Tonga is one of the most scenic, virgin islands of the Pacific Island nations, located in the heart of the beautiful South Pacific ocean. New and returning visitors are enticed by the unique experiences that are on offer across the five main island groups. Come and discover the vast beauty, rich culture and relaxing island ways of Tongan life for yourself!
Responsible travel in Tonga is still in its early stages, though there are now several great programs in place!
Our Tonga Country Guide will give you all the travel information you need to know to plan your Tonga vacation, while our Tonga Destination Guide will give you some handy information about some of the exciting things to see and do during your Tonga holiday. Joining a Tonga tour or activity is an exciting and easy way to explore the country!
We recommend you read about travel in Tonga on Go Nomad.
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Tonga Country Guide
Scroll further down the page for some handy details to help you plan your Tonga holiday:
Tonga is blessed with a comfortable subtropical climate, from December to April; the weather is hot and humid, with considerable rainfall. The cool dry season, with average temperatures of up to 22, runs from May to November. Trade winds during the season make for pleasant days and cool nights. Visit Tonga from June to November for our Whale seasons where you can experience a day with the whales.
Our Tonga Weather page provides information on the best place to visit the beautiful island nation of Tonga and also has a six-day Tonga weather forecast.
There are no area codes in Tonga. The Country code is 676.
The two Telephone Communication companies in Tonga have developed roaming for those customers who need roaming. If you arrive in Tonga, the Tonga Communication Corporation and the Digicel Telephone Company are here to provide your communication needs. Mobile phone coverage is limited to Nuku’alofa.
Internet cafes are available in Nuku’alofa.
Post office hours are from Mon-Fri 08.30 am – 4:00 pm. The main post office is located in the center of Nuku’alofa. There are two other branches in Ha’apai and Vava’u. Airmail to Europe takes approximately 10 days.
The currency of Tonga is the Tongan pa’anga. 100 seniti comprise one pa’anga. Each pa’anga is almost equivalent to the Australian dollar although there are fluctuations on different days. Traveler’s cheques are exchanged at about 4% higher values than foreign bank notes. Banks require a commission of TOP$ 6 for cash advances on credit cards while hotels charge about 10 % for the same service. Credit card payments are often charged an extra 4.5 %. Consumption Tax (CT) of 15% applies to imports and domestic supplies of goods and services.
Negotiating and tipping are not the norm at Tonga. However, fakapale or gifts in cash are quite commonly handed out during cultural performances. Small bills are stuck onto the well oiled shoulders and arms of the dancers.
Electricity in Tonga is 240 volts 50Hz, same as New Zealand, Australia and the UK. Plugs are three pronged, the upper two are angled and flat and the bottom one vertical and flat. Some of the German managed resorts may use European plugs, so you may need a converter.
To view a list of Tongan embassies around the world, as well as foreign embassies within Tonga, check out http://www.embassy-worldwide.com/.
Food & Drink
Seafood is a feature of local cuisine. In town, Friends Cafe (+676 22390) is a popular option for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are a number of options on Vuna Road, including Kaati-Ni Restaurant (+676 28393), the Seaview Lodge and Restaurant (+676 23709), pizzeria Little Italy (+676 25053) and Cottage Breeze Restaurant (+676 28940). At the port end of Vuna Road, the Waterfront Restaurant (+676 24692) provides good fare, as does Fresh Cafe (+676 27808) and Lunarossa Restaurant (+676 26324) with its Italian Cuisine. To experience local food and culture, a dinner show at the Tongan National Centre (+676 23022) is recommended. On Sundays, when nearly all of Tonga closes down for religious reasons, many take the short TOP$20 ferry ride to Pangaimotu Island to eat and drink a Big Mama’s Yacht Club.
Population :::: 119,009 (July 2008 est.)
