Plan Your Trip to Tonga
Tonga: the only Kingdom of the South Pacific, a land rich in culture and history and waters richer still in marine life and dramatic seascapes. From gazing upon an ancient megalithic structure to hiking deep into the tropical forest to feeling your toes in the sand of an island’s idyllic beach, the islands are as diverse as they are beautiful. But anyone that knows anything about Tonga might have heard that it’s one of the very few places to have the life-changing and humbling experience of swimming with Humpback Whales. In a way, that steals the thunder of the incredible scuba diving and game fishing the waters provide too. But that’s Tonga.
How do you start planning a trip to these off-the-beaten-track South Pacific Islands? This complete guide to Tonga will go over the five island groups of the Kingdom and how you can start planning in your own unique travel style.
Fast Facts About Tonga
Location: In the South Pacific in the continent of Oceania. Tonga is directly south of Samoa and two-thirds of the way between Hawaii and New Zealand.
Climate: Daily average temperature – 26°C/79°F, yearly average rainfall – 1,600mm/63″
Find out more in What is the Weather Like in Tonga?
Time Zone: TST / GMT+13
Find out more in What is the Tonga Time Zone?
How to get to Tonga: Direct flights to Tonga come from Auckland, Sydney, Nadi, Suva, Fagali’i, Pago Pago and Apia, of which Auckland and Sydney have the most connections. Most flights arrive in Tongatapu, while a limited number arrive in Vava’u. Tonga is also a port of call for several cruises. Check out How to Get to Tonga for more information.
Tongatapu, the “Sacred South”, is the southernmost and most populated island group in Tonga. Not only is it home to the Kingdom’s capital, Nuku’alofa, but it is the main arrival island to launch you into exploring the country.
The main island also goes by the name Tongatapu, which is the most developed and home to some of Tonga’s most famous historical and natural sights, such as the ancient Ha’amonga ‘a Maui trilithon and the natural cave swimming pool ‘Anahulu Cave.
Although the most developed of the islands, you can still find idyllic sandy shores backed with resorts on the western side of the island, while some of the outer islands also have resorts to either stay or visit on day trips.
Most of Tongatapu’s big-ticket activities depart from Faua Wharf in Nuku’alofa, including whale swimming, scuba diving and fishing charters. Other attractions are the cultural floor shows at resorts, the Talamahu Market in the city and snorkelling/island-hopping tours.
Plan Your Trip to Tongatapu in Your Travel Style
Like the sound of Tonga’s cultural and historical hub? Start planning your trip your way with one of our guides for each style of travel:
- The Guide to Tongatapu for Families
- The Guide to Tongatapu on a Budget
- The Foodie Guide to Tongatapu
- The Luxury Guide to Tongatapu
- The Adult-Only Guide to Tongatapu
- The Wedding & Honeymoon Guide to Tongatapu
Staying in the Capital?
Plan your stay in Nuku’alofa with these guides:
Tonga’s third-largest island, ‘Eua (pronounced “ay-wah”) is a nature-lover’s paradise, famous for its large tract of tropical forest in the ‘Eua National Park, as well as its array of natural attractions.
‘Eua sits some 40km (23 miles) off the southeast coast of Tongatapu, making it an easy island to get to by ferry and flight. The island is much less developed than Tongatapu, but that’s the beauty of it, with only a handful of accommodations – all of which are budget.
The ‘Eua National Park can be explored through hiking and 4WD tours, while there are more natural wonders to discover on foot, between limestone cliffs dappled in caves to rock gardens inhabited by wild horses.
That’s not to say that the must-dos in Tonga aren’t available in ‘Eua, as it has the longest-running whale season in Tonga for whale swimming and also holds the largest sea cave in the South Pacific for scuba diving.
Learn more about this ancient island in The Complete Guide to ‘Eua.
Plan Your Trip to ‘Eua in Your Travel Style
Want to see the wild side of Tonga? Start planning your trip in your unique style with the following appropriate guide:
Looking for the white sands, swaying coconut palms and turquoise lagoons that you see on Instagram or the brochures? Well, they’re here in the islands of Ha’apai.
This central island group is made up of 62 islands, only 17 of which are inhabited. Lifuka is the main island and home to the island groups main town, Pangai. Visitors are also likely to either stay on the causeway-connected Foa Island or at one of the resorts on the nearby uninhabited island of Uoleva.
Aside from relaxing in a hammock on the beach all day, travellers to Ha’apai can hire bikes to check out some of the historical sites, such as an ancient fortress and memorial sites, around the flat islands. Resorts can organise village tours to see how real island villagers live.
On the water, the lagoons in front of resorts offer a spectacular playground for watersports, including kayaking, snorkelling, stand-up paddleboarding but especially kitesurfing. And yes, Ha’apai does have its fair share of whale swimming tours, scuba diving trips and fishing charters.
Learn more about visiting these idyllic islands in The Complete Guide to Ha’apai.
Plan Your Trip to Ha’apai in Your Travel Style
Want a toes-in-the-sand getaway in Tonga? Start planning your trip to Ha’apai your way with the most appropriate travel guide for you:
Travel approximately 130km (80 miles) north from Ha’apai and you’ll reach island group of Vava’u, 50 islands compacted together seemingly breaking off the tentacle arms of the large main island, ‘Utu Vava’u.
Vava’u is arguably the island group that put Tonga on the map in terms of the country’s remarkable water activities. It’s the island group with the most whale swimming tours, the most fishing charters, the most scuba diving operators, island-hopping tours and more. Vava’u is also renowned as being one of the best sailing grounds in the South Pacific thanks to its labyrinth of inlets, sheltered bays and compacted islands.
Flights arrive on ‘Utu Vava’u a short drive from the island group’s main hub, Neiafu, sitting on the shores of the Port of Refuge. The town’s highlights include the bustling market awash in unique handicrafts and the Mt Talau National Park which begs a short climb to the top of incredible views of the Port of Refuge.
Visits to Vava’u can go one of two ways: an urban stay in Neiafu with easy access to the wharf’s boat tours or staying on one of the idyllic outer islands otherwise uninhabited except for a boutique resort.
Find out more about visiting Vava’u in The Complete Guide to Vava’u.
Plan Your Trip to Vava’u in Your Travel Style
Like the sound of Tonga’s adventure capital? Check out the following guides to start planning in your travel style:
Finally, the most intrepid of travellers may be intrigued by the islands of The Niuas. Made up of just three islands, The Niuas consist of Niuatoputapu and it volcanic-coned neighbour Tafahi, which is approximately 300km (190 miles) north of Vava’u. Ther’s also Niuafo’ou which sits 100km (60 miles) west of the other islands.
The Niuas are a snapshot of what the Pacific used to be, while villages made up of traditionally-thatched fales (bungalows), fishermen bringing in the food and only receiving the occasional visitors. Flights to Niuatoputapu are once every fortnight, even less to Niuafo’ou, while ferries head to the islands once a month at best.
There is one guest house on Niuatoputapu. Otherwise, a stay here is a true local’s experience where you’ll be immersing the community, joining cook-outs, taking trips into the forest to find ‘Ofata (grubs) to eat, hiking to volcanic hilltops, snorkelling among undisturbed coral and more.
Needless to say, The Niuas is a journey you’ll have to pave for yourself. Nevertheless, you can start to learn a bit more about these far-flung islands in The Complete Guide to The Niuas.