Travel Tonga's various islands and find something unique everywhere you go.
Tonga is a small island nation in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean. It’s located about one hour from Fiji, and just a couple of hours from New Zealand and Australia.
Tonga is a popular tourist spot, attracting thousands of tourists annually, for one main reason; Tonga is one of the only countries in the world where you can swim with whales.
Every year, the humpback whales make their way from colder waters to come to the warm waters of Tonga to mate and give birth before take their calves back up north. Like clockwork, the whales come in their hundreds every year throughout winter (June - September) and it’s a unique opportunity to be able to swim with them.
But that’s not all Tonga has!
Tourists may also be attracted by the lush palm trees, turquoise blue waters, white sands, and rich culture.
If you’re reading this, you probably already know everything Tonga has to offer… Now it’s time to tell you how to make the most of your Tonga travel with where to go and how best to spend your time.
So let’s do this by looking at the different islands of Tonga, since this plays a big part in how you’ll spend your time in the Kingdom!
Tongatapu is the main island in Tonga. It’s about 45km from one end to the other, and 100km round trip. It’s usually the international travel hub, connecting Fiji, Australia, and New Zealand to Tonga, although there is another international airport in Vava’u. (See below). Cruise ships also often stop here for a few days on cruises around the pacific.
Tongatapu is home to the capital, Nuku’alofa, and is the most built up of all the islands in Tonga. It’s where Captain James Cook and Abel Tasman first landed and established connections amongst the Europeans and Tonga. It’s a great island to connect you to… everywhere else, basically, but not a favourite for tourists to stay for a long time.
Only a day or two is needed on Tongatapu for you to visit all of the main “sites”. The rest of the time here can be spent on beaches or enjoying the “city” life of Nuku’alofa.
From Tongatapu you can also take day trips out to islands such as Fafa and Pangaimotu if you want to get off the island for a day.
‘Eua is still in the “Tongatapu” island group, only two hours away from Tongatapu (or 15 min plane journey). It’s my absolute favourite island in Tonga, so I definitely have a bit of a soft spot for it. It’s much smaller than Tongatapu but actually packs in a lot more exploring. It has no “city center”. In fact, there's no city… There’s no center… There are a couple of shops, a handful of restaurants, and… not much else, aside from a few resorts, too.
But that’s not important.
Eua is gorgeous. It’s one of the oldest islands in the pacific, thought to be hundreds of millions of years old. A big difference from Tongatapu is that it’s pretty high up. There are incredible cliffs you can look down at the sea from. There are amazing hiking trails and bush lands to explore, as well as incredible wildlife such as wild horses.
Spend anything from 2 nights to a week on Eua and you won’t be disappointed, if nature and exploring is your thing! Make sure to hire a car or bring one with you on the boat. Oh, and make sure it’s a 4x4. You’ll need it.
The Ha’apai island group is about 12 hours from Tongatapu on the slow ferry (or 1 hr plane journey), located north of Tongatapu but south of Vava’u.
For me, Ha’apai didn’t do much for me. In all honesty, I could probably say you don’t really need to go to Ha’apai, and if your time is short then you can certainly leave it out. If you dislike ferries, it’s probably not worth the 12 hour travel time, either. The main island doesn’t have much to offer that other islands have too, except for an amazing resort at the tip of the island called Matafonua, and also Kite Surfing on a nearby island.
A few other outer islands are worth a visit in terms of visiting beautiful resorts and beaches… But I’m more of a hiking kind of gal - and I’ve had enough of the beaches for now. You might be different!
Don’t expect much in terms of shops, bars, or restaurants in Ha’apai, either. Because there really isn’t that many.
Tonga’s most gorgeous island? Maybe.
Vava’u is pretty much the place to go. It’s where all the yachts seem to stop off, it’s home to an international airport, and it’s apparently the best place for whale watching and swimming, too.
And the reason for all the fuss is that… Well, it’s pretty damn gorgeous. I loved Vava’u for the fact that it’s not all flat (unlike Tongatapu), it’s not all one landmass (unlike Ha’apai) and it’s pretty big (unlike Eua). Apart from the many outer islands to explore, the central Vava’u island landmass looks a bit like an octopus, connected in the middle with various islands reaching out, all connected by precariously placed coral bridges.
There truly is so much to explore in Vava’u.
There’s a big mountain to climb, there is hiking you can do, you can swim with whales right outside your front door, and it’s some of the best coral I’ve ever seen. It really is the place for those picture perfect pacific island landscapes - but the catch is that there are other people that will be there for the same reason as you!
Wherever you decide to go in Tonga, make sure to go to at least one other island.
Whether it be a day trip or a few day trips, get into island life by relaxing, taking your time, and spending time getting to know the islands of Tonga!