The Top Attractions and Activities in Ha’apai’s Main Town, Pangai
The administrative centre of the Ha’apai group of islands in Tonga, Pangai offers a lot more than a few shops and services. Travellers will usually find themselves in this charming coastal town at some point during their trip to Ha’apai and, if not, they ought to! The town has a few culturally and historically significant sites to be in awe of (or scratch your head at), while the selection of eateries, the local market and gorgeous churches are more reasons to love this tropical town. We go into more detail about the town’s sights, attractions and activities in this list of the best things to do in Pangai!
1. Mingle with the Locals at the 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 meeting 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.
2. Scratch Your Head at the Mystery Cross
Seemingly signposted all over Pangai, you’ll no doubt be intrigued by the Mystery Cross. According to Tonga Tourism Authority, the story goes: “It was 5 am on 6th October 1975 when Rev. Kalavite ‘Uhila was on his way to church and he saw a bright cross-shaped light in the church ground of the Free Wesleyan Church in Pangai, Ha’apai.” To commemorate this miracle, the layout of this cross has been constructed lying down on the grounds of the church. You can check it out when the gates to the grounds are open.
Location: Signposted from the main road (Hala Holopeka), Pangai, Lifuka Island. Turn down the road at the Customs Office and the entrance to the Free Wesleyan Church is approximately 100 m (110 yards) down this road.
3. Check Out the Shirley Baker Monument and European Cemetery
At the northern entrance to Pangai is the Shirley Baker Monument and the European Cemetery. Among the cemetery of 19th and 20th-Century European traders and missionaries, the grave, monumental plaque and looming statue of Rev. Shirley Waldemar Baker can be found. He was Tonga’s first prime minister and advisor to King Tupou I. Also, opposite the site, is a Tongan cemetery decorated with sand and coral mounds. For more sites like this, check out the 8 Best Historical Sites in Ha’apai.
Location: Signposted along the main road (Hala Holopeka) at the northern entrance of Pangai, Lifuka Island.
4. Visit the King at Tau’akipulu Palace
Ok, so he’s not likely to be in but Palasi Tau’akipulu or Tau’akipulu Palace is one of several royal palaces constructed across The Kingdom. The palace has gone through frequent renovations to keep it looking, well, fit for a king. Either way, the palace still makes for a fun photo opportunity as you explore Pangai.
Location: Signposted along the main road (Hala Holopeka) between the Customs Office and the Catholic Church, Pangai, Lifuka Island.
5. Charter a Boat to the Outer Islands
Pangai is one of the best places to start your journey to the outer islands of Ha’apai. See the Visitor Information Centre about arranging a boat to visit the nearby Uoleva Island with its 10.2 km (6.3 mi) beach encircling the entire island. For something more adventurous, boat charters can be arranged to the outer island volcanoes of Tofua and Kao! Tofua is an active volcano and bird sanctuary, while Kao is the highest volcano/mountain in the whole of Tonga.
Location: Boat charters depart from the jetty just south of the Visitor Information Centre, Pangai, Lifuka Island. Learn more about chartering boats in The Guide to Interisland Ferry Travel in Tonga.
6. Dine at Pangai’s Restaurants or Ice Cream Parlour
Pangai’s waterfront boasts not one but two eateries, giving you a good excuse to dine and relax between exploring the sights. Lucky Pot serves both Tongan and Western cuisine, while Tiger Inn is your go-to for Chinese. In the centre of town is also the irresistible RayLela’s Cake & Ice Cream Shop. Learn more about these eateries, as well as others nearby, in the 5 Best Restaurants in Ha’apai.
Location: Lucky Pot and Tiger Inn, Waterfront Road. RayLela’s, Hala Holopeka Road (near the Visitor Information Centre).
7. Check Out the Velata Mound Fortress…
This attraction is technically in the neighbouring village of Hihifo, but it’s so close to Pangai that you’ll hardly notice. Velata Mound Fortress is a traditional ditch fortification that was used throughout the South Pacific from the 15th to the 19th Century. A plaque at the sites explains the history, while there’s also a sign with an aerial diagram of the fortress. For more free sights like this, 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.
8. … Then Langi ‘o Olovehi
Close enough to the Velata Mound Fortress to check out, Langi ‘o Olovehi is a royal burial ground. The interpretation panel here is written in Tongan, but the short story is that the tomb was constructed in the late 1700s for a woman named Nanasipau’u, the eldest sister of the Tu’i Tonga. It is claimed that many individuals were killed and buried around the outside of the tomb to serve her in the afterlife. Learn more about the Tu’i Tonga line of royalty in A Brief History of Tonga.
Location: Tua Road, approximately 200 m (220 yards) north of the Velata Fortress turn-off, Hihifo, Lifuka Island.
9. Experience a Tongan Church Service
If you’re lucky enough to be in Pangai on a Sunday, don’t miss experiencing a Tongan church service. There are plenty of churches and denominations to choose from between the giant blue Free Wesleyan Church, quaint red Free Church of Tonga, hexagonal Catholic Church and more! We suggest you simply head to the church closest to your accommodation or one that we list in the 10 Best Churches in Tonga for Tourists, as they are all extremely welcoming. Just make sure you’re dressed respectfully.
Location: All over Pangai! See the link above for church recommendations and their locations.
10. Make a Stop at ‘Api ko Niu’ui (King Tupou I Birthplace)
The first in the line of the Tupou royal family was born at this site in Tongoleleka in 1797. A plaque at this site named ‘Api ko Niu’ui or “Birthplace of King Tupou I” tells the story of how King George Tupou I became the founder and architect of modern-day Tonga by ordering all people of Tonga to become Christian.
Location: Signposted at the southern end of the old hospital, Hala Holopeka Road (main road), Hihifo, Lifuka Island.
More Things to Do in Pangai and Ha’apai
That’s it for our list of the best things to do in Pangai but that’s by no means of the things to do nearby! Check out the below lists for more ideas:
- Sightseeing in Ha’apai: Top 10 Sights in Ha’apai
- 20 Best Things to Do in Ha’apai
- The Food Guide to Ha’apai: Places to Eat & Food Tours
Finally, if there’s anything we’ve missed, you’re likely to find it in The Complete Travel Guide to Ha’apai.