Despite being somewhat of an unspoilt paradise, Tonga is one of the least visited countries in the world and is often overlooked in favour of neighbouring Fiji. However, as with many places, people are going to catch on eventually – if you can you should beat the rush! Don’t be put off by a lack of tourist infrastructure – Tonga is known as ‘The Friendly Islands’ for a reason. The locals are some of the kindest people we’ve met while travelling, and are always willing to help you out. Here’s the 5 best places to visit when in Tonga.
One of Tonga’s most popular destinations, offering potentially the most incredible wildlife encounter imaginable. Plan your trip between July and October to seize the opportunity to swim with magnificent humpback whales. It’s a rare chance to get up close with these beautiful giants of the sea, and one of the most popular things to do in Tonga. While in Vava’u, arrange a yacht trip to explore caves, visit secluded paradise beaches, plus snorkel and dive brilliant reefs. There’s plenty of fascinating marine life for you to see – such as reef sharks, turtles, octopi and more. You’re sure to have a whale of a time!
The capital city of Tonga’s main island, Tongapatu, is unique in comparison to many other capital cities of the world. High rise buildings are nowhere to be seen, with the appeal of being able to easily walk anywhere you may want to go. It’s a far cry from huge cities like London. Wander the streets past the royal palace, stroll along the pleasant waterfront and don’t be surprised to find a pig or two roaming unattended. On Sundays, almost everything in the city shuts down, and the locals visit church or spend time with their families. This leaves Nuku’alofa’s streets almost deserted – something that is rarely found elsewhere in the world, yet remains charming. Although this may not be what you normally expect of a capital city, it’s a great experience.
As is common with the Pacific islands, Tonga is blessed with many beautiful beaches. One of these is Ha’atafu beach – found on the main island of Tongapatu. Travelling there from Nuku’alofa is relatively inexpensive, with the option of either renting your own car or taking a taxi. Upon arrival, you may find that you have the white sand and lovely turquoise waters to yourself – as we did. Whether you want to spend an afternoon relaxing in the sun, or enjoy the warm Tongan waters, Ha’atafu beach is a hidden gem. It really does work to your advantage that Tonga has few tourists. You’ll leave feeling lucky to have savoured such a gorgeous beach without the crowds you’d find in other destinations. There are also bars and restaurants along the seafront if you want to enjoy a beach sunset to top off your day.
Mapu’a ‘a Vaea Blowholes
A stretch of 5 kilometres along Tongapatu’s south coast is home to one of Tonga’s most notable landmarks. Nearby the village of Houma lie hundreds of blowholes, which, given the right conditions, catapult water 30 metres into the air. Like many other spots around Tonga, you may well be the only tourist there. Having the place to yourself is a special feeling as you witness surging waters shooting up all around. If possible try and visit on a windy day, as the rougher waters will mean you get to witness this spectacle in all its glory. To visit, either take a taxi or rent a car from the capital and test your navigation skills. We did the latter and despite having a very basic map and no previous knowledge of driving on the island, were able to get there with no more than a few wrong turns.
Tongans tend to be extremely religious, and as such Sunday sees many restaurants and shops close for the day. If you don’t want to be caught out you’ll need to plan your activities in advance. Being on the main island of Tongapatu, you can take day trips to one of a number of nearby islands. This allows you to enjoy pristine beaches and take advantage of food service at a resort. Our choice was Pangaimotu island, which has beautiful crystal clear waters perfect for snorkelling, as well as a rusting shipwreck which local kids use as a makeshift diving platform. Island trips can be booked in advance from Friends café in Nuku’alofa, but be sure to be on time for your boat to avoid being left behind like we briefly were!
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