Plan Your Family Getaway to Tonga
Tonga is not for everyone. It’s for families that are perhaps a little more adventurous than the average family, who prefer to adventure together, and are looking for an island getaway that’s fun yet educational. These South Pacific Islands strike the right balance of nature and culture, where the underwater world thrives with all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures, while the islands are home to an interesting Polynesian culture that can be experienced through food, crafts and dance performances.
So how do you plan a family getaway to Tonga? Start by learning about the different island groups to visit in this travel guide to Tonga for families.
Some Quick Facts About Tonga
Location: Tonga is 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.
Size: 750 km² (290 mi²) land area, 700,000 km² (270,000 mi²) water area.
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?
Find out more in Who are the People of Tonga?
Languages: Tongan and English.
Find out more in The Guide to the Tongan Language.
And that’s some fun facts for adults but children might be more interested in our Fun Facts About Tonga for Kids.
Getting to Tonga
First things first, you’ll need to see if you and your family are currently able to travel to Tonga due to restrictions put in place at the borders after the COVID-19 outbreak. Visit the Government of the Kingdom of Tonga‘s website for the latest travel information.
Now, what is the best way to get to Tonga? Tonga can be accessed by flight, cruise ship or private sailing yachts. The most popular way to get to Tonga is by international flight, so let’s start with that.
Flying to Tonga
Direct international flights to Tonga come from New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, Samoa and American Samoa. If you’re coming from further afield, connecting flights can be made in New Zealand, Australia and Fiji. See our guide, Which Airlines Fly to Tonga? for more advice on flying to Tonga.
Most international arrivals land at Fua’amotu International Airport on the island of Tongatapu, 21km (13 miles) from the nation’s capital, Nuku’alofa. A limited number of flights also arrive at Lupepau’u International Airport in Vava’u, about 10km (6 miles) from Neiafu. Find out more about these airports and the best one to fly to in What Are the Airports in Tonga?
Cruises to Tonga
Tonga is on the itinerary of several South Pacific cruises from New Zealand, Australia and the US, as well as round-the-world cruises from the US and the UK. There are two ports of call in Tonga, one in Nuku’alofa on Tongatapu and the other in Neiafu in Vava’u. Find out about which cruiseliners have Tonga on their itinerary, as well as what to do at each port of call in The Guide to Taking a Cruise to Tonga.
Sailing to Tonga
Tonga is situated at the centre of a Transpacific journey between the US and New Zealand. The yachting season is between May and October. Learn about the sailing formalities and the ports of entry in The Sailing Guide to Tonga.
A Note on Customs Declarations
Tonga has strict biosecurity measures at the border to stop unwanted pests and diseases from entering the country. Therefore, anyone arriving in Tonga has to declare any “risk items” they have packed in their luggage – even common items like food and sports gear. Be sure to read up on Everything You Need to Know About Arriving in Tonga so you are prepared.
Check out our complete guide on How to Get to Tonga for even more tips on making your way to the islands of Tonga.
The Best Time to Visit Tonga
Tonga is a tropical country and experiences warm temperatures throughout the year. It has two distinct seasons, a dry season that is drier and cooler, and a wet season that is hot and humid. Learn much more about the weather and climate by month in What is the Weather Like in Tonga?
Dry Season (May to November)
The dry season is also known as the winter season in Tonga, although many would not describe it as winter with temperatures around 19-29°C (66-84°F). The rainfall per month is an average of 110mm (3.9″). The dry season is also the time to see whales and the clearest visibility for snorkelling.
Wet Season (December to April)
The wet season is hotter and more humid, with temperatures around 23-31°C (74-88°F) and an average monthly rainfall of 210mm (8.3″). This is also Tonga’s cyclone season, which means there’s a risk of cyclones (but only a risk).
So when is the best time to travel to Tonga for families? Check out our complete guide, The Best Time to Visit Tonga, which dives deeper into the subject.
Family Packing List for Tonga
The main thing you need to keep in mind when packing for Tonga is having a tropical wardrobe that includes some more modest items of clothing for exploring Tonga’s towns and villages. A packing list for Tonga might look a little something like this:
- Shorts/Skirts/Dresses (some below the knee for leaving the resort)
- Singlets/T-Shirts (some to cover the shoulders for leaving the resort)
- Sarong (lavalava) for a quick cover-up
- Light sleepwear
- Light jacket/Cardigan/Pashmina for cooler evenings
- Light fleece jumper (something to keep warm after swimming from a boat)
- A smarter outfit covering the shoulders and knees if going to church
- Clothes to travel in
- One-piece swimsuit for watersports/village stay
- Rash vest
- Reef shoes
- Walking shoes
- Light cotton shirt to cover arms and protect from the sun and mosquitos
- Light rain jacket/Small umbrella
And that’s just the clothes! For a full packing list of everything to take, including accessories and toiletries, check out The Complete Packing List for Tonga. Plus, we have more useful packing recommendations in our 10 Essential Tips for Travelling to Tonga with Children and 10 Must-Have Kids Gadgets for a Trip to Tonga.
