used throughout the South Pacific from the 15th to the 19th Century at the Velata Mound Fortress. Located in the village of Hihifo on the island of Lifuka, the Velata Mound Fortress is indicated by a plaque explaining the history, as well as a sign with an aerial diagram of the fortress. Also nearby is the historical site of Olovehi Tomb. For more free sights, check out the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Ha’apai.
Location: Signposted from the main road (Hala Holopeka), Hihifo, Lifuka Island. From Hala Holopeka Road, take Hihifo Road east, crossing both Tuakolo and Tua Roads. The fortress entrance is easy to spot approximately 200 m (220 yards) down a dirt road that’s fine for 2WD vehicles.
4. Uoleva Island
Although a great deal of visitors to Ha’apai stay on the island at one of the resorts, Uoleva is still well worth visiting for a day trip to get that “Robinson Crusoe” experience. Charter one of the small boats servicing the island for the day (or you might be lucky to catch a transfer if the boat happens to be going out anyway) and enjoy the day snorkelling and/or walking around the island which is approximately 10.2 km (6.3 mi) taking around 2-3 hours. Although resorts don’t provide meals to outside guests (so bring your own lunch), you may be able to buy a drink at their bars.
Location: Boat charters to Uoleva depart from both Taufa’ahau Wharf and the jetty just south of the Visitor Information Centre, Pangai, Lifuka Island. Inquire about organising a return boat trip to the island at the Visitor Information Centre (signposted off Hala Holopeka Road, just south of the main wharf). For approximate prices, check out How Much Do Ferries Cost in Tonga.
5. Sele’s Secret Beach
A stunning beach on Foa Island, Sele’s Secret Beach is the name that we personally give to this beach because we’re still trying to find a local who knows its real name. Until then, we’re calling it after the guy who showed us this hidden gem. With pavement-like rock formations, bright blue waters and coconut palms lining the white sands, this picture-perfect beach is one you’ll be glad to discover at least for a few photos.
Location: On Loto Foa Road (the main road on Foa Island), take the driveway/road toward the coast after the turn-off to Sandy Beach Resort when heading south. The last section of the dirt road is rough, so park up and walk the rest of the way. Otherwise, this beach is easy to walk to from Sandy Beach and Matafonua Resorts via the road or western beach.
6. Pangai Market
By the time you make it to Ha’apai, you will likely have seen a few of the amazing markets in Tonga. Nevertheless, it’s always an experience mingling with the locals and checking out the pyramids and bundles of tropical produce for sale, as well as local handicrafts. The Pangai Market is in usually in action from 8 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday. However, it gets an early start on Saturday morning at around 5 am with much more stalls than throughout the week. In this case, the best time to visit is between 6:30 am and 7 am on Saturday when the market is in full swing. Complement the experience by heading to the wharf to see the local fisherfolk selling fish, also on a Saturday morning.
Location: Corner of the Waterfront and Palace Road, Pangai, Lifuka Island.
7. The Whales
Arguably one of the most famous sights in Ha’apai is the humpback whales that frequent Ha’apai’s tropical waters between mid-July to mid-October. They take an amazing journey from Antarctica to get here, where they mate, calve and swim with humans! Yes, you can join one of the specialised whale swimming tours in Ha’apai to snorkel with these gentle giants. Learn more in The Guide to Whale Swimming in Tonga.
Location: All over Ha’apai! Check out whale operators in the 7 Best Whale Swim Tours in Ha’apai.
8. Hot Spring Cave
Those who are certified divers can check out this unusual natural attraction underwater! Hot Spring Cave is a sea cave with a hydrothermal vent blasting hot water into a cave camber to mix with cool water. It will certainly be the warmest dive you’ll record in your logbook! Check out more interesting dives in the 5 Best Dive Sites in Ha’apai.
Location: Ofalanga Island. Check out diving operators to visit the cave in The Best Snorkel & Scuba Dive Tours in Ha’apai.
9. Tofua Volcano
Ha’apai is made up of around 60 islands, most of which are uninhabited and make for an interesting excursion for boat tours. Admittedly, there has been a recorded population of “two” on the volcanic island of Tofua, but it still makes for an interesting visit to this caldera of a steep-sided active volcano that is also a bird sanctuary.
Location: Boat charters to Tofua Island depart from the jetty just south of the Visitor Information Centre, Pangai, Lifuka Island. Inquire about organising a return boat trip to the island at the Visitor Information Centre (signposted off Hala Holopeka Road, just south of the main wharf).
10. Kao Island
Next to Tofua is the stratovolcano of Kao Island, which is also the highest point in Tonga at 1,030 m (3,379 ft). Take a boat trip out to the island to hike to Tonga’s highest peak and enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding Pacific Ocean and Tofua Island. For more hiking missions, check out the 10 Best Walks & Hikes in Tonga.
Location: Again, boat charters to Kao Island depart from the jetty just south of the Visitor Information Centre, Pangai, Lifuka Island. Inquire about organising a return boat trip to the island at the Visitor Information Centre (signposted off Hala Holopeka Road, just south of the main wharf).
More About Sightseeing in Ha’apai
That’s it for our list of the top sights in Ha’apai and the best sightseeing in Ha’apai. For more historical and natural sights to discover, dive into the following articles:
- 20 Best Things to Do in Ha’apai
- 10 Things to Do in Ha’apai with Kids
- 10 Romantic Things to Do in Ha’apai
Finally, if there’s anything we’ve missed, you’re likely to find it in The Complete Travel Guide to Ha’apai.