Things to do on Tongatapu
Comprised of 169 islands in the South Pacific, the Kingdom of Tonga was referred to by Captain Cook as 'The Friendly Islands', and it is not hard to see why.
Tonga has a friendly and laid-back nature, a strong culture and heritage, and a beautiful tropical landscape.
It is the last remaining Pacific monarchy and the only Pacific nation that has never been colonised - so it offers a very authentic cultural experience.
Tongatapu is the main and southernmost island in the Kingdom of Tonga, in the South Pacific. An estimated two-thirds of the Tongan population live on Tongatapu, both in villages and it the nation's capital, Nuku'alofa, on the north coast of the island.
Spending over two weeks on Tongatapu, I got to know the island pretty well. It is small, and therefore easy to get around, yet there is so much to take in. The lifestyle on Tongatapu is relaxed and the people are beyond friendly.
Here are some of my highlights, and things are worth checking out if you are visiting the island of Tongatapu:
Just off the coast of Nuku'alofa, this laidback island has major chill vibes and is a very relaxing day trip from the mainland. For $45TOP return, you can catch a 10 minute ferry ride from Faua Wharf in Nuku'alofa. This price also includes lunch on the island. I have heard that it is also possible to hire a kayak on the mainland and paddle out to Pangaimotu in around 20 minutes. When the boat arrives at the island, you are welcomed by the charming Tongan hospitality of Big Mama's yacht club. On the island, you can swim in crystal clear coral reef waters, jump off the shipwreck and leave your mark in graffiti.
This network of large limestone caves near Haveluliku on the eastern side of Tongatapu is a beautiful swimming spot that is surrounded by stalactites and stalagmites. A local guide shows you the way through the cave to the pools for $10TOP.
ATTEND A CULTURAL NIGHT AT VAKALOA
This was hands down the best night of my trip! There were cultural dances and performances, a traditional Tongan feast, and a lively and vibrant atmosphere. The Vakaloa Beach Resort in the north-west of the island runs these cultural events on Friday nights.
VISIT THE MAPU 'A VAEA BLOWHOLES
The blowholes are best visited on a windy after a day or when there is a strong swell. We visited the blowholes in the wake of Cyclone Winston, so they definitely put on a show for us! These blowholes stretch for 5 kilometres along the coast and are located in the west of the island near the village of Houma.
VISIT TALAFO'OU - 'THE VILLAGE OF THE SNORKELLING PIGS'
This village east of Nuku'alofa is so densely populated with pigs who wade in the water with their snouts beneath the surface digging for food. It really is quite a spectacular sight! Low tide is the best time to see the pigs.
VISIT THE LANGI TOMBS OF LAPAHA
These limestone terraced tombs of Tongan royalty date back to around 1200AD. The extravagant burial mounds are located in the east of Tongatapu, in the village Lapaha, the ancient capital of Tonga.
EAT A HORSE
Okay, I know I am going to get a lot of hate for this one, VEGANS COVER YOUR EYES AND SCROLL DOWN... But if you are a "When in Rome" kind of person, you should definitely try this out. I ate my horse in true Tongan style - from a vendor on the side of the road, wrapped in taro leaves, cooked in coconut milk. It was surprisingly delicious!
VISIT THE HA 'A MONGA 'A MAUI
Located in the north of the island near the village of Niutōua, this limestone trilithon dates back to the 13th century. No one knows how it got there but according to local mythology, it was created by Polynesian demi-god Maui.
THE FOUR CHEESE PIZZA AT LITTLE ITALY
This Mediterranean inspired building on the Nuku'alofa waterfront is both a hotel and a restaurant and is one of the more upmarket establishments on the island. My friend had heard rants about the four cheese pizza here from back in NZ so we had to give it a try!
Take a day trip for $92TOP including a lunch or stay on the island in a fale. This palm-tree coated island is rimmed with white sand beaches and clear, blue, reef-laden tropical waters. It really is an island paradise.
ATTEND A CHURCH SERVICE
Many businesses on Tongatapu are shut on Sundays as most locals will attend a church service. I think there is no better way to experience a culture than to get amongst the people and do what they are doing. The singing in Tongan church services is incredible and there are different types of churches to choose from.
VISIT THE PALACE
Overlooking the ocean in Nuku'alofa, this wooden palace is the residence of the King of Tonga. The palace was built in 1867 and Tonga is the last remaining Polynesian monarchy. The palace is not open for public viewing but it can be admired through the fences from the surrounding roads.
This refreshing Tongan drink is a blend of coconut, fresh fruit, water and sugar. We enjoyed our watermelon 'otai on Vuna Road with a view of the Nuku'alofa harbour.
'OHOLEI BEACH RESORT AND HINA CAVE
Located only a 15 minute drive from Fu'a amotu Airport, 'Oholei Beach Resort is set amongst the cliffs and caves of Lavengatonga Beach. They offer lots of different events and cultural performances at night but it is also a great place to come and spend the day, as the beach here is beautiful! Also, take the time to explore the legendary Hina Cave.
Personally, I would rate the pizza at Marco's higher than the pizza at Little Italy. It is a cosy family owned restaurant in the back streets of Nuku'alofa. The Polynesian-style decor brings Tongan flair to this Italian-style eatery. The pizza is incredible, made from fresh ingredients. If you are lucky, Marco may have even made some home-made gelato!
These markets in the heart of Nuku'alofa sell fresh coconuts, pineapple and taro. There are also local crafts; hand-woven bags, carvings mats clothes upstairs. If you miss these markets, there are plenty of other markets and places on the side of the road where fresh produce is sold.
DRINK OUT OF A COCONUT
Pretty much a given when you are in any tropical island destination. If you are up for the challenge, try to open it yourself... hopefully you won't make as much of a fool of yourself as I did. Luckily I got some help from some of the staff at Fafa Island who are coconut opening PROS!
EAT AN ICE-CREAM THAT IS THE SIZE OF YOUR HEAD
Whether it is an overloaded soft-serve from the polka-dot covered ice creamery in Nuku'alofa or a triple scooped cone in various flavours, ice-cream is a great way to combat the Tongan heat and they are most definitely generous with their portion sizes.
DIVE WITH THE WHALES
I didn't get to do this one this time but I have fallen in love with Tonga and I know I will be back. This is on my 'must do' list for next time I visit.