Ferry Transport in Tonga
Tonga is a nation of 169 islands, so to really experience it you’re going to need to do some island-hopping. One of the cheapest ways to do that is to take the ferry. Taking the ferry in Tonga is often one of the most memorable experiences in the Kingdom, a lengthy voyage on a ferry transporting both passengers and cargo. In this guide to travelling Tonga by ferry, we go through the ferry experience, routes, schedules and prices.
Quick Tips for Taking the Ferry in Tonga
- There are four different passenger ferries in Tonga all offering different experiences – check out the guide below to see which ferry suits your needs, budget and comfort preferences
- Check and double-check the ferry schedules! They can even change on the day of departure
- Ferry journeys are lengthy, from 2 hours to 24 hours! Pack supplies for the journey
- Bunk cabins are available to book on the MV ‘Otuanga’ofa
- Buy ferry tickets at the ferry terminal or on board
For more tips, see the 10 Tips for Taking the Ferry in Tonga.
What are the Ferries Like in Tonga?
There are varying ferry experiences in Tonga between the fast modern catamarans and the slow cargo-style ships to barge ferries. Here’s a quick rundown of what it’s like to take the ferry in Tonga.
On the MV ‘Onemato and MV Alaimoana
The MV ‘Onemato and MV Alaimoana are two other ferries operating between Tongatapu and ‘Eua. The MV ‘Onemato is a barge ferry with a passenger area on an open-air deck with a roof and wooden seating. There’s also a higher open deck for soaking in the views and looking out for whales. The MV Alaimoana is a smaller vessel with limited indoor seating where you’ll mostly share the journey with “stuff”.
On the MV ‘Otuanga’ofa and MV Taka I Pomana
The MV ‘Otuanga’ofa and MV Taka I Pomana are cargo and passenger ships. The MV ‘Otuanga’ofa is the quickest passenger ferry, which has been operating between Tongatapu and Vava’u for around 10 years. It even takes an arduous journey to the far-flung Niuas islands. Passengers mostly sit on the floor in large covered passenger decks where you’ll mostly share the passage huddled with locals. You’ll find groups kipping on the floor due to the longer journeys this ship takes. There are outside decks too allowing you to stretch your legs. The journey can be made a little more comfortable by booking a spot in the 28-bunk cabin.
The MV Taka I Pomana offers slower travel durations between the islands but more room for cargo.
On the MV Maui
The MV Maui is the most modern ferry travelling between Tongatapu and ‘Eua, featuring indoor and outdoor seating for a comfortable ride for the one-hour journey.
[Update: the MV Tongiaki is no longer operating] The MV Tongiaki is a high-speed catamaran that runs between Tongatapu and Vava’u each weekday, stopping at Ha’apai along the way. The boat is a modern vessel with rows of comfortable seating inside. There’s an outdoor viewing deck at the back of the vessel.
Ferry Routes and Durations in Tonga
So where can you travel to in Tonga by ferry? A ferry service runs between Tongatapu and ‘Eua. Ferries also run between Tongatapu and Vava’u, stopping at islands in Ha’apai along the way. Finally, a ferry occasionally runs between Vava’u and The Niuas.
Where Can You Take the Ferry in Tonga
There are three main ferry routes in Tonga, as follows:
- Tongatapu – ‘Eua: 1-hour to 2h30mins
- Tongatapu – Ha’apai: 8 hours to 12h30mins
- Ha’apai – Vava’u: 7 hours to 9 hours
- Vava’u – Niuatoputapu: 16 hours
- Niuatoputapu – Niuafo’ou: 12 hours
- Niuafo’ou – Vava’u: 24 hours
Note that ferry durations are faster on the catamaran ferries.
Ferry Ports in Tonga
- Tongatapu – Queen Salote Wharf, Nuku’alofa
- Ha’apai – Taufa’ahau Wharf, Pangai on Lifuka Island (other stops in Ha’apai include Nomuka and Ha’afeva, but most tourists will go to Pangai)
- Vava’u – Halaevalu Wharf, Neiafu on Vava’u Island
- ‘Eua – Nafanua Wharf, Ohonua
- The Niuas – Niuatoputapu and Niuafo’ou
Tonga Ferry Timetables
Ferries run on ever-changing schedules in Tonga, where up-to-date schedules can be found a the Visitor Information Centres in Tonga, as well as occasionally on the Facebook pages of the ferry companies.
The MV ‘Otuanga’ofa and MV Taka I Pomana operate Monday to Saturday, while other ferry services run from Monday to Friday. Ferries do not operate on a Sunday under Tongan law.
When planning to travel by any one of the ferries, double-check the ferry schedule the day before travel. It’s also worth calling for an up-to-date departure time on the day of travel, as ferries tend to depart, well, whenever they want. This has left many first-time ferry travellers behind, so don’t get caught out!
For more boat transport tips, see 10 Tips for Travelling Tonga by Boat.
The Price of Ferries in Tonga
Ferries are by far the cheapest way to get between the island groups in Tonga.
There are differences in price depending on what ferry you take. Approximate ferry prices are as follows:
- Tongatapu to ‘Eua – Around TOP$20-$30
- Tongatapu to Ha’apai – TOP$65-$70
- Tongatapu to Vava’u – TOP$80-$95
- Vava’u to Ha’apai – TOP$70-$80
- Vava’u to The Niuas – TOP$215-$250
For more information, see How Much Do Ferries Cost in Tonga?