How to Plan a Family Holiday to Tongatapu
Tongatapu is an exciting destination for families, especially those who love to adventure together. Get out on the water to see humpback whales or snorkel at colourful reefs or check out impressive formations on land! As for accommodation, families have a small but creative selection beach and forest resorts, as well as Nuku’alofa hotels depending on what sort of getaway you are looking for. Either way, we’ll guide you through the highlights in this travel guide to Tongatapu for families.
Top 10 Family Activities on Tongatapu
Before we get into the nitty-gritty details of planning a trip, here’s just a quick overview of some of the amazing experiences you could be having on Tongatapu as a family:
- Explore the amazing ‘Anahulu Cave
- Learn about Tongan traditions on a culture tour
- See flying foxes at Kolovai
- Go on an island day trip from Nuku’alofa
- Check out the awesome Mapua ‘a Vaea Blowholes
- Build sandcastles at one of Tongatapu’s beaches
- See the hilarious fishing pigs
- Watch a Tongan cultural show and indulge in a Tongan feast
- See the epic Ha’amonga ‘a Maui Trilithon
- See the whales on a whale-watching tour.
Learn more about each experience in our 10 Best Things to Do on Tongatapu with Kids. Otherwise, some of these activities are also detailed below…
How to Get to Tongatapu
With an international airport and a cruise ship port, Tongatapu is one of the easiest destinations to get to in Tonga. As for getting around, families have a choice of taxis, airport/accommodation shuttles, boat transport to the off-shore islands, taxis, car rentals and even the local bus if you’re being extra frugal.
Tongatapu by Plane
Flights to Tongatapu arrive at Fua’amotu International Airport, approximately a 30-minute drive from Nuku’alofa. Direct flights to Fua’amotu Airport are available from Auckland (New Zealand), Sydney (Australia) and Nadi (Fiji), which all have connections. See Which Airlines Fly Straight to Tonga? for more advice. Domestic flights between Tongatapu and Tonga’s other islands are also available at the domestic terminal, as described in The Guide to Domestic Flights in Tonga. As for getting to Nuku’alofa or your accommodation from the airport, check out Tonga Airports: Your Airport Transfer Options.
How to Get Around Tongatapu
Tongatapu is well-connected by roads across and around the island, with most transport connections made in Nuku’alofa. Car rentals and bicycle rentals are an option for independent travel. Alternatively, bus services, taxis and guided tours are also available. Find out all you need to know about transport in our Tongatapu Transport Guide: 10 Ways to Get to (& Around) Tongatapu.
Water Activities for Families
Kids love the water, and with water temperatures dropping no lower than 25°C (77°F) in Tonga, it’s comfortable and enjoyable. Tongatapu is lined with amazing beaches, surrounded by islands to explore, and has a thriving underwater world to discover.
What kid doesn’t love the beach?! Tongatapu really has an amazing array of beaches, ideal for building sandcastles, collecting shells, swimming, snorkelling and reef-walking. Swim and watch the surfers at Ha’atafu Beach, swim in the lagoons of Keleti Beach, or join the locals at Fefe Ho Loto Beach. Learn more about which beaches to visit in the 25 Best Beaches on Tongatapu.
Island Day Trips
Discover Tonga’s amazing array of corals and tropical fish on a family-friendly snorkelling trip from Nuku’alofa. Snorkelling tours are in sheltered waters that are safe for even younger kids (as long as they know how to swim), usually alongside idyllic islands some 20-30 minutes off the city’s shores. All of the snorkelling gear will be provided, including a mask, snorkel and fins. So all you need to do is enjoy the boat journey and discover the amazing underwater world together as a family. Note that snorkelling tours are typically only available between November and June (in other words, outside of the whale season). See current tour operators in The Best Snorkel & Scuba Dive Tours in Tongatapu & Nuku’alofa.
Alternatively, island day trips to the nearby Pangaimotu Island are available on Sundays departing from Faua Wharf at 11 am and 12 pm or on demand throughout the week if minimum numbers are met. The day trip is ideal for all ages – just think of it as the ultimate day at the beach! Learn more about the day trip in the 10 Best Island Day Trips & Tours from Nuku’alofa.
Whale watching and swimming tours are available from Nuku’alofa between July and October. Whale swimming is a popular option with families with older kids and teens who are strong swimmers, as swimming is in the open water and involves a lot of getting on and off the boat. Those with younger kids can experience just as much excitement from the whale tour boats, watching the whales swimming to the surface, lifting their fluke into the air, and even sometimes breaching! Learn more about the experience in The Guide to Whale Swimming in Tonga and see operators in the 5 Best Whale Swim Tours in Tongatapu & Nuku’alofa.