Land Area :::: 748 sq km (total exclusive zone: 750,000 sq km)
Capital :::: Nuku’alofa
Time Zone :::: GMT+13 hrs
People :::: Tongans 98%, other 2%
Business Language :::: English/Tongan
Political status :::: Sovereign monarchy
Nominal GDP :::: US$325 million (IMP, 2008)
Inflation :::: 5.7% (September 2009)
Currency :::: Pa’anga (TOP$)
Major industrial sectors :::: Agriculture, Fisheries
Exports :::: Yam, Cassava, Taro, Coconut products, Tuna, Kava, Vanilla, Squash
Major Export Markets :::: New Zealand, United States, Australia, Japan, Korea
Imports :::: Machinery, equipment, manufactured goods, food, fuel
Major Import Markets :::: Australia, Japan, Singapore, New Zealand, Fiji, China
An archipelago of 176 islands in the South Pacific, the Kingdom of Tonga stretches between the latitudes 16 °S and 23 °S, and longitudes 173 °40 W and 175 °20 W. They cover approximately 800 km (500 miles) in a north-south line. They are located about one-third of the way from New Zealand to Hawaii. Tonga means ‘south’ in Tongan.
The archipelago has 36 inhabited islands, divided into four main groups. The most populated group is the Tongatapu group, also the southernmost group. The capital of Tonga, Nuku’alofa, is located here. The cultural hub of Tonga is here too. The Ha’apai group in the central region is located about 80 nautical miles (nm) north of Tongatapu. These low coral atolls surround towering volcanoes. Located further north, another 80 nm from Ha’apai, is the Vava’u group. It has a lovely cluster of canals and unspoiled, thinly populated islets. A huge landlocked harbour lies at the centre of this group. Located about 320 nm from Tongatapu are the Niuas, the islands at the extreme north. They comprise three lonely volcanic islands. The old traditional ways of Tongan life still exist here.
TONGATAPU :: This is the administrative and commercial centre of Tonga. The royal family lives here, and the royal palace, the tomb, and several colonial style houses are still used. The terrain of the island is flat so going around by bike or car, or even walking around, are all easily done. At least four days are required to appreciate the historic monuments and natural beauty of the island.
The amazing blowholes are on the southwest part of the island, while Mu’a, the ancient capital, lies towards the east. The Terrace Tombs are located at Mu’a. Visit an offshore island to relax and rejuvenate yourself, and to enjoy the tranquil South Pacific atmosphere. Ha’amonga, the Stonehenge of the South Pacific, is not too far from here. Finally, there are the not-to-be-missed markets, where Saturday mornings are the busiest.Just a few kilometers off the southeastern edge of Tongatapu is the island of ‘Eua. The island is quiet and serene. It feels more remote than if really is, and tourism is not very well developed either. The daily ferries from Nuku’alofa take two hours to reach ‘Eua. Or for a faster journey, take the eight minutes flight from Nuku’alofa, one the shortest flights in the world.
To experience nature, head to ‘Eua National Park, which has Tonga’s largest stretch of native forest. Take a local guide and enjoy a daylong trek through the park. You will be taken to the high lookout points in the forest and you can feel one with nature as frigate birds and tropical birds fly past you. While walking down to the Lokupo beach, you will hear the loud call of the red-breasted musk parrot – the koki, which lives only in ‘Eua. The park is a haven for bird watchers.
Between the months of June and November, you can see magnificent humpback whales as they swim past ‘Eua on way to their breeding grounds in Vava’u. The whales are also visible from the beach. Diving enthusiasts can discover the secrets of the underwater Cathedral Cave located among the marine caves on the northern coastlines.
VAVA’U :: The sailing paradise of the Pacific Ocean! Hire a boat and sail around the scenic waterways. Find out for yourself why this island is one of the most favoured sailing destinations of the world. Vava’u is surrounded by crystal clear waters, and the bottom of the sea at 40 m is easily visible, which is perhaps why the whales throng to this area every year in June and November. Try your hand at game fishing, go sea kayaking on the calm waterways, dive into Mariners Cave, or swim inside Swallows Cave.
