The remote island of Tongatapu in Tonga has some of the most unique things to see in the Pacific Ocean. It might not be a place many people think of travelling to, which is great for people who love individual travels!
These 12 unique things to do on Tongatapu, Tonga are ideas let that you experience the island in an authentic way, covering history, nature, water activities and food.
(Updated August 2022)
Only hand luggage on me, I cleared customs and purposefully walked towards the exit. I couldn’t help but hear, already from the inside, cheerful singing. I went out and saw a group of women, standing outside the arrival area in their Ta’ovala – a traditional woven mat, wrapped around the waist. Feeling the warmth at 10 pm at night, a mellow vibe in the air and hearing those joyful melodies instantly made me feel greeted and welcomed. It sounded what I always thought Polynesia would sound like.
The group of women belonged to a church and were there to welcome arriving church members, as I found out later. Apart from their songs, there were men playing the guitar and singing, dressed in bright purple and orange island shirts – greeting the arriving travellers.
Map of 12 Unique Things To See & Do in Tonga
Quick Overview Of Tonga
Tonga is an island country in the South Pacific, sitting west of Fiji and south of Samoa. It is among the ten least visited countries in the world, with numbers of arrivals being around 62.500 according to World Bank.
The country consists of 176 islands whereas only 36 are inhabited. Upon landing you can already feel authentic Polynesian vibes. For good reason, people describe Tonga as the ‘Jewel In The Pacific’. Tonga is also the only remaining kingdom in the Pacific, with its monarchy being over 1.000 years old.
Population: 103.000 Languages Spoken: Tongan & English Ethnic Groups: Polynesian 98% & Europeans
How to Get to Tongatapu, Tonga
Around two-thirds of Tongans live on the main island of Tongatapu, with its capital being Nuku’alofa. Tongatapu airport is the main gateway to the Kingdom of Tonga, from most places in the world. Once you exit the arrival hall you can find ATM’s to your right as well as two cellphone shops offering free SIM cards.
The drive to Tongatapu town from the airport takes around 25 minutes and a common taxi fare is roughly 25 TOP (10 US$). I am happy to recommend Tui as a friendly, safe and reliable driver very knowledgeable and also offering his own tours. If you are on the island and need a driver and tour guide give him a ring or text via +6768705658.
12 Most Unique Things To See and Do in Tonga
In this post, I want to share with you 12 unique things you cannot miss when in Tonga