With questionable drinking water, high UV levels and the presence of mosquitos, certain health products are essential to take to Tonga. Tonga also has a fragile marine ecosystem so natural child-friendly sunscreens and repellents are a must, while reusable water purification bottles are preferable to buying bottled water for obvious environmental reasons. See our health essentials packing list in What Medication to Pack in Your First Aid Kit for Tonga. Plus, find more health tips in the 10 Health and Safety Tips for Travelling in Tonga with Kids.
The currency in Tonga is Tongan Pa’anga. You will need to be prepared to get by on cash for much of your stay as this is often the only payment method accepted. There are ATMs in the four main towns of Tonga. Get more money tips in What is The Best Way to Pay in Tonga?
Do You Need a Visa to Visit Tonga?
For citizens of around 70 different countries, the answer is no. You just need to arrive in Tonga with a valid passport. Citizens not of visa-exempt countries will need an Entry Permit. Find out more in Do You Need a Visa to Visit Tonga?
How Long to Visit Tonga For
Tonga might make for an idyllic boutique resort getaway to simply relax for a few days – and that’s fine; we all need to R&R from time to time. Most families, however, are here to explore and experience some of the most dramatic culture and wildlife experiences in the South Pacific. With that in mind, here’s what you can achieve in certain timeframes… (And don’t worry, we’ll get onto the destinations in the next few sections).
3 Days / A Long Weekend in Tonga
Over a long weekend, you have enough time to see the highlights of Tongatapu. Check out the Tonga Family Itinerary: 3 Days / Weekend for our recommended itinerary.
5 Days in Tonga
Start by exploring Tongatapu, then head to one of the outer islands, such as the nearby ‘Eua, for a couple of days. See Tonga Family Itinerary: 5 Days for a fun trip idea.
7 Days / One Week in Tonga
Visit two island groups to experience two sides of Tonga. Flights and ferries connect the main four groups on a regular basis so take your pick! Get some inspiration on what to do and where to go from Tonga Family Itinerary: 7 Days / One Week.
14 Days / Two Weeks in Tonga
Adventurous travellers can visit as many as four major island groups of Tonga. See the Tonga Family Itinerary: 14 Days / Two Weeks for a whole two weeks of exciting experiences.
Where to Visit: Family Holidays in Tongatapu
Tongatapu is the main island of Tonga and the easiest and cheapest option for a family getaway to The Kingdom. There are two types of holidays you could be having here, either an urban getaway staying in the capital, Nuku’alofa, or a beach holiday at one of the resorts lining the coast or outer islands.
Tongatapu is a good choice for the family who wants to enjoy some sightseeing and exploration, as the island has a dizzying array of natural wonders and historical sites to check out. Swim in the gorgeous limestone caves of ‘Anahulu, see the mysterious Ha’amonga ‘a Maui Trilithon and visit the various palaces and tombs of the South Pacific’s only monarchy.
In between all of that, you’ll find some delightful beaches around Tongatapu, although not quite as paradise-like as some of the other island groups. Boat tours for snorkelling and island-hopping depart from Nuku’alofa, which are a great way to get out on the water to family-friendy destinations, instead of the less-suitable whale watching and scuba diving excursions.
Where to Visit: Family Holidays in ‘Eua
‘Eua is a large island off the eastern shores of Tongatapu, which takes half a day by ferry or a seven-minute flight to get to. It differs greatly from Tongatapu in that it’s an island much less developed with the stunning ‘Eua National Park and rugged coastline to enjoy (as well as a few beaches). It’s the oldest island in Tonga with some incredible formations, including caves, natural arches, giant banyan trees and more.
‘Eua is certainly an island for the active family, perhaps for hiking with older kids or younger ones might enjoy the 4WD tours to see the attractions. It’s one of the best islands to watch whales from shore in the whale season, which is more child-friendly than whale swimming tours. Some of the accommodations here can also organise Tongan crafting lessons with local villagers which is another exciting activity for kids.
Learn more about visiting ‘Eua on a family getaway in The Guide to ‘Eua for Families.
Where to Visit: Family Holidays in Ha’apai
For families looking for that idyllic beach holiday with plenty of sun, sea and sand, consider a getaway to the islands of Ha’apai. 62 islands scatter this central area of Tonga, where resorts on less-developed and even uninhabited islands make an exciting base for your holiday. If you’re looking for a place with great snorkelling from shore and where kayak hire is all part of the package, this is what is available in Ha’apai.
