Tonga is a stunning Kingdom in the South Pacific, comprising of more than 170 islands. The highlights of Tonga include some of the best in the Pacific, with breathtaking blowholes, underground caves to swim in, bustling markets and outer islands to relax on.
I have been twice to visit Tonga in the last few years (both as a teacher and more officially as a tourist). As New Zealander’s, Tonga is the closest international country we can fly to from Auckland. The flight time is just under three hours. And unlike some of the other South Pacific Islands, it is in the same time zone as well.
Tonga became known worldwide as the Friendly Islands for the reception given to Captain James Cook on discovery in 1773. It is an awesome place to visit. And definitely lives up to those friendly and tropical assumptions!
HIGHLIGHTS OF TONGA
These are cavernous limestone caves with freshwater pools inside. The path down into the caves is lit dimly, so bring a torch light of some sort. The pools are deep at the inner end of the cave and suitable for swimming… Or jumping off into if you are keen!
Anahulu Cave is situated in the village of Haveluliku on the Eastern Side of Tonga and only about a 30 minute drive from Nuku’alofa. Trust me, its worth a swim there!
MAPU’A ‘A VAEA BLOWHOLES
The Mapu’a Vaea or “Whistle of the Noble” are natural blowholes on the island of Tongatapu. The blowholes are accessed from the village of Houma. It’s easy to find them by rental car with the help of signposts (and Google Maps).
With the crashing waves on the reef, natural channels in the volcanic rock create a plume-like effect when the water blows through forcefully. It’s impressive! And mesmerising to watch.
MAUI ROCK (TSUNAMI ROCK)
As well as featuring as one of the key highlights of Tonga, the large coral boulder of Maui Rock has been marked as one of the historical sights of the Kingdom of Tonga. A nearby line of large coral boulders on the shores of Tongatapu may be evidence of one of the largest volcano-triggered tsunami’s the world has experienced.
Scientists believe the giant Maui Rock was brought 100m inland by the wave of a tsunami. However, Tongan legends recount the story of how Maui hurled this giant rock at a noisy rooster after being angrily awoken by the crowing of one of his fathers birds…
An interesting stop on a circuit of highlights around Tongatapu!
If you are looking for a place to relax and soak up some sun while in Nuku’Alofa, then a day trip to the resort island of Pangaimotu is the place to be. The island is only a 10 minute ferry boat ride from Tongatapu. It has a great restaurant, bar, and swimming beach, plus a now-famous sunken shipwreck which you can climb up and dive off!
The central market in town is a hub of colour and activity. There are rows of fresh fruit and vegetables and all kinds of handicrafts to choose from. Beautifully woven fans, bags, mats, baskets, hats and Tongan Ngatu art pieces. Definitely worth a visit!
Tonga is easy to get around. It’s straightforward to get a taxi from the airport in Nuku’alofa into town. However, if you are staying in town the easiest way to get around is to walk.
There are two ways to explore the rest of the sights of the island – hire a rental car, or visit with a booked tour. I have done both, but would say the easiest and most economical way to see the sights of Tonga would be by rental car. We split our explorations into two days – one day for each side of the island.
WHERE WE STAYED
I have stayed at two different places in Tongatapu. Both were different, and both on the lower end of the budget scale. I would recommend either.
- AirBnb: Misrica’s Guesthouse in Mataika [great location, safe parking, spacious compound with 2 guesthouses, basic but user-friendly kitchen, very friendly family run property].
- Hotel: Little Italy Hotel [22 room hotel in suburban Nuku’Alofa; 15 minute walk to town; 2 minute drive; popular restaurant onsite; spacious and very clean rooms; friendly staff].
Like Samoa, Rarotonga and many of the South Pacific Islands; Tonga is a religious island country, and therefore Sunday is observed as a sacred day where church and family are the priority.
Shops in Nuku alofa are shut on a Sunday with only the bare minimum of a few select tourist restaurants open. The best option (like most tourists) is to make an afternoon trip out to Pangimotu or one of the other nearby islands.
On Sunday morning, even if like me you aren’t a regular church goer, I recommend attending a church service while in Tonga. It is an uplifting and memorable experience and one of the highlights of Tonga.
There is nothing quite as impressive as the voices and music of a Pacific Island congregation, choir, and church band. And then there’s the colours of everyone dressed up in vibrant island dresses, tupenu and ta‘ovala…
Inspiring to say the least!