What are the Best Islands in Tonga?
A trip to Tonga isn’t about just “going to Tonga”. Tonga is made up of 170 islands spread across five different regions/island groups. With most travellers having limited time and budget to explore the islands of Tonga, we share with you what many consider to be the best islands in Tonga for travellers to visit. Although the four main island groups offer all of the activities that most travellers come to Tonga to do, each has very different vibes and landscapes. See which island group is right for you in the guide below.
The Best Islands in Tonga for…
- Beaches: Ha’apai
- Scuba diving: Vava’u
- Sailing: Vava’u
- Surfing: Tongatapu
- Hiking: ‘Eua
- Fishing: Vava’u
- Kitesurfing: Ha’apai
- Snorkelling: Ha’apai
- Natural land attractions: Tongatapu and ‘Eua
- Tongan culture: The Niuas and ‘Eua
- History: Tongatapu
- Shopping: Tongatapu
- Food: Tongatapu
- Remoteness: ‘Eua and The Niuas
- Towns and villages: Tongatapu
- Budget: ‘Eua
- Island resorts: Vava’u
- Swimming with whales: Controversial! See The Best Place to Swim with Whales in Tonga!
The easiest island for travellers to visit, Tongatapu has much more going for it than Tonga’s largest international airport. The largest island in Tonga has some of the most famous historical sites in the South Pacific, as well as an array of natural attractions where you can spend a whole day hopping from one to the other. See the “Stonehenge of the South Pacific” the Ha’amonga ‘a Maui Trilithon, about 5 km (3 mi) of breathtaking Mapua ‘a Vaea Blowholes on the southern coast, and the majestic ‘Anahulu Limestone Caves.
On the northern coast of the 257 km² (100 mi²) island is the capital of Tonga, Nuku’alofa. Culture and royalty can be experienced here between the amazing array of handicrafts at the Talamahu Market and the grand Victorian-style Royal Palace. Nuku’alofa is also where many of Tonga’s most popular water activities depart, including whale swimming tours, island day trips, snorkelling, scuba diving and more.
Visitors find themselves either staying in one of the guesthouses or hotels of Nuku’alofa or at one of the limited beach/forest resorts on the eastern side of the island.
Find out more about the island of Tongatapu in The Complete Guide to Tongatapu.
5 Best Islands in the Tongatapu Island Group
And what are the best islands within the Tongatapu island group? Our picks are:
- Tongatapu – The main island of Tongatapu and the largest island in Tonga
- Pangaimotu – A popular island day trip from Nuku’alofa with sand and snorkelling
- Malinoa – Idyllic island with soft sand, coral and a popular stop on whale swimming tours
- Atatā – A favourite for snorkelling and scuba tours with glamping available
- Tau – Tiny islet with white sand, a tuft of coconut palms and surrounded by coral.
Island resorts, the bustling town of Neiafu and a sailing hub of the South Pacific, Vava’u is one of the most popular island groups for tourists in Tonga. Just about anything you imagined doing in Tonga is available here, from swimming with humpback whales to snorkelling in majestic sea caves like Swallows’ Cave. Vava’u is considered one of the best blue marlin fisheries in the Pacific, making it a hotspot for game fishing. It’s also a top sailing ground with a labyrinth of inlets and islands compacted together – a must for any yachtie!
Visitors can stay in one of the hotels or guesthouses in Neiafu, on one of the otherwise uninhabited islands with island resorts, or in villas and resorts scattered across the islands connected to the main island by causeways.
Find out more about staying in Vava’u in The Complete Guide to Vava’u.