Walk around Neiafu, enjoy a drink, eat lunch or maybe even dinner, at one of the wonderful restaurants and cafes looking over the Port of Ridge. And for the active and healthy, there’s nothing like a hike to the summit of Mt Talau.
HA’APAI :: On reaching Ha’apai, you will find only peace and serenity. No crowds, no queues, no traffic. Spend two days here. Relax, swim, go snorkeling, fish, or dive and explore the caves and stunning coral reefs that flourish here. Enjoy the magnificent white sandy beach, go horse riding, or test your sea kayaking skills
Lifuka is the capital of Ha’apai. This sleepy town, located on the main island of Pangai, cannot be missed. Enjoy the relaxed pace of life here. Two places worth visiting here are the Velata Fortress site, and the Shirley Baker monument.
NIUAS :: Niuatoputapu and Niuafo’ou, the two Niuas, lie about 300 miles to the north of the main island of Tongatapu. Niuatoputapu is about 18 sq km in size and has a population of approximately 1400. It is located around 240 km to the north of Vava’u. Sub-oceanic eruptions created an underwater volcano many years ago, and Niuafo’ou is the tip of that volcano. It is a great place to stroll around, and all its noteworthy sights can be seen in two days. The north western coast of the island is surrounded by gorgeous white beaches. The lifestyle here is still very tradition, with both dressing habits and people’s behavior being quite conservative. A small cooperative store, a post office, and the police station are located in Hihifo, the capital of the Niuas.
To view a map of Tonga.
Vehicles drive on the left. Taxis are plentiful around the centre of Nuku’alofa and few destinations are more than 10 minutes by car. Taxis are inexpensive but negotiate your fare before departure (firms include Holiday Taxis, +676 25655 / 25169). Rentals cars can be in short supply and should be booked well before you arrive in Tonga. Avis (+676 21179) and Fab Signs & Rentals (+676 23393) are two options.
Getting there and away
Pacific Blue (DJ) flies directly from Sydney to Fua’amotu International Airport on the main island of Tongatapu twice a week and also via Auckland twice a week, while Air New Zealand (NZ) flies direct from Auckland most days. In addition, Air New Zealand (NZ) has weekly flight from Los Angeles via Samoa and Air Pacific (FJ) flies from Fiji four times a week. Tonga’s domestic air services are provided by Chathams Pacific. Fua’amotu International Airport is 21km from Nuku’alofa – half an hour by car.
Medical care in Tonga is rather limited and any serious illness or accident may require evacuation.
Scuba diving enthusiasts ought to know that the island does not have a decompression chamber. Anyone with a serious case of decompression illness will have to be evacuated to Townsville in Queensland, Australia. The nearest treatment center is in Townsville. All registered dive companies do meet PADI standards and have basic treatment equipment.
Mosquito borne dengue fever is known to break out now and then and in fact, there have been a large number of cases reported since the beginning of this year. Visitors are strongly advised to take all possible care to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes, using insect repellents if necessary. Seek medical care in case of fever.
Infectious diseases such as filariasis and tuberculosis, and food and water borne diseases are not very uncommon, with serious outbreaks now and then. Drink boiled water or bottled water only. Ice cubes, under-cooked food, and raw food must be avoided completely. No case of diarrhea or fever should be ignored.
Among all the Pacific island nations, Tonga is the only one that still has a monarchy, and also the only island nation that never became a British colony.
In 1773, the islanders accorded Captain Cook such a very warm reception that the islands came to be known as the Friendly Islands. He arrived during the annual ‘inasi festival’ and was invited to all the festivities. During ‘inasi, the first fruits are donated to the island’s supreme chief, Tu’i Tonga. In writer William Mariner’s opinion, however, the island chiefs had wanted to kill Cook but fortunately for him, could not agree on a plan.
People have inhabited the Tongan archipelago since the late Lapita times, which was about 3000 years ago. Of course, the culture of the islanders has changed a lot over this long period.
