Tonga is the last Polynesian monarchy comprising of more than 170 islands spread over an area of the South Pacific roughly the size of Japan. A deeply conservative, Christian country, Tonga voted in its first popularly elected parliament in 2010, ending 165 years of feudal rule. Tonga was one of the six countries in my trip around the South Pacific countries.
Table of Contents
Planning and Arrival
Having booked as a part of the Fiji Airways “hopper” flight to other South Pacific nations, the flight from Nadi, Fiji (NAN) to Nuku’alofa, Tonga (TBU) was almost 4-hours arriving at about 3:45pm. The immigration process was easy and quick.
Rental Car in Tonga
I could not find any rental car companies in Tonga, or they were unavailable for the dates, so I contacted my hotel and they offered a rental car of their own. It costs $35 per day including insurance.
SIM Card in Tonga
Both Digicell and UCall has outlets at Nuku’alofa airport and the opening times align with the arriving flights.
I got a UCall SIM card that had 7GB of data and 450 minutes of local calls for 15 days validity. It costs TOP 10 ($4), ID required and activated instantly by the person at the counter. Payment in cash only.
Currency exchange at Nuku’alofa, Tonga
There are two currency exchange counters at Nuku’alofa airport after immigration at the baggage claim area. The exchange rates are much lower than official rates, but that is the case with all the exchange centers around Tonga.
Exchange centers are available around the center and at Bank of South Pacific branches. Apart from hotels and some restaurants that accept credit cards, it’s best to carry cash for all other purchases.
Visa to Tonga
Nationals of U.S., European Union, Russia, China, Malaysia, Turkey, Brazil and a few other countries in the Caribbean and South Pacific do not require a visa to travel to Tonga.
Google Maps does not have the location of hotel mentioned, but the coordinates are – 21°08’15.9″S 175°11’37.9″W.
There are many well-known restaurants in Nuku’alofa, and almost all are closed on Sunday. Some of the ones I tried are:
- Friends Cafe – The most popular cafe amongst expats and travelers. Closed Sunday.
- Little Italy Pizzeria – Famous for it’s fresh and delicious pizzas. Closed Sunday.
- Cafe Escape – Great place for its mini-club or lounge like experience. Closed Sunday.
- Ngutulei Bar & Restaurant – Located almost at the beach side, this place offers range of cuisines and very delicious. Open Sunday.
Sights to see
There are a lot of islands to explore in Tonga, and the two most famous and most visited are Tongatapu and Vava’u. I spent three days in Tongatapu only. Unlike other nations in South Pacific, all sights in Tonga are free to visit!
Built in 1867, the wooden Palace is the official residence of the King of Tonga. The palace is not open to the public, but can be easily seen from the waterfront. Designed by a New Zealand architect named John Alexander, it features a mix of traditional Tongan and colonial architectural styles. The roof of the Royal Palace is red, the whole building is white, the building is three floors high, there is a flag of the Kingdom of Tonga with the red cross emblem flying over the Royal Palace.
Mala’ekula, the large parklike area opposite the basilica, has been the resting place of the royals since 1893. The statue-studded white concrete tomb complex is off limits to the public, but you can peer across the lawns from the perimeter fence.
Free Church of Tonga
Established in 1885 by King George Tupou I, and his government at Lifuka, Ha’apai, the church looks like it has aged 100 years after the devastating visit of cyclone Gita 3 years ago. Dilapidated and abandoned, the church is not open for exploration to general public.
For the local experience, wander through the aisles at Talamahu, Tonga’s main fresh-produce hub. Produce piled into handmade woven-frond baskets, branches of bananas, colorful pyramids of fruit and a few cooked-food stalls – plus outstanding (and affordable) Tongan arts and crafts. The whole place buzzes with talk and commerce, particularly on Saturday mornings.
3-Headed Coconut Tree
A unique coconut tree with three heads gives an amazing photo op! Locals swear that this is the only coconut tree with three separate crowns in Tonga, perhaps in the whole South Pacific.
Flying Foxes of Kolovai
Tonga is home to two species of flying foxes – the Pacific flying fox and the Samoan flying fox. At the western end of Tongatapu this sanctuary is home to thousands of the large, black-winged bats commonly called flying foxes. During the day the bats sleep hanging upside down in the trees, but at dusk they are on the wing, hunting out fruit across the island. The bats’ smell is strong, but when they fly they are beautiful—and a little spooky!
