The Travel Guide to Ha'apai on a Budget©
The Travel Guide to Ha'apai on a Budget

The Travel Guide to Ha’apai on a Budget


The Only Budget Travel Guide to Ha’apai You’ll Ever Need

The island group of Ha’apai is often described as a hidden gem of the South Pacific. The 62 islands scattering the azure waters between Tongatapu and Vava’u somehow go unnoticed by most visitors to Tonga, which means that those who do make the journey will be treated to a serene and real South Seas experience – even in the height of the busy whale season! What’s more, your stay here doesn’t have to be an expensive one as many locals have opened up their homestay-style accommodation to backpackers and budget travellers for an affordable price. Become part of the family and discover the sandy shores, coral reefs and culture of the islands by following our advice in this travel guide to Ha’apai on a budget.

5 Tips for Visiting Ha’apai on a Budget

Before we jump into our complete budget travel guide for Ha’apai, here are just a few ways you can save money on your vacation:

  1. Take the ferry to Ha’apai. Although it’s much longer than taking the plane, the price is just a fraction of a plane ticket
  2. Consider all of the inclusions the resorts offer. Some of the more expensive resorts actually offer good value considering all the activities, transfers and more are included
  3. Travel in the off-season (outside of November to June) for better accommodation deals
  4. Spend your days doing free and cheap activities in Ha’apai!
  5. Consider self-catering if staying in Pangai to reduce the cost of food.

For more tips, see the 10 Ways to Save Money When Travelling in Tonga.

The Travel Guide to Ha'apai on a Budget©

How to Get to Ha’apai on a Budget

Ha’apai is the central island group of Tonga, accessible by plane from Tongatapu and by ferry from both Tongatapu and Vava’u. The most frugal way to get to Ha’apai is by taking the long ferry trip to the island, where you’ll arrive at the wharf in Pangai, Lifuka where most budget accommodations are.

Ha’apai by Ferry

The cheapest way to get to Ha’apai, there are ferries departing from Taufa’ahau Tupou IV Domestic Wharf in Nuku’alofa. The ferry services stop at several destinations in Ha’apai on their Monday-to-Saturday runs between Tongatapu and Vava’u, including Nomuka, Tungua, Matuku, Ha’afeva, Uiha and Taufa’ahau Wharf on Lifuka. Travel times to Ha’apai from Tongatapu are approximately 8 to 12 hours. For more advice on prices and schedules, head to The Guide to Interisland Ferry Travel in Tonga.

Ha’apai by Plane

Flights go back and forth between Tongatapu and Ha’apai around two times a day, except for Sundays. Flights are from the domestic terminal in Fua’amotu Airport on Tongatapu and land at Salote Pilolevu Airport, 3 km (1.9 mi) north of the main town of Ha’apai, Pangai. The journey lasts approximately 50 minutes and offers the quickest and often most convenient way to get between the islands. For more essential info on catching a flight, check out The Guide to Domestic Flights in Tonga.

How to Get Around Ha’apai

With the islands of Ha’apai being so remote with limited infrastructure, most travellers rely on their chosen accommodation for transport. Resorts/guesthouses will pick you up and drop you off at the airport, which needs to be arranged before arrival.

Car rentals are also available in Ha’apai to explore the islands of Lifuka and Foa, which are connected by a causeway. Some resorts on these islands also offer bicycle rentals for guests.

Should you want to visit one of the outer islands, boat charters can be arranged. Learn more about getting around Ha’apai in the Ha’apai Transport Guide: 5 Ways to Get to & Around Ha’apai.

The Travel Guide to Ha'apai on a Budget©

Free Activities in Ha’apai

If you’re staying at any of the resorts in Ha’apai, then most of your entertainment will be organised for you, including lots of free activities! Snorkelling gear, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards are almost always complimentary to enjoy straight from the shore. Find out more about them and other activities in the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Ha’apai. Otherwise, here are a few quick ideas…


It would almost be a crime to head to the islands of Ha’apai and not get out on the water! If you’re staying at one of the mid-range resorts in Ha’apai, it’s almost a guarantee that complimentary kayak hire will be available, making it a relaxing and free way to spend your time in Ha’apai. Glide over Ha’apai’s crystal clear waters, see the marine life below, and explore the shores of Uoleva Island.


Ha’apai is one of the very few places in Tonga where there is so much snorkelling to be done straight from the shore! You don’t need to worry about paying for a boat to the outer reefs to enjoy an amazing snorkelling experience. Snorkelling over coral bommies and among tropical fish can be done from just about any resort in Ha’apai, which is listed in The Best Snorkelling in Ha’apai: 6 Best Places to Snorkel. Mid-range resorts tend to have snorkelling gear free for guest use, but be sure to bring your own if you are staying at one of the budget accommodations in Ha’apai.