10 Best Islands in Vava’u
And what are the best islands within the Vava’u island group? Our picks are:
- ‘Utu Vava’u – The largest islands in Vava’u is home to bustling Neiafu and numerous villages and scenic lookouts
- ‘Utungake – Home to the easiest-to-access beach resorts in Vava’u
- Ofu – A short boat ride from Neiafu with beaches, villages and backpacker accommodation
- Kapa – Home of Swallow’s Cave, Port Mourelle, relaxing villages and a luxury resort
- ‘Eueiki – Boutique island resort with plenty to explore between island walks in the forest and coconut crab caves
- ‘Euakafa – A larger neighbouring island with ultra-boutique accommodation and nothing but sand, forest and crabs for company
- Nuapapu – Experience village life on a remote island at the guesthouses available
- Foeata – Boutique island resort and a hotspot for whale watching in the season
- Hunga – Home of the tranquil haven, the Hunga Lagoon
- Mala – An island resort not too far from Neiafu yet feels like a world of its own.
An ultra-short flight or a not-so-strenuous ferry ride from Tongatapu, ‘Eua is an amazing island to visit if you want to experience more than Tongatapu but are on limited time. The island is Tonga’s oldest island, weathered with natural archways, limestone cliffs awash with caves and rock gardens providing habitat for wild horses. Not to mention the ‘Eua National Park forest where nature lovers will be able to look out for the native red shining parrot, locally known as the koki.
‘Eua might be Tonga’s second-largest island, but it is not too developed, with only a handful of accommodations on the island for travellers to choose from. What’s more, all of the accommodations are budget-friendly, making it an affordable destination in Tonga.
Find out more about the island of ‘Eua in The Complete Guide to ‘Eua.
Despite sitting smack in the middle of Tonga, Ha’apai is overlooked by most tourists in Tonga. The island group of Ha’apai has 62 islands, but only the seriously determined travellers will make their way beyond the islands of Lifuka, Foa and Uoleva. Nevertheless, Ha’apai provides the ultimate destination to escape from it all.
The sheltered lagoons off many of the idyllic beaches in Ha’apai make the islands a popular spot for kayaking, snorkelling and especially kitesurfing. Scuba diving in its crystal clear waters is a must here, as is swimming the uncrowded waters with humpback whales.
The hub of the islands in the town of Pangai, which offers guesthouses, two/three eateries, a market and a limited choice of essential shops and services. Travellers will either stay in a guesthouse in Pangai or opt for one of the off-the-grid beach resorts.
Find out more about Ha’apai in The Complete Guide to Ha’apai.
10 Best Islands in Ha’apai
And what are the best islands within the Ha’apai island group? Our picks are:
- Lifuka – The main island of Ha’apai is easiest to get to by plane and offers a good balance of beaches, culture and services
- Foa – Connected by causeway to Lifuka, Foa offers glorious beaches and villages
- Uoleva – This island is uninhabited apart from four boutique resorts sharing sublime forest and beach scenery
- Ha’ano – Boats travel between Foa and Ha’ano almost daily to serve the small villages this idyllic island inhabits
- Koa – Tonga’s highest point at 1,030 m (2,279 ft) is a stratovolcano and an adventure to get to
- Tofua – The neighbouring volcanic island has a steaming vent and central caldera
- Nomuka – One of the southernmost uninhabited islands in Ha’apai, Nomuka offers traditional village life accessible by ferry from Tongatapu
- Ha’afeva – Another inhabited island, this one has an encircling beach and fringed by a reef
- Uiha – Access this peaceful reef-fringed island with a small village via the Tongatapu-Ha’apai ferry
- O’Ua – Only a lucky few make it to this tiny inhabited island surrounded by a complex reef system.
More About the Best Islands to Visit in Tonga
That’s it for the best islands to visit in Tonga. For more insightful advice on which islands to visit, take a look at the following:
- What are the 5 Island Groups in Tonga?
- The 10 Largest Islands in Tonga
- Visiting Tonga: Main Island Vs. Outer Islands
Finally, for itineraries to put these islands together, take a look at the following compilations: The Best Tonga Itineraries for 2 Weeks, The Best Tonga Itineraries for 1 Week, The Best Tonga Itineraries for 5 Days and The Best Tonga Itineraries for a Weekend.