The islands of Ha’apai are fringed by tranquil lagoons which make for safer swimming for families, while resorts can also take families out to various islands and snorkelling spots nearby. Otherwise, horseback riding experiences TTD362, reef walks and cultural village tours make other popular family-friendly activities.
Learn more about a family getaway to these islands in The Guide to Ha’apai for Families.
Where to Visit: Family Holidays in Vava’u
For families seeking water activities and then some more water activities, then the islands of Vava’u are worth considering. The northern island group of Tonga is an adventure hub for whale swimming, scuba diving and charter fishing, where a limited few resorts offer babysitting services should you want to try these activities for yourself. Otherwise, there’s no lack of island-hopping and snorkelling trips in Vava’u, taking you to highlights like Swallows’ Cave and the Japanese Coral Gardens – some of the best underwater seascapes in Tonga that you can see through simply snorkelling.
Families can choose to either stay in the main town of the island group, Neiafu, which has a range of hotels, villas and holiday homes, or at one of the island resorts. If staying in Neiafu, you might want to take a trip to Veimumuni Cave or the ‘Ene’io Botanical Garden for some fun land experiences. Otherwise, those staying at island resorts have kayaks, snorkelling, sandcastles and relaxation to enjoy.
Learn more about visiting Vava’u in The Guide to Vava’u for Families.
How to Get Around Tonga
Tonga might not have an overwhelming number of island groups but the distance between each is quite substantial with around 180km (110 miles) between Tongatapu and Ha’apai and 130km (80 miles) between Ha’apai and Vava’u. Not to mention, Tonga’s larger islands are well worth exploring on land. So how do you get around Tonga?
To get between island groups, flights operate daily except Sundays. They are the fastest and most comfortable way to get between islands, therefore the most expensive option. Learn more about flying between the island groups in The Guide to Flights in Tonga.
Cargo-style boats and fast catamaran passenger ferries travel between Tongatapu, ‘Eua, Ha’apai and Vava’u several times a week. They are cheaper than flying but trips can last several hours. See The Guide to Travelling in Tonga by Ferry to learn much more about this transport method.
Car rental is available in Tongatapu and Vava’u. We have The Guide to Renting a Car in Tonga to give you more rental car advice.
Taxis are available in Tongatapu and Vava’u. Ask for the going rate, as many don’t use meters. See The Guide to Taxis in Tonga for more tips.
Buses are ultra-cheap, providing a local experience to get around Tongatapu and a more limited service on Vava’u. We have a guide for that too, in How to Travel Around Tonga By Bus.
There are a lot more ways to travel around Tonga between resort transfers and guided tours, so be sure to browse our Tonga Transport Guide: 10 Ways to Get Around Tonga for more advice.
Family Accommodation in Tonga
Families have plenty of styles of accommodation to choose from in Tonga. There are no kids’ clubs and no large international chain resorts; Tonga’s accommodations are intimate with the exception of one large hotel in Nuku’alofa. Choose from beachfront resorts typically consisting of only two to seven fales (beach houses), while family rooms in guesthouses provide a cheap and homely experience. Holiday homes and hotels are also options.
Note that due to the small capacity of Tonga’s accommodations, therefore a smaller number of family rooms, families are recommended to book accommodation as far in advance as possible, especially in the high season.
Typically lining a beach or private island, Tonga’s resorts are small. Most have either an à la carte-menu restaurant or a dining room where shared meals are served. Many resorts will offer their own array of free and paid experiences, such as whale swimming, scuba diving, use of watersports equipment and more. Resorts are by no means five stars but range from basic traditionally built fales to well-appointed bungalows. Learn more about what to expect from Tonga’s resorts in How to Pick the Best Resort in Tonga for You. Plus, don’t miss the 10 Best Family Resorts in Tonga.
For families seeking their own space and perhaps conveniences like self-catering facilities, choose one of the holiday homes in Tonga. Check out How to Pick the Best Holiday Home in Tonga for You for more details. Plus, be sure to browse the 10 Best Holiday Homes in Tonga.
Found in each island group’s main towns, guesthouses are usually owned by locals providing affordable and authentic Tongan hospitality. Guests have a private room, sometimes with an ensuite, and share communal facilities like a kitchen and bathroom. Find out more about their facilities in How to Pick the Best Guesthouse in Tonga for You, as well as our top picks in the 10 Best Guesthouses in Tonga.