The one time capital, Niutoua, is a village on the edge of one of the islands and standing just before it is a trilithon, dating back to 1000 AD. The trilithon is made up of a lintel placed across two vertical stones. Each stone of this coral limestone monument weighs about 40 tonnes. Called Ha’amonga ‘a Maui, or the ‘burden of Maui’, this structure is believed to have been brought out of the sea by the Polynesian God, Maui. According to legend, Maui obtained the stones from ‘Uvea, an island in the French territory of the Futuna and Wallis Islands. Archaeological studies, however, do not subscribe to this belief, and instead opine that the ‘burden’ was actually borne by the islanders who carried the massive stones all the way from the water’s edge!
Before the late 1600s and early 1700s, when the European explorers arrived, the people of Tonga had close relations with Fiji and Samoa, the nearest Oceanic neighbours. The Western missionaries and traders arrived in the 1800s and with their arrival, the culture of Tonga changed radically. Certain old habits and beliefs were discarded and new ones adopted.
In 1900, Tonga came under the protection of the British. It obtained partial independence in 1958 and complete independence in 1970. However, Tonga did not break its ties with the British Commonwealth.
Today, Australia, New Zealand, and the USA have become the favoured destinations of many modern day Tongans in search of better employment and an improved standards of life.
The Tongan people are usually quite adept at operating in two different styles – the traditional Tongan way or ‘anka fakatonga’, and the Western way or ‘anga fakapãlangi’. A true Tongan is comfortable in both ways and knows when to use which style.
Tongan is spoken by about 95,000 people, most of who live in Tonga. The language belongs to the Polynesian branch of an Austronesia language.
It was in the early nineteenth century that Tongan was first written. Missionaries wrote in Tongan using a variety of spelling systems. It was in 1943 that the current system was officially adopted by the Privy Council of Tonga. A unique feature of Tongan words is that every word ends in a vowel.
Tongan speakers select their vocabulary and style of speaking according to the audience they are addressing. People who learn Tongan as a second language and have not grown up in a traditional Tongan setting have to sensitize themselves to the Tongan social norms so as to be able to use the appropriate language for the appropriate audience.
To greet people in Tonga, you would say. ‘Malo e Lelei (mah-loh-eh-leh-leh-e). A more informal version of malo e (lelei) is ‘malei’ (mah-lay), which is like greeting someone with a ‘hi’.
The Tongan word for ‘to stay’ is (nofo). If you are on your way out from a place and the other person is staying, you would say ‘nofo a e’ (no-fo ah eh). Add a mou if more than one person is staying, and say ‘mou nofo a e’
‘Alu’ means ‘to go’ in Tongan. ‘Alu a e'(aluh-ah-eh)’ is said to someone who is leaving. ‘Alu a e’ is said by both when both are leaving.
It is quite strange to hear Tongan children say ‘bye’ when you cross them in the streets or go by in your bike. This is a translation of ‘Alu a e’, something they would say to friends who were going past.
Local Costs in Tonga
The pa’anga (TOP) is the currency used in Tonga. There are a number of international banks in Tonga, with business hours generally from 08.30 am to 05.00 pm Monday to Friday. Most of the ATM machines are located in and around Nuku’alofa, two in Vava’u and one each in Ha’apai and ‘Eua. Overseas travelers can use their credit cards in the ATMs, but you must have a PIN (Personal Identification Number) to withdraw cash.
Major credit cards (Visa, Master Card, American Express, and Diners & JCB) are accepted at most major hotels and some restaurants and stores; Travelers’ cheques are widely accepted at major banks and hotels.
Listed below are some average local costs in Tonga you can expect to pay:
– Internet access- TOP$ 2.00-TOP$3.00 per hour
– Local beer – TOP$ 3.00-TOP$5.00
– Accommodation from TOP$ 23-00 budget, TOP$ 80-TOP$100 mid-range and TOP$ 100-TOP$1000.00 top-end
– Meals range from TOP$ 5-15 for budget, TOP$ 15-25 for mid-range and TOP$ 25-40 for top-end.
