Tonga Travel Guide
While it has leapt into the spotlight thanks to being name-dropped by YouTuber Bill Wurtz (“Is it Tonga Time? I think it’s Tonga Time”) in his viral video, history of the entire world, I guess, Tonga has qualities which make it a worthwhile travel destination even without all the added attention.
From its strong sense of national identity to world-class beaches, you’ll have a new appreciation for this archipelago in the South Pacific after visiting it in the flesh for the first time.
Currency: Tonga Pa’angas
Languages: Tongan, English
What To Do
Begin your trip to Tonga by visiting the Ha’amonga ‘a Maui Trilithon, a megalithic stone formation often referred to as the Stonehenge of the South Pacific. Though it is much smaller in scale than the one in England, this arch made of coral stone slabs is just as mysterious given its scale and the lack of practical explanations surrounding how it was erected.
The most commonly accepted story: it was constructed in the 13th century as an entryway to the Tongan king’s royal compound. However, given the weight of the 30-ton slabs and their height (17 feet), doubt exists among some historians that it was assembled by islanders given the state of technology at the time it was raised.
No matter whether you believe the official story or are tempted to entertain the involvement of outside actors (Chinese, ancient aliens, etc), its commanding presence makes this site a must see while in Tonga.
Next, pay a visit to the place where the Free Church of Tonga was born. Originally the beachhead for the Methodist Church in Tonga, a dispute over ownership of property and assets led to the monarchy of Tonga to establish its own state church to free the country from off-island interference.
An attempt at reunification failed in 1924, and from there on, this sect spread beyond the island nation, following its diaspora to places like Fiji, American Samoa, New Zealand, Australia, and the USA.
In Nukuʻalofa, the capital of Tonga, you will find this religion’s biggest cathedral. While it has a simple interior, it has a spectacular cracked tile exterior, three spires, and a geometrically inspired stained glass window on its facade. Go on Sundays, when its lively congregation will welcome you with open arms.
Of all the natural attractions on Tonga, the Mapu’a’a Vaea Blowholes is by far the most breathtaking. Best viewed on a day when winds are high and the surf is up, jets of ocean water shoot up from hundreds of holes along the length of this wonder, especially at high tide.
Stretching for five kilometres along the coast near the village of Houma, these holes will awe you with their power, so be sure to make the time to see them during your holiday in Tonga.
Ever gone for a swim underground? You’ll be able to say you have after a visit to the Anahulu Cave.
Lit up by torches, you’ll get to walk through a limestone cavern littered with stalactites and stalagmites on your way to a crystal clear pool of blue-green water. Similar to cenotes in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, its purity and coolness will make a visit here memorable.
Much of your time in Tonga will be spent enjoying its amazing beaches. Avid snorkelers will want to put Ha’atafu Beach at the top of their list, as there are extensive reefs offshore which make for easy exploring.
There is a limited area where swimmers can wade, but it is recommended that anyone going in the water here wear reef shoes to protect their feet and the coral from each other.
While Uoleva Island can be difficult to get to, it is worth the effort to take a pricey flight or overnight ferry from Tongatapu, and then a local skiff from Lifuka Island.
Once considered for UNESCO World Heritage recognition due to its pristine state compared to other inhabited islands in Tonga, the beaches here compare favourably with the best computer backgrounds you’ve seen out on the web.
Baby blue water, lazily hanging palms, and a handful of luxury resorts make the ideal place to spend your holiday if escaping all your cares for a week or longer is your objective.
Fafa Island is another excellent choice in this regard, as this small isle about 8 kilometres off the coast of Tongatapu will allow you to live out all your deserted island fantasies while having a comfortable resort to call home at the end of the day.
What to Eat
The cuisine on Tonga is comparable to what is enjoyed on other Polynesian islands in the region, but there are a few dishes found here which are relatively unique.
Lu’usi Bololokoma is widely considered to be the national dish of Tonga. This dish consists of saifun noodles, chicken, shrimp, green onions, shallots, chiles, garlic cloves, fish sauce, and other seasonings.
Stir-fried together in a wok with vegetable oil, it is a meal which departs from fare normally found in Polynesia, but it makes for a satisfying meal nonetheless.
‘Ota’ika is more in line with what is found throughout Polynesia. A raw fish salad consisting of diced cucumber, tomato, onions, and chiles marinated in citrus juice and coconut milk, this light but flavourful dish is perfect to have at lunch while in Tonga.
Want to refresh yourself on a hot afternoon in Tonga while staying true to the island’s traditions? Have some ‘Otai. First made from the Ambarella fruit, it is made today using other tropical standards such as pineapples and mangoes, along with sugar, coconut milk, and coconut water.