How Easy is it to Drive in Tonga?
Pretty easy! With a relatively good road network across Tongatapu and Vava’u combined with a small population of people using the roads, driving in Tonga is far from a stressful experience. The most traffic you’ll experience is around Nuku’alofa, but even that is more the experience of small-town driving than city chaos. Nevertheless, there are a few road rules that you might not be used to, as well as other factors that might make driving a little more challenging. We’ll go through it all, answering the question: is it easy to drive in Tonga?
For more driving tips, be sure to head over to How to Drive in Tonga. Plus, remember to get your Tonga Visitor’s Driving Licence following our tips.
Tips for Driving in Tonga
Tonga is an easy country to drive in as long as you follow these tips:
- Drive on the left side of the road
- Know how to use roundabouts, giving way to those approaching from the right
- Give way to vehicles turning right
- Know where you can and can’t park
- Take it easy on the speed, the limit is 50km/h in villages and 70km/h outside of urban areas
- Only overtake when it’s safe to do so, not near an intersection
- Hire a car you can handle
For more tips, see 10 Safety Tips for Driving in Tonga.
Road Rules in Tonga
There are a few road rules in Tonga which might be different to what you’re used to back home. We’ll go through some of those road rules here, as well as give you advice on how to stick to these rules with ease.
Drive on the Left
Traffic in Tonga moves on the left side of the road. For those who come from a country that drives on the right, this can be a little daunting at first, but with the driver’s seat on the right side and using your left hand to manoeuvre the gear stick, your brain almost effortlessly picks up on driving on the left quickly. However, it’s important to keep reminding yourself to keep left, especially when pulling out of an intersection or after having a break from driving.
Roundabouts are used in Tonga but are only really found in Nuku’alofa in Tongatapu. When approaching a roundabout, stop and give way to vehicles on the right.
Give Way to Vehicles Turning Right
One of the more surprising road rules in Tonga is having to give way to vehicles that are turning right. So even if there is a vehicle on the opposite side of the road waiting or about to turn, crossing your side of the road, you have to slow down/stop to allow them to do so. You also need to give way to cars turning right at crossroad intersections.
There are a few rules when it comes to parking your car in Tonga. First, you can park cars on the side of the road, but it must be on the side of the road as far left as possible, except for on a one-way road. However, you cannot park within 10m/30ft of an intersection, on a footpath, within 6m/20ft of a pedestrian crossing, in front of any access road, or at a bus stop. And more of an unspoken rule, parking under a coconut tree is a bad idea due to falling coconuts…
A lot of Tongan drivers prefer to drive slowly, which is always fun to embrace and live a little “island time”. However, if you do want to overtake, first, be sure, it’s completely safe to do so with full visibility of what’s up ahead. Second, note that it’s illegal to overtake a vehicle that has stopped or slowed down to give right of way. You are also not permitted to overtake within 10m/30ft of an intersection.
What are the Rental Cars Like in Tonga?
It’s a mixed bag when it comes to rental cars in Tonga. While some cars have relatively new exports, most vehicles have many years behind them. How easy they are to drive depends on your experience driving different vehicles.
Larger rental car companies in Tongatapu will often have a huge fleet of vehicles to choose from, from small cars to trucks. Smaller car rental companies, like most in Vava’u, have a very limited fleet with perhaps one type of small car and a 4WD to choose from. You should choose a car that you are comfortable with driving.
There is a mix of cars with automatic and manual transmissions in Tonga. If you are not used to driving a manual, you will find it easier to hire a vehicle with automatic transmission. Be sure to request this when booking.
Learn more about car rental in Things to Know About Car Rental in Tonga.
What are the Roads like in Tonga?
The main roads in Tonga are generally very good, sealed with limited potholes (which is more than can be said for some of its South Pacific neighbours). There are, however, side roads that are either unmaintained sealed roads with potholes, gravel roads or dirt roads.
You’ll find that some attractions that you might want to get to in Tongatapu are down dirt roads. However, most of these dirt roads only start to deteriorate toward the end of the road, so sometimes its best to park up before the road gets too bad and walk the rest of the way.
On Vava’u, some attractions are down long dirt roads which should only be attempted in 4WD vehicles with high clearance (if you know how to handle a 4WD). Otherwise, sticking to the main roads of Vava’u is easy enough in a standard car.
For more road safety advice, see Is it Safe to Drive in Tonga?