Looking for a travel guide to Tonga – that nearly unspoiled island paradise? I brought in expat Mandy to give us the Tonga travel low-down: What to do, where to go, and how to do it all cheaply.
Malo e lelei! (Hello!) I’m Mandy and I blog over at Beneath a Balcony of Stars. I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer serving in The Kingdom of Tonga.
Located in the South Pacific Ocean, Tonga is a nation made up of over 176 islands and is the last Polynesian monarchy. It’s a short two-hour flight from Fiji and New Zealand and it’s been my home for the last two years.
Secluded and truly untouched, the waters that surround Tonga are so clear that you can see 100 feet down! Whether it’s spending time on/in the water or playing on land, I have loved living here. I’ve also had the opportunity to really get to know the culture and the wonderful people who inhabit this little corner of the world.
Must Go in Tonga
Tonga is made up of three island groups. Vava’u is the northern most island group and is known for it’s natural beauty and mountains (large hills, in my opinion).
Spend time sailing through blue lagoons, swimming in candle-lit fresh water caves, exploring hidden coves and enjoying the trade winds as they lead you around these truly magnificent islands. Most of the islands are uninhabited or are dotted with small villages filled with some of the most wonderful and generous people you will ever come across.
Ha’apai is definitely off the beaten path. The middle of the three island groups is known for its amazing scuba diving locations. In January 2014, Ha’apai was hit by a cyclone and has been rebuilding ever since.
It’s still a great place to visit. Sea kayaking, snorkeling and horseback riding are just a few of the things you can do while visiting these 62 scattered islands.
‘Eua is an island off the coast of the largest island, Tongatapu. Covered in lush rainforest, ‘Eua is the perfect place for the true wanderlust. To get there you take the world’s shortest commercial flight (7 minutes) from the main island.
Rocky cliff faces, caves, and sinkholes will greet you upon arrival. ‘Eua is also Tonga’s oldest island. Tongan legend says that ‘Eua is where the Polynesian god Maui stood when he fished up the rest of Tonga’s islands from the deep Pacific waters.
Must Do in Tonga
Swim with the Whales
Tonga is one of two places in the world where you can swim in the wild with whales. From July to October humpback whales come to Tonga to mate. They are friendly, beautiful and humongous creatures! It’s an experience that cannot be described in words and an absolute must!
Snorkeling and Scuba Diving
There are over 100 different species of tropical fish around Tonga and heaps of coral gardens for exploring. The turquoise water is not only crystal clear, but boasts some of the most interesting wildlife. Manta rays, spinner dolphins, sea turtles and sharks are just some of creatures you might come across while swimming in the Tonga waters.
Traditional Tongan Feast and Dance Show
If you want a fun night many of the islands invite visitors to traditional Tongan feasts, which may include a dance show afterwards. Usually these events include delicious traditional Tongan food, a pig roast, stories about Tonga’s history and fire dancing.
Must Eat in Tonga
This dish is made up of raw fish, vegetables (usually green peppers and onions) and coconut milk. It’s best served fresh.
Lu is made in an underground oven (called an ‘umu) and consists of your meat of choice (beef, lamb, chicken, shell fish), coconut milk, onions and taro leaves. It’s traditionally eaten with root crops (yams, sweet potatoes, etc.) and is best served hot.
The islands of Tonga are covered in coconut trees and the people here know what to do with them! There is cold coconut water that can be bought at the food markets and cold-pressed coconut oil that can be used for cooking (and other health and body needs).
Cultural Tips for traveling in Tonga
Modest dress is important when following Tongan cultural customs. Men sometimes where wrap skirts (called tupenus) to special events and it’s inappropriate for women to expose their shoulders or knees in public. It’s best to save that for one of the resorts or out on the water!
Tonga didn’t just get the nickname “The Friendly Islands” for any reason. The people you meet here are some of the most genuine and lovely people you will ever come across. Their generosity is something I will never forget about my time in Tonga.
Cheap travel tips for Tonga
Take the ferry. There is an inter-island ferry that runs once a week between the three island groups. It’s quite the adventure!
Hitch Hiking is commonplace here. If you need to get someplace just put your thumb in the air!
Like most travel destinations, you’ll get a more authentic experience and more for your money with Airbnb. Here’s a whole cottage for $66 a night and here’s a house right on the beach for $79. If you’ve never used Airbnb before, here’s $40 towards your first booking!
If you’re interested in a quiet, untouched getaway complete with adventures and amazing people, Tonga is the place to be!
Have any of you Aussie and Kiwi readers been to Tonga? Any other Tonga travel tips to share?