The Best Food Experiences and Places to Eat in Ha’apai
Food is an integral part of the South Pacific Island experience, especially as most food is locally sourced from the surrounding waters and tropical plantations. In Ha’apai, the foodie experience is half cultural through Tongan feasts and markets and half healthy and sustainable through the eco-resort experiences. The restaurant scene is tiny in Ha’apai, with the only real restaurants being available on Lifuka Island, the main island of the group. Otherwise, your accommodation will look after you with their meal plans or you can self-cater in some guesthouses and budget resorts. We’ll guide you through the food-related experiences, the meals and the accommodations in this food guide to Ha’apai.
The 6 Best Places to Eat in Ha’apai
Where are the best places (and, admittedly, only places) to eat in Ha’apai? Here’s our ultimate list of the best restaurants with something for all tastes and budgets.
- Leleno ki Moana (Hihifo, Lifuka)
- Matafonua Lodge (Houmale’eia, Foa Island)
- Tiger Inn (Pangai, Lifuka)
- Lucky Pot Restaurant (Pangai, Lifuka)
- RayLela’s Cake & Ice Cream Shop (Pangai, Lifuka)
- Ha’apai Beach Resort (Niu a Kalo, Lifuka)
Scroll down to “About the Best Places to Eat in Ha’apai” to learn more about our top picks!
The Best Food Tours/Activities in Ha’apai
Food is an amazing way to experience the local culture. From browsing the local market to indulging in a Tongan feast, Ha’apai presents a few gastronomical encounters. Here are just a few of the top ways to experience Ha’apai as a foodie…
At the centre of communities in Tonga is the local market, awash with tropical produce! The Pangai Market (corner of Waterfront and Palace Road, Pangai) 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!
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 and check out more floor shows available across the country in The Best Cultural Shows in Tonga.
Not just one of the 10 Drinks in Tonga You Have to Try, faikava 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 faikava 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.
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.
More Food Activities in Ha’apai
And that’s not all the food scene in Ha’apai has to offer. Check out alternative food experiences, such as:
- Be treated to a private dinner on the beach
- Catch your own dinner on a fishing charter
- Try keki at the local bakery from Matuku-ae-tau Bakery
- Sample authentic dishes like pele from Lucky Pot and Leleno ki Moana
- Watch locals prepare raw seafood dishes on the waterfront in Pangai and Houmale’eia Beach
- Treat the tastebuds at one of Ha’apai’s restaurants…
For more information on each activity, see the 10 Best Foodie Experiences in Ha’apai.
About the Best Places to Eat in Ha’apai
Admittedly, Ha’apai isn’t a destination to try a different restaurant each night. Most accommodations provide their own meals to guests through a meal plan where you’ll either get to choose from two or three dishes or you’ll just get what you’re given! Regardless, those staying on the islands of Lifuka and Foa have a small selection of eateries to indulge in.
Where to Eat: Restaurants in Ha’apai
Ha’apai’s main centre, Pangai, has a couple of eateries including Lucky Pot Restaurant located at the Pangai Market on the waterfront. They specialise in pele dishes made with local spinach, as well as fast food. Head there on a Friday for pizzas and burgers. They are open Monday to Friday from 8:30 am to 6 pm and Saturday from 8:30 am to 3 pm.
Also on the waterfront, Tiger Inn is located nearby at the Taufa’ahau Wharf, Pangai. Sweet and sour chicken is the most popular dish at this Chinese restaurant out of a wide menu of well-priced chicken, beef, pork, seafood and vegetable dishes. They are open Monday to Saturday from 9 am to 8 pm.
Nestled among coconut palms of the beachfront approximately 400 m (400 yards) south of Hihifo, Leleno ki Moana meaning “Run to the Ocean”, is a quirky beach hut restaurant serving quality meals for an affordable price. Delight in fresh fish and chips, burgers, authentic curries, Tongan dishes and more, all lovingly presented on timber boards and banana leaves. You’ll hardly get a more island vibe! Find them open Monday to Saturday from 9 am to 9 pm and Wednesday from 9 am to 4 pm.
Call ahead for Matafonua Lodge‘s (Foa Island) burgers, seafood tacos and, most famously, their pizzas. They are open to non-guests for lunch and dinner outside of the whale season or will accept non-guests who call and order ahead during the whale season.