The people of Tonga are friendly, relaxed, and quite happy. They are unaffected by little irritations like noise or delays. The beach, singing, dancing, and collecting shellfish are activities they enjoy. The family is extremely important and Tongans gather to celebrate all occasions, big or small. The 1st and 21st birthdays, marriages, and funerals are all observed with great regard
When Tonga was still a secluded island, Tongan women gathered shellfish near the reef, raised children, and wove ‘koloa’. This included mats and bark cloth that made up the traditional wealth exchanged during weddings and other functions. Woven mats are frequently passed down through generations. The older the mat, the greater the respect. A collection of such mats is considered the true wealth of the Tongan crown. Royal mats are put on display during special occasions such as a coronation ceremony or after the death of a member of royalty.
Wood was carved to make items of regular use such as headrests or kali, food bowls, spears, war clubs, and cult images. Inlaying pearl shell and ivory in wood is a specialty of Tongan craftsmen. Among many treasured items today are the inlaid Tongan clubs.
Simple ‘pōpaos’ or dugout canoes were used for regular purposes. The canoe was built by shaping a single log with an adze and fire, and then fitting it with an outrigger.
The Tongan ‘fale’ or home was built with a curved roof that rested on pillars made of tree trunks. The roof was either thatched with palm leaves woven together, or tree branches tied together using rope or kafa. Woven screens made up the walls. This traditional design was very effective in surviving hurricanes.
Examples of Tongan stone architecture still visible today are the Ha’amonga ‘a Maui, and the ‘langi’ or mound tombs near Lapaha in Tongatapu. According to archaeologists, they are hundreds of years old.
The practice of Tātatau or tattooing has more or less disappeared because of the disapproval of missionaries but it is still quite common to see men with small tattoos. Women are rarely seen with tattoos.
Tongans have styled their own version of Western clothes. Their dress includes a sarong or ‘tupenu’. Women wear a long tupenu while men wear the shorter version. Women wear a ‘kofu’ or a Western style dress with the tupenu, while men wear either an informal shirt, or a T-shirt. On formal occasions, men often wear a dress shirt and a suit coat. Frock coats are still worn by preachers in some Methodist sects.
Traditional dance performances are accompanied by drumming and singing. Other traditional instruments in Tonga are the nose flute, the slit-gong and the lali. Ceremonies associated with the chief are still celebrated with traditional songs that have been passed down through generations. Ula, me‘etu’upaki, and ‘otuhaka are some of the ancient dances still performed.
A Tongan club is known as kalapu. This is where Tongans drink kava at night. This practice is also known as faikava or ‘to do kava’. Although women may serve kava, they are not allowed to drink it. Drinking kava is almost a daily affair among Tongans living in a few of the outer islands, but it is drunk on every nights on the main island of Tongatapu. A drinking session can last for eight to nine hours!
Regardless of whether the hereditary title obtained by a Tongan is noble or matāpule, he will be known by his new name for the rest of his life. His baptized name is no longer used. People of higher ranks still overawe Tongans.
Public Holidays in Tonga
List of Tonga Bank holidays, national holidays and Public holidays for 2011.
January 1 Sunday New Year’s Day
April 22 Friday Good Friday
April 24 Sunday Easter
April 25 Monday Easter Monday
April 25 Monday ANZAC Day
June 4 Saturday Emancipation Day
July 11 Monday Observe Crown Prince’s Birthday
July 12 Tuesday Crown Prince Birthday
August 1 Monday King Tupou V’s Birthday
November 4 Friday Tonga National Day
December 4 Sunday King Tupou 1 Day
December 25 Sunday Christmas Day
December 26 Monday Boxing Day
The family is extremely important to every Tongan; closely following the family is religion. Almost every Tongan in this staunchly Christian nation goes to church. Sundays are honored everywhere, and even the Constitution lists it as a sacred day.
