The Best Things to Do in Ha’apai for Foodies
Most flock to the islands of Ha’apai for its sand, kitesurf, sun and coconut palms rather than for its food. Nevertheless, the foodie traveller can still find a few hidden gems of authentic South Pacific cuisine if they know where to look. We’ll help you out with this list of foodie experiences in Ha’apai!
For more about the restaurants, accommodation and more, see The Food Guide to Ha’apai: Places to Eat & Food Tours.
1. Browse the Pangai Market
At the centre of communities in Tonga is the local market, awash with tropical produce! The Pangai Market is the largest gathering of tropical fruit and vegetables in Ha’apai, making it well worth checking out if you’re a bit of a foodie. Mingle with the locals and browse the tropical fruit and vegetables presented in pyramid-shaped piles, bundles and in woven baskets. Grab yourself some healthy snacks or stock up on produce to spruce up your own tropical meals in Pangai’s self-catering accommodation. The best time to visit is on a Saturday morning when there are also Tongan dishes for sale like fai kakai – more on that later!
Location: Corner of Waterfront and Palace Road, Pangai, Lifuka Island.
2. Experience the Buzz of the Saturday Fish Market
Taufa’ahau Wharf becomes a hive of activity on Saturday morning when fisherfolk arrive to sell last night’s catch. Locals flock to the wharf to rummage through the cooler bins in a frenzy of colourful reef fish, pelagic monsters and crayfish. Head down between 6 am and 8 am to join in the fun.
Location: Taufa’ahau Wharf, Waterfront Road, Pangai.
3. Fish for Dinner
Speaking of fish, fishing is a way of life in Tonga, especially on the islands of Ha’apai. So whether you see fishing as an exciting sport or more of a cultural experience, the result is still (hopefully) going to be fresh food on your plate! Sea Change Eco Retreat offers sport fishing charters in May and June. Find out more about their tours in the 10 Best Fishing Charters in Tonga and check out more experiences like this in our 10 Luxury Activities in Ha’apai.
Location: Sea Change Eco Retreat, Uoleva Island.
4. Experience an Umu and Tongan Floor Show
Watch Tongan men perform a warrior’s dance or women gracefully use their hands to tell a story… Just a small part of a Tongan floor show and umu night, these evening shows include an array of cultural dances, as well as the opportunity to sample authentic Tongan cuisine prepared in an underground oven known as an “umu”. And in true Tongan spirit, you will be encouraged to eat more than is reasonable! Catch a floor show at Sandy Beach Resort (outside guests welcome), once a week during the peak season.
Location: Sandy Beach Resort, Foa Island. Check out all floor shows available in Ha’apai in The Best Cultural Shows in Tonga.
5. Be Treated to a Private Beach Dinner
If celebrating a special occasion or “just because”, spend the evening just you and your loved one at your own private table on the beach. Sea Change Eco Retreat offers a private candlelit dinner experience on the beach, complimentary for guests who are on their meal plan (which is most guests, as the secluded resort on Uoleva Island is far from any shops or restaurants). You’ll have a choice of two or three main dishes, as well as a mouthwatering dessert. The resort also offers to prepare packed picnics for guests wishing to go on island hikes and find their own secluded lunch spot.
Location: Sea Change Eco Retreat, Uoleva Island.
6. Try Authentic Tongan Food
While resort restaurants tend to favour pizzas and burgers, it’s not that hard to find authentic Tongan cuisine while exploring Ha’apai. Head to the Pangai Market on a Saturday morning to pick up sweet treats like fai kakai wrapped in either tin foil or banana leaves. Try Tongan spinach cooked in coconut cream, known as pele, at Lucky Pot Restaurant or Leleno ki Moana. Raw fish marinated in coconut cream, known as ota ika, is a dish served at Matafonua Lodge‘s restaurant. Learn more about these dishes in the 10 Unique Foods in Tonga You Have to Try.
Location: Pangai Market and Lucky Pot – Corner of the Waterfront and Palace Road, Pangai. Leleno ki Moana – Hala Holopeka Road, 400 m (400 yards) south of Hihifo. Matafonua Lodge – Northern end of Loto Foa Road, Foa Island.
7. Pick Up Some Keki at the Local Bakery
The Matuku-ae-tau Bakery keeps the island stocked with bread and baked treats! Those staying at the Lindsay Guesthouse, which the bakery is located next to (see the 5 Best Budget Accommodations in Ha’apai), will certainly be able to smell the freshly baked bread from the accommodation. Head there to try fresh coconut bread, jam-filled rolls and keki – Tongan-style doughnuts!
Location: Corner of Loto Kolo and Tuita Roads, Pangai, Lifuka Island.
8. Watch the Locals Prepare Raw Seafood Dishes
Head to the shores of Pangai on Lifuka or Houmale’eia Beach on Foa Island in the early morning or evening and you’ll often see locals collecting shellfish and preparing a large bowl of coconut cream to eat with it. If you’re curious, locals tend to not mind if you want to observe and ask questions.
Location: All over Ha’apai!
9. Experience Fai Kava
Not just one of the 10 Drinks in Tonga You Have to Try, fai kava is a complete experience, typically with locals performing music. Kava is a slightly narcotic drink made from the ground-up root of a pepper plant grown across the South Pacific. Accommodations like Serenity Beaches Resort, Diana Beach Resort, Fanga ’o Ipu Lahi Resort and Lindsay Guesthouse are the best ones to go to help organise this experience for you. And just so you know what you’re drinking, kava is a slightly narcotic drink made from the ground-up root of a pepper plant grown across the South Pacific.
If you’re joining a fai kava in a village, such as Pangai for example, it’s customary to bring some cash (TOP$50) or kava to contribute. Learn more about aspects of the Tongan culture in The Guide to the Tongan Culture and Traditions.
Location: All over Ha’apai! Inquire with your accommodation host to arrange the best fai kava to attend.
10. Treat the Tastebuds at One of Ha’apai’s Restaurants
Finally, an obvious foodie experience but one still worth mentioning is dining at Ha’apai’s restaurants! Admittedly, the islands aren’t exactly teeming with eateries but there are certainly a few hidden gems to be found in and around Pangai, ranging from Chinese restaurants to ice cream parlours. We list them all in The Food Guide to Ha’apai: Places to Eat & Food Tours.
Location: Pangai and Hihifo on Lifuka Island.
More Foodie Experiences in Ha’apai
That’s it for our list of the best foodie experiences in Ha’apai. For more mouthwatering activities, browse more of our food-related guides:
- 10 Exotic Fruits in Tonga You Have to Try
- The Food Guide to Ha’apai: Places to Eat & Food Tours
- 10 Best Foodie Experiences in Tonga
Finally, don’t miss any essential eatery or food tour with The Foodie Guide to Tonga.