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Welcome to the “Friendly Islands,” so called because Tongans are famously warm and hospitable. You’re sure to hear a warm Malo e lelei (hello!) the moment you arrive!
Officially known as The Kingdom of Tonga, these gorgeous South Pacific islands — 176 of them in fact! — sit directly south of Samoa and just a short flight from home. The beaches are gorgeously unspoiled and the people, unfailingly authentic. You don’t have to seek out a cultural experience in Tonga — like the stunning nature, it’s all around you! Here are a few of our favourite ways to make the most of it.
If the thought of small enclosed spaces doesn’t give you the heebie-jeebies, take a trip to Tonga’s Anahulu Caves and one the planet’s most unusual swimming spots. Located in Haveluliku, on the Eastern side of Tongatapu, these large limestone caverns are as beautiful as they are gnarly, with glittering swathes of rock, deformed crevices and contorted stalactites and stalagmites, but once you’ve navigated the inner pathways you’ll discover a secret plunge pool.
Some of the most fascinating wildlife exists in Tonga, particularly birdlife. Take a seven minute flight and absorb the spectacular natural surroundings. Hidden amidst a shroud of virgin rainforest and dramatic limestone, there exists Lorikeets, Musk Parrots and Pacific Pigeons, as well as one of our all-time favourites (for pure trivial knowledge alone) the Tongan Megapode. This native bird doesn’t incubate its eggs by sitting on them, instead, it’ll cover them with the warm volcanic sand. Clever, no?
Beaches are everywhere in Tonga, but if you’re determined to find a little segment that’s frequented by more shells than it is tourists, seek out Ha'atafu Beach on Tongatapu Island. Favoured by local surfers, the water is also good for swimming and kayaking while the snorkelling will bring you face to face with numerous tropical fish. The sand is white and for the most part, undisturbed by other beach-seekers. If you have an astute eye, sit on the beach and look out to sea; whales are often visible as they travel back and forth between the inner and outer reef.
Known as the ‘Stonehenge of Tonga’, Ha'amonga'a Maui Trilithon is a e (somehow) elaborately positioned as far back as 1200 AD. Their full purpose is still unknown, although like Stonehenge, the arch is aligned with the sun to distinguish the island’s seasons. The weight and sheer size of these structures has to be seen to be appreciated, especially as it’s believed they were sourced from Wallis Island (nine hours by modern plane!) Once admired, you can buy a selection of Tongan art and handicrafts from local vendors and then saunter to the beach which is just a short stroll away.
Coconuts (niu) are found everywhere in Tonga but if you’re too impatient to wait for one to drop, why not climb a palm tree and fetch one for yourself? Not an activity that comes without peril, you might want to seek guidance from an experienced local, better still watch them do it instead! A palm tree is entirely un-notched so foot holes aren’t readily found; you’ll need a lot of strength and hands with incredible grip, but once sought, you’ll be rewarded with the cool, crisp refreshment of coconut water.
Say Malo e lelei (hello) to an incredible island escape. Read more about Tonga.
Tongan paʻanga (TOP). Both Westpac and ANZ banks are available and a number of ATM machines are spread across Tonga.
May to October is the best time to visit because the average temperature sits between 25 and 29 degrees Celsius. The wet season falls between November and April. This is also cyclone season, with most cyclones occurring between January and March.
Tongans are predominately Christian and go to church every Sunday, so you might find that almost everything is closed on Sundays.
A direct flight from Auckland Airport will get you to Nukuʻalofa Airport (located on the island of Tongatapu) in approx. 2hr 50m.
The easiest way to get between each island group is by plane. Just don't expect a huge Boeing - the flight from Tongatapu to Eua is just seven minutes long!
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