Land Activities for Families
Delve into a breathtaking limestone cave with a short walkway and a swimming hole at the end. ‘Anahulu Cave (Haveluliku), on the eastern side of Tongatapu, has a small entry fee for a self-guided walk on a well-formed path through the impressive cave. The cave is well-lit and boasts a refreshing pool to swim at the end, so take your swimwear! Check out more attractions like this in our guide to Sightseeing on Tongatapu: Top 10 Sights & Natural Attractions.
Mapua ’a Vaea Blowholes
Watch the sea bursting through hundreds of blowholes at the Mapua ‘a Vaea Blowholes (Houma)! The blowholes stretch some 5 km (3 mi) along the southwest coast of Tongatapu creating amazing natural displays that the kids will love! While it’s fun to see the blowholes at any time, the best times are during high tide, windy days or when the swells are strong to see water shooting up to 30 m (100 ft).
Flying Foxes of Kolovai
You’ll probably hear their unusual squeaks before you see the flying foxes in the trees of Kolovai. While flying foxes, otherwise known as “peka” or fruit bats, can be seen across Tongatapu, one of the best places to see them is in this western village on Tongatapu where there is a flying fox sanctuary. Stop by the village and simply look up at the trees to see the huge bats interacting. The best time to see flying foxes is between October and February.
Combine the awe-inspiring setting of ‘Anahulu Cave with learning about Tonga’s rich culture with Teta Tours. Their “Culture Tour” is an enlightening experience featuring a mat weaving and tapa demonstration, coconut husking and grating, and a kava ceremony. Alternatively, a fantastic culture tour in Nuku’alofa is Ancient Tonga. The cultural centre offers “Half” and “Full Culture Tours” revolving around Tongan arts, crafts, dance and food. It’s a great way to get the kids involved in a more hands-on learning experience. Find out more about both tours in the 10 Best Cultural Activities in Tonga.
More Things to Do on Tongatapu
On top of all the activities mentioned, Tongatapu also has the ancient Ha’amonga ‘a Maui Trilithon, the hilarious “Fishing Pigs” and much more. We go over them all in the 10 Best Things to Do on Tongatapu with Kids. For more experiences that don’t necessarily fall into the “family-friendly” category but are still just as amazing, take a look at the 50 Best Things to Do on Tongatapu.
Family-Friendly Dining on Tongatapu
Casual dine-in experiences with mouthwatering cuisine are what dining on Tongatapu is all about. Try some of Tonga’s local delicacies, such as ota ika (raw fish marinated in coconut cream) or lu (meat and coconut cream wrapped in taro leaves). Alternatively, European and Asian cuisine is well represented across Tongatapu’s restaurants should you want to mix things up. Alternatively, families on a budget will find that self-catering is a viable option.
Builder’s Burger (Touliki) not only serves up crowd-pleasing burgers but the ocean swimming pool on its doorstep, as well as a children’s playground, makes it a must-do for families.
Probably the most out-of-place restaurant in the islands of the South Pacific, Little Italy Restaurant (Vuna Road) transports you to Europe in its cuisine, decor and architecture. Everything about it is typically Italian, including its damn-good family-friendly pizzas.
A little further along from Little Italy, Seaview Lodge & Restaurant (Vuna Road) offers an upmarket dining experience overlooking the waterfront. Ease into their nautical-themed dining room with colonial-style architecture where favourites include octopus with grilled vegetables and grilled snapper on homemade lemon butter sauce. Highchairs are available.
Finally, while a little out of town, it’s worth making your way to Tupu’Anga Cafe (Popua) for their cassava cakes, lu pies, manioke/kumala chips, lesi (papaya) scones and home-roasted coffee. They also have free WiFi and a children’s playground.
Culture Shows and Feasts
An unmissable experience on Tongatapu is the Tongan umu feast and floor show. Resorts like ‘Oholei Beach Resort (Lavengatonga) and Katea Retreat (Nakolo) host elaborate buffets of traditional staples slow-cooked by hot stones, international favourites, and a Tongan favourite – a spitroast pig. Once you’re full to the brim, a floor show begins with traditional dancing and costume performed with grace and vigour – all depending on the dance style. A Tongan floor show is not a floor show without the fire dance finale! Learn more about these experiences in the 10 Best Cultural Shows in Tonga.
Self-Catering on Tongatapu
A surefire way to save money on food when holidaying on Tongatapu is to cook your own meals. Stay at one of the 10 Best Self-Catering Accommodations in Nuku’alofa & Tongatapu and pick up groceries from the many convenience stores, fale koloa and roadside produce stalls to whip up your own sustenance! Check out The Guide to Supermarkets & Food Shopping in Tonga for more tips for a self-catering trip.
More About Tongatapu for Families
That’s it for the complete travel guide to Tongatapu for families. For more family trip-planning tips, take a look at the following:
- 10 Essential Tips for Travelling to Tonga with Children
- The Travel Guide to Tonga for Families
- 10 Best Things to Do in Nuku’alofa with Kids