Some of the mid-range resorts, such as Matafonua Lodge, Sandy Beach Resort and Ha’apai Beach Resort offer complimentary bike hire for guests – as do any additional operators listed in Where to Rent Bicycles in Tonga. Once you’re set, you can cycle between the main town of Pangai with its cultural and historical offerings and the glorious Houmale’eia Beach at the top of Foa Island! There, pop into Matafonua Lodge‘s cafe for a bite to eat (you may need to call ahead to order in the whale season). We also recommend stopping by the Port au Prince Massacre Monument, a few hundred metres north of the airport, where a sign points west to a beach and the monument. For more details, head to The Best Bike Trails in Tonga.

The Travel Guide to Ha'apai on a Budget©

Cheap Activities in Ha’apai

Engaging with the local culture is a wonderfully affordable experience, whether it’s through sampling the local food or listening to the singing and sharing stories during a faikava. Don’t forget, attending a church service is also a cultural experience worth trying even if you’re not religious – see the 10 Best Churches in Tonga for Tourists to learn more.

Pangai Market and Fish 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 mingling with the locals and checking out the pyramids and bundles of tropical produce for sale, as well as local handicrafts.

The Pangai Market (corner of the Waterfront and Palace Road) 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.

Tongan Food

While resort restaurants tend to favour pizzas and burgers, it’s not that hard to find authentic Tongan cuisine while exploring Ha’apai. Head to the Pangai Market on a Saturday morning to pick up sweet treats like fai kakai wrapped in either tin foil or banana leaves. Try Tongan spinach cooked in coconut cream, known as pele, at Lucky Pot Restaurant or Leleno ki Moana. Raw fish marinated in coconut cream, known as ota ika, is a dish served at Matafonua Lodge‘s restaurant.

Learn more about these dishes in the 10 Unique Foods in Tonga You Have to Try. For more dining options, check out The Food Guide to Ha’apai: Places to Eat & Food Tours.


For a more cultural experience, why not try kava? 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 ResortDiana 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.

The Travel Guide to Ha'apai on a Budget©

Dining on a Budget

Although there isn’t a huge variety of restaurants in Ha’apai, the few that exist are irresistibly affordable even for those on a tight budget. What’s more, budget accommodation hosts also offer reasonably-priced meals for guests, which is an excellent opportunity to experience some Tongan home cooking. In between, many of the budget accommodations have a kitchen for you to self-cater.

Cheap Restaurants in Ha’apai

Ha’apai’s main centre, Pangai, has a couple of eateries including Lucky Pot Restaurant located at the Pangai Market. 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.

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.

For more cheap restaurants across the Kingdom, check out The Top Cheap Eats in Tonga.

Accommodation Meals

Your other option for dining in Ha’apai is to arrange meals with your accommodation. Lindsay Guesthouse and Diana Beach Resort cook up meals for guests if given prior notice. This can often be a real cultural experience eating what the locals eat, usually fish and chicken dishes, but let them know if you are vegetarian. Breakfast will usually be around TOP$10-$20 (or is sometimes included in the nightly rate), lunch around TOP$15 and dinner TOP$20-$30.

Self-Catering in Ha’apai

Some of the guesthouses, as well as Diana Beach Resort, have communal kitchens for guests to use. Self-catering is easy in Pangai where there are plenty of small supermarkets and the Pangai Market. If staying at Diana’s, bring enough supplies with you if you plan to self-cater. See all of the accommodations with kitchens in the 5 Best Self-Catering Accommodations in Ha’apai and get more tips from The Guide to Food Shopping in Tonga.

For more about dining, meal plans, self-catering and more, head to The Food Guide to Ha’apai: Places to Eat & Food Tours.

More About Ha’apai on a Budget

That’s it for our complete travel guide to Ha’apai on a budget but by no means the end of our advice. Check out more guides to help save the cents on your trip:

Finally, get more budgeting advice from The Travel Guide to Tonga on a Budget and Tonga Travel Budget: How Much Does a Trip to Tonga Cost?


Laura (Lola) S.

This article was reviewed and published by Laura, editor in chief and co-founder of Tonga Pocket Guide. Since arriving solo in the South Pacific over 10 years ago with nothing but a backpack and a background in journalism, her mission has been to show the world how easy (and awesome) it is to explore a paradise such as Tonga. She knows the islands inside-out and loves sharing tips on how best to experience Tonga’s must-dos and hidden gems. Laura is also editor of several other South Pacific travel guides.

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