How to Visit Ha’apai on a Budget
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 where many locals have opened up their homes 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 guide to Ha’apai on a budget.
Tips for Visiting Ha’apai on a Budget
- Take the ferry to Ha’apai. Although it’s much longer than taking the plane, the price is just a fraction of the price of a plane ticket
- 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
- Travel in the off-season (outside of June-November) for better accommodation deals
- Spend your days doing free and cheap activities in Ha’apai!
- Consider self-catering, if staying in Pangai, to reduce the cost of food.
For more tips, see the 10 Tips for Visiting 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 depart at the wharf in Pangai on Lifuka where most of the traveller accommodation is.
Ha’apai by Ferry
By far the cheapest way to get to Ha’apai is by taking the ferry from either Tongatapu or Vava’u. The Friendly Islands Shipping Company operates the MV Tongiaki and the MV ‘Otuanga’ofa, which stop at the Ha’apai islands of Nomuka, Ha’afeva and Taufa’ahau Wharf in Pangai on their run between Tongatapu in the south and Vava’u in the north. The ferry crossing is a lengthy process of around 5h30mins (with the MV Tongiaki) to 8 hours (with the MV ‘Otuanga’ofa) to get to Ha’apai from Tongatapu and 3h30min/7 hours from Vava’u. We recommend checking ferry schedules the day before departure, as they are known to change frequently. Ferries to from Tongatapu cost approximately TOP$80 one way and from Vava’u approximately TOP$65. Learn more about ferry travel in Travelling in Tonga by Ferry.
Most of the guest houses in Ha’apai offer a transfer service between Ha’apai’s Salote Pilolevu Airport or Taufa’ahau Wharf and their accommodation. If the budget accommodation is on Lifuka then it will be road transport costing around TOP$3-$10, while budget resorts on the outer islands will charge around TOP$30 including the boat transfer. Arrange transfers with your accommodation before arrival in Ha’apai.
Bicycle Hire in Ha’apai
The islands of Lifuka and Foa are flat and easy to get around by bike. Bicycle hire is available from the Mariner’s Cafe in Pangai for around TOP$15 per day. Bicycle hire is also offered by some of the guest houses.
Learn more about the transport to and on Ha’apai in the 5 Ways to Get to Ha’apai (& Around Ha’apai).
Free & Cheap 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…
Explore the Islands by Kayak
It would be a crime to head to the islands of Ha’apai and not get out on the water. While all of the more upmarket resorts in Ha’apai offer complimentary kayak hire, the budget Taiana’s Resort offers full-day hire for an affordable TOP$20 a day. Glide over Ha’apai’s crystal clear waters looking at the marine life below and explore Uoleva Island.
Learn Tongan Crafts
Guests at the ultra-affordable Fonongava’inga (Langi Langi) Guesthouse have the opportunity to take part in a Tongan crafting workshop with your host, Langi Langi. The guest house is affiliated with the island’s WID Handicraft Centre where, for under TOP$10, you can learn how to make your own Tongan souvenirs and get a real insight into the Tongan culture.
Hire a Bike and Ride to Homale’eia Beach
Again, some of the mid-range resorts, such as Matafonua Lodge, Sandy Beach Resort and Ha’apai Beach Resort, as well as the budget Billy’s Place, offer complimentary bike hire. Alternatively, budget travellers can hire a bike from the Mariner’s Cafe in Pangai and ride up to the northern tip of Foa Island where you’ll find the glorious Houmale’eia Beach. The ride is approximately 14km from Pangai to the top of Foa Island, which is connected to Lifuka via a causeway.
Dining on a Budget in Ha’apai
In islands as undeveloped at Ha’apai, don’t expect to find an array of restaurants. Instead, you’ll mostly have to rely on your accommodation for food or, if you’re staying in Pangai, make use of the self-catering facilities in your guest house.
Restaurants in Ha’apai
You’re only real option for eating out in Ha’apai is at the Mariner’s Cafe in Pangai. Meals here are TOP$8-$26 and include pizza, homemade pasta, soups, burgers, fish and chicken dishes. There is also a cafe open to the public at Matafonua Lodge, which serves up pizzas, burgers, wraps, salads, sandwiches, fresh-baked pies and pastries for a reasonable price.
Your other option for dining in Ha’apai is to arrange meals with your accommodation. Guest houses and the Taiana’s 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 known if you are vegetarian. Breakfast will usually be around TOP$10-$15, lunch TOP$10-$20 and dinner TOP$15-$30. Some accommodation rates include breakfast.
Self-Catering in Ha’apai
Some of the guest houses have communal kitchens for guests to use. Self-catering is only really doable in and around Pangai where there are small supermarkets with a limited amount of supplies, the Pangai Market for fruit and vegetables running Monday to Saturday, and the Matuku-ae-tau Bakery keeping the island stocked with bread and “Keki” (Tongan doughnuts).