Finally, Ha’apai Beach Resort (Hala Holopeka Road between Pangai and Holopeka Village) offers a simple a la carte menu of crowd-pleasing meals, including pizzas, burgers, toasted sandwiches and cooked breakfasts. They reopen to outside guests from 2024 (if not already).
Where to Eat: Ice Cream Parlours in Ha’apai
That’s right, Ha’apai has its priorities straight by having an ice cream parlour right in the middle of town! RayLela’s Cake & Ice Cream Shop (Hala Holopeka Road near the Visitor Information Centre, Pangai) scoops up a wide range of New Zealand ice cream flavours, while baked goods are usually made to order. ReyLela’s is open Monday to Friday from 9 am to 5 pm.
Where to Eat: Markets in Ha’apai
Finally, don’t rule out the markets as places to eat in Ha’apai. Pangai Market (Waterfront Road, Pangai) might just be selling tropical fruit and vegetables throughout the week, but once Saturday morning arrives, travellers have the opportunity to pick up some home-baked goodies, such as fai kakai and topai (see 10 Foods to Try in Tonga).
More Options for Food in Ha’apai
So, with limited eateries outside of Lifuka and Foa Islands, what happens if you’re staying somewhere without a restaurant? Luckily, your resort hosts will absolutely not let you go hungry!
Resort Set Meals and Meal Plans
Those staying on the uninhabited Uoleva Island only have their chosen resort’s meal offerings for dining. Meals are typically a set menu each day, enjoyed at a communal dining fale or bar with drinks available to purchase on the go. Meals are either pay-as-you-go (but you still need to give your hosts notice) or are included in your resort rate as a compulsory meal plan. Either way, expect a variety of Western and Tongan dishes mainly using local ingredients.
Learn more about resorts’ set meals and meal plans in Should You Buy a Resort Meal Plan in Tonga?
With many resorts across Ha’apai focussing on sustainability, finding vegetarian options at resorts is rarely an issue. However, it’s crucial that you inform your resort of any dietary requirements prior to arrival, as they have very limited access to resources that you might used to and, therefore, will need time and effort to prepare. Due to the difficulty some of these resorts are facing with very specific diets, like vegan and gluten-free, some are starting to charge a little extra for these meals.
We have some tips for dining in Tonga with special diets in The Gluten-Free Guide to Tonga and Tonga for Vegans & Vegetarians + 10 Best Restaurants.
Self-Catering in Ha’apai
Stick to a budget and enjoy the pleasures of preparing meals using local ingredients by staying in one of the self-catering accommodations and making use of the abundance of grocery stores and the market in Pangai. There are a few guesthouses with kitchens in Pangai, while a couple of resorts on Uoleva Island have kitchen facilities for guest use, which we list in the 5 Best Self-Catering Accommodations in Ha’apai. Needless to say, those staying on Uoleva with the intention of self-catering will need to bring all the food supplies they need, as there are no shops on the island. More information on the shops available in Pangai can be found in our guide, Information, Shops & Services in Ha’apai.
Alternative Things to Do in Ha’apai
As much as eating is exciting, you can’t travel all the way to Ha’apai just for the food. You’re on some of the most beautiful islands in the South Pacific! So balance out your stay with some of the alternative activities, such as:
- Explore the islands by kayak or paddleboard
- Swim with whales
- Scuba dive among untouched coral
- Visit archaeological sites like Velata Fortress or Olovehi Tomb
- Snorkel over colourful coral bommies at Houmale’eia Beach or Uoleva Island
- Do some kitesurfing from Houmale’eia Beach or Kite Point on Uoleva…
… and much more! Check out the details of these activities and get more inspiration in the 20 Best Things to Do in Ha’apai.
More About Ha’apai
That’s it for our food guide to Ha’apai and the best places to eat in Ha’apai, but not the end of our Ha’apai advice! Check out these other guides that might not necessarily fall under the “foodie” category, but are still pretty useful:
- The Travel Guide to Ha’apai on a Budget
- The Luxury Guide to Ha’apai
- The Wedding, Honeymoon & Romantic Getaway Guide to Ha’apai
- The Complete Travel Guide to Ha’apai for Families
- The Adults-Only Travel Guide to Ha’apai
- The Complete Travel Guide to Ha’apai
Finally, discover even more foodie trip tips in The Food Guide to Tonga: Places to Eat & Food Tours and plan your foodie trip with the Tonga Food Itinerary: 14 Days and Tonga Food Itinerary: 7 Days.