Located at 21°06’22.3″S 175°20’23.5″W, at the tree behind the cemetery in Kolovai.
Also known as “Maka Sio’ata”, the Tsunami Rock is the giant three-story boulder that sits just off a tiny and beautiful beach on the western side of Tongatapu – and no one knows exactly how it got there. Researchers believe the ancient wave may have hit the island’s shore sometime within the past 7,000 years, after the melting of the most recent ice age brought sea levels to roughly where they are today.
There’s a rough road leading to the site of the Tsunami Rock. There’s an easy way to climb to the top of the rock from next to the sign-board.
Mapu’a Vaea Blowholes
Located on the southwest coast of Tongatapu, the name translates to “Whistle of the Noble”. These stepped shores, several kilometers long, are full of lava with tunnels that launch water meters high when the Pacific waves hit. It is interesting to observe how the waves progressively hit the rocks and create a curtain of water moving along the shore.
Ha’amonga ‘a Maui Trilithon
A strange trilithon consisting of two standing stones with a lintel on top stands about 17 feet tall and is 19 feet long. Each coral limestone slab weighs approximately 30 to 40 tons. Because of its clear resemblance, it has been nicknamed the “Stonehenge of the Pacific.”
The name means “Maui’s Burden” in the local language, and as the stones are too heavy for humans to handle, it is believed that the god Maui himself brought them from ‘Uvea (Wallis Island) and constructed the monument. Archaeologists, on the other hand, generally seem to believe that the Ha‘amonga was built by an early 13th-century king as the gateway to his royal palace, Heketā. Otherwise, it has been suggested, it might have been used for astrological purposes. These theories are unconfirmed, however, and the origin of the huge trilithon remains a mystery.
Captain Cook Landing Site
Cook’s time in Tonga is commemorated by a plaque at the site of his landing at Tongatapu in 1777, where it is said that he rested under a great banyan tree before journeying to the capital, Mu’a, to see the King. The banyan tree of yesteryear is no longer there, however a younger tree, said to be a descendant of the original, stands at the site. The name of the tree, Malumalu ‘o Fulilangi, means “shading under the sky”.
This is also where Queen Elizabeth II popped by to commemorate it in 1970.
Hufangalupe and Cliffs Overlook
Hufangalupe Arch (The Pigeon’s Gate) is a natural land bridge over the pounding Pacific waves, formed when the roof of a sea cave collapsed. The coral limestone forms a 30 m high steep cliff, and while the sea side of the arch is open to the waves, the land side is an almost circular hole in the ground.
|Road to Arch and Cliff
The dirt road leading to the arch and the cliff overlook is rough and not recommended for a non-4×4 vehicle. The wet mud and branches can be brutal to your car and very high chances of getting stuck there!
Note that there’s barely any cellphone network and not a lot of locals pass by this area, so if you’re stuck then chance of getting help is negligible!
This road leading to the arch goes further to the cliff overlook. Known to be one of the best sights in Tongatapu, the view resemble the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland.
Ana Hulu Cave
Ana Hulu is a karst cave with speleothems formed inside coral limestone. About 400m long, the cave has several freshwater pools and the biggest pool is a popular bathing spot with the fresh water seemingly clean enough to allow bathing.
The pools are up to 8m deep and are anchialine pools, which means they are landlocked with a subterranean connection to the ocean. Some also have salt water at the bottom, the water is stratified with a halokline, which is the border between the salt water and sweet water layer.
It costs TOP 5 as entrance fees.
Note: All values in USD, unless otherwise mentioned, are approximate and based on the exchange rate at the time of publishing. Each cost is for one adult. The exchange rate at the time of publishing is assumed to be USD 1 = TOP 2.35. This does not include international flights to/from Tonga.
|Rental Car||$105||$35 per day for 3 days including insurance from Jezami Hotel.|
|Sim Card||$4||UCall, 7GB for 14 days for TOP 10.|
|Jezami Hotel||$338||For 3 nights, double room. Breakfast included.|
|Ana Hulu Cave||$2.10||Entrance fees of TOP 5.|
|Little Italy Pizza||$14||Medium sized pizza TOP 33.|
|Ngutulei Restaurant||$24.25||For burger, burrito and beer. TOP 57.|
|Friends Cafe||$13.40||Brunch TOP 31.50.|
|Gas||$22.15||Total gas of TOP 52.|
|Groceries||$12.75||Fruits, chips, water etc. for TOP 30.|
|Total Costs||$535.65||Per person|