Tonga Destination Guide
Since Captain Cook pronounced Tonga the “Friendly Islands” over 200 years ago very little has changed - but in a good way. The beaches are still beautiful, the rainforest unspoiled and the village customs traditional. Tonga offers visitors the best of the South Pacific - you can get active with diving and whale watching, get some culture trekking to heritage sites, get pampered in boutique hotels, or just get away from it all in this slice of paradise. With more than 170 islands, it’s easy to find your own space and seclusion while you relax on ‘island time’.
Tonga is a dream for water-lovers. Kayaking, snorkelling, diving and swimming all allow visitors to immerse themselves in the crystal clear waters while getting up close with the abundant sea life, including tropical fish, turtles, dolphins and manta rays. Guided expeditions with experienced locals can get you even closer to the action, from whale watching to sea kayaking and fishing. Surfers will revel in the challenge of world-class surfing. Off the water there’s just as much to see and do though - join a local guide to learn about traditional history and culture, hike through verdant rainforest and up Mt Talau for truly awesome views, and enjoy local delicacies over some kava drinking.
Where to Eat and Drink
A holiday in Tonga is a feast for the tastebuds as well as the rest of the senses. Succulent meat and seafood are local specialties available on every restaurant menu, including ota ika (fish marinated in lemon and coconut cream) and lu pulu (beef and coconut milk wrapped in taro leaves). Fresh vegetables are grown locally and cooked in earth ovens called umus, so try some yam, taro, sweet potatoes and cassava for a true taste of Tongan dining. And what Tongan meal would be complete without some kava drinking, the traditional Polynesian beverage.
Where to Stay
From laidback to luxury, Tonga accommodation is available to suit every preference and budget. For cheaper options a range of guesthouses and village homestays are available, offering all the basic facilities without breaking the bank. Visitors wanting something a little more luxurious can consider boutique resorts and eco-lodges, many located on secluded islands or overlooking stunning beaches. Wherever you choose to stay, you’re assured a warm welcome and friendly hospitality from your Tongan hosts.
Travellers looking for authentic local handicraft to take home as unique souvenirs, will find much to tempt them in Tonga. Markets and stalls manned by local artisans provide the opportunity to pick up a wood carving, woven basket, bone carving or any number of beautiful keepsakes. The signature Tongan item is tapa, a decorative bark cloth painted with traditional symbols and designs, which can be bought from most villages as an authentic reminder of a wonderful holiday.
Tonga Like a Local
For a true taste of Tongan life, try to time your holiday to coincide with one of the many festivals and events in the Tongan calendar. In mid-July the Heilala Festival gets the party started with parades, concerts, sports events and the Miss Heilala beauty pageant. Between June and October the seas welcome some amazing visitors, as humpback whales migrate thousands of miles from the Antarctic to mate and give birth in the warm Tongan waters. August sees pomp and ceremony taken centre stage, where visitors can watch spectacular displays and marching bands plus rub shoulders with royalty during the Tonga Military Tattoo. Grab your rod if visiting in September for Tonga’s most prestigious fishing event, the International Billfish Tournament.