Hotels offer an alternative accommodation option in Tonga’s two largest towns, Nuku’alofa and Neiafu. They range in quality from one international brand hotel to three-star boutique hotels to budget hotels. Check out How to Pick the Best Hotel in Tonga for You for more of an overview or jump straight to our favourites in the 10 Best Hotels in Tongatapu and 5 Best Hotels in Vava’u.
Things to Do in Tonga with Kids
Tonga hooks most travellers with the prospect of swimming with humpback whales but there’s much more to this island nation. You never know, after browsing our 101 Best Things to Do in Tonga: The Ultimate List you might just realise that there are amazing family experiences even outside of the whale season.
When it comes to family-friendly experiences, Tonga certainly provides, with just some of the following examples:
- Watch humpback whales between June and October
- Swim in underground cave pools like the ‘Anahulu Cave
- See awesome natural attractions like the Mapu ‘a Vaea Blowholes
- Explore the islands the islander way – on horseback TTD362!
- Snorkel above the magical coral reefs of Tonga
- Make your own souvenirs in a Tongan crafting lesson
- Go on a family kayaking mission from your resort
- Do an island-hopping and snorkelling cruise to places like Swallows Cave.
For more ideas and elaboration, see the 10 Things to Do in Tonga with Kids.
Food in Tonga
Tonga’s restaurants can be found in Nuku’alofa and Neiafu, as well as some of its resorts. They typically have international influences, such as Italian, American, British, Chinese and more, as well as local Tongan dishes. Kids menus are common at restaurants and resorts. Check out our top dining picks in The Guide to the Best Eats & Restaurants in Tonga.
Tongan food can be sampled at Tongan restaurants in Nuku’alofa, at cultural shows and buffets on Tongatapu, on cultural tours in Ha’apai, and at Sunday umu feasts in ‘Eua and Vava’u. Check out which meals to look out for in the 6 Unique Foods in Tonga You Have to Try.
Self-catering is often an option at some accommodations, where travellers can pick up food from small supermarkets, fale koloa (convenience stores), and produce markets. Get advice on self-catering in our guide on Where to Buy Food in Tonga.
Want to know more about dining in Tonga? Head to The Guide to the Food in Tonga.
Typical Costs and Travel Budget: How Much is Does a Family Trip to Tonga Cost?
We all travel very differently. Therefore, making a precise budget for everyone is, quite frankly, an impossible task. Nevertheless, you can work out your own needs, thus budget, by simply looking at the typical prices listed below or in our article, Tonga Travel Budget: How Much Does a Trip to Tonga Cost?
The Cost of Accommodation
- Family room or villa/night – TOP$180-$550
Get more accommodation prices in What is the Cost of Accommodation in Tonga?
The Cost of Food
- Main breakfast meal – TOP$10-$20
- Main lunch meal – TOP$14-$30
- Main dinner meal – TOP$20-$40
- Pint of beer – TOP$8-$10
- Small coffee – TOP$5
- Cocktail – TOP$13-$19
- Non-alcoholic drink – TOP$5
Grocery prices for self-catering can be found in What is the Cost of Food in Tonga?
The Cost of Tours and Activities
- Guided land sightseeing tour – TOP$75-$100
- Culture tour/3 hours – TOP$75
- Botanical gardens tour – TOP$35-$50
- Cultural show & buffet – TOP$35-$55
- ‘Anahulu Cave entry – TOP$15
- Game fishing/half-day – TOP$455-$600
- Guided boat sightseeing/snorkel tour – TOP$120-$355
- Kayak hire/day – TOP$0-$140
- Snorkel hire/day – TOP$0-$25
Get more examples of activity prices, as well as free activities, in our guide, What is the Cost of Activities in Tonga?
The Cost of Transport
- Bicycle rental/day – TOP$0-$30
- Car rental/day – TOP$40-$150
- Public bus/trip – TOP$0.70-$3
- Taxi/30 minutes – TOP$30-$50
- Accommodation/airport transfers – TOP$4-$60
- Ferry/Tongatapu to Vava’u – TOP$80-$150
- Island resort airport transfer – TOP$60-$230
- Flight/Tongatapu to Vava’u – TOP$350
Get transport prices for more routes in our guide, What is the Cost of Transport in Tonga? And again, check out our guide, Tonga Travel Budget: How Much Does a Trip to Tonga Cost? for more budget tips and costs.
More About Planning a Family Holiday to Tonga
That’s it for our complete guide to Tonga for families but by no means the end of our Tonga advice! Check out the following guides for more tips for families:
- 10 Essential Tips for Travelling to Tonga with Children
- 10 Health and Safety Tips for Travelling in Tonga with Kids
- Fun Facts About Tonga for Kids
Finally, if this complete family guide to Tonga wasn’t enough, how about scrolling through The Complete Travel Guide to Tonga?