Except for a few restaurants, bakeries, and resorts, almost everything remains closed on Sundays. It is illegal to trade or work on this day of rest, no sporting events are held on this day, and even tour operators shut shop on Sundays. Contracts signed on Sunday are considered null and void. In general, Tongans are quiet on Sundays – nobody creates any disturbance, or operates any loud equipment. What most people do is listen to the voices of angels in church or while walking around Nuku’alofa.
The Free Wesleyan Church has a membership of over 30,000. The other churches are the Anglican Church, the Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Free Church of Tonga, and the Seventh Day Adventists Church.
The emotional services of the Methodists are known for their wide use of hymns. In keeping with their tradition, the early missionaries popularized hymn singing in their congregations. Some of the Methodist sects, for example the Church of Tonga and the Free Church of Tonga, still sing these early hymns, which have simple and short Tongan tunes and lyrics.
Television has brought rugby to the local people, and kava drinkers often watch rugby. They sing songs during the commercial breaks. At midnight on Saturdays, people pause to pray as Sunday rolls in. The love songs are replaced by hymns. Most of these hymns are traditional English tunes with Tongan words thrown in. All important functions, such as church related functions, weddings, and funerals, are marked by drinking kava.
Did you know?
As the ancestral homeland of the Tu’I Tonga dynasty and the abode of deities such as Tangaloa ‘Eitumatupu’a, Tonga Fusifonua, and Tavatavaimanuka, the Manu’a Islands of Samoa were considered scared by the early Tongan Kings. By the time it came to the 10th Tu’I Tonga Momo, and his successor, ‘Tu’itatui, Builder of the Ha’amonga a Maui, the empire had already stretched from Tikopia in the west to Niue in the east.
Their realm contained Wallis and Futuna, Tokelau, Tuvalu, Rotuma, Nauru parts of Fiji, Marquesas, and parts of the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Niue, Cook Islands and parts of Samoa. To better govern the large territory, the Tu’I Tonga’s had their throne moved from Niutoua to the Lagoon at Lapaha, Tongatapu. The influence of the Tu’I Tonga was renowned throughout the Pacific, and many of the neighboring islands participated in the widespread trade of resources and new ideas. The Ha’amonga a Maui trilithon is around 800 years old.
*Tonga has one of the highest literacy Rates in the world 98.9%.
*Tonga has one of the oldest constitutions in the world 1875.
*Tonga has never been colonized by any foreign power.
*Tonga is the last remaining Polynesian monarchy.
*The Tongan Monarchy is one of the oldest in the world spanning over 1000 years old. The first was Tu’I Tonga ‘Aho’eitu in 950 A.D.
*Tonga is on the same latitude as Rio de Janero.
*Tongans were one of the first people to be emancipated in 1862 by King George Tupou I.
*Tonga sits on the international dateline and is one of the first countries to greet every new day. It’s known as the land where time begins.
*Tonga is a Christian Nation the Tongan Flag represents the Christian Cross, Red symbolizes blood of Christ and White symbolizes the purity of Christ.
*Lapita people from South East Asia settled on Tongatapu at Nukuleka 3000 years ago. Anthropologist believe that the 1st Polynesians originated on Tongatapu Island.
*The some of deepest oceans in the world are in Tonga.
*Tonga has the lowest charges for international phone calls and mobile calls.
*Polynesian migration spanned as far north as Hawaii, South to Aotearoa (New Zealand) East to (Rapanui) Easter Islands west to Tonga.
*Tonga means the South. Tongatapu means the sacred South. North is Tokelau.
*The most Tongans living outside of Tonga are in California U.S.
*The first international Treaty with Tonga was with France in 1855.
*Abel Tasman landed in Tonga in 1646. He named Tongatapu Amsterdam/’Eua Middleburg/Nomuka in Ha’apai Rotterdam.
*The first recorded Europeans in Tonga were the Dutch Schouten and Lamaire at the Niua Islands in 1616.
*The Kingdom of Tonga consists of 176 Islands and only 52 islands that are inhabited.
*The Tonga waters consist some of the deepest oceans in the world like the Tonga deep.
*Mobile Phone call rates are the cheapest in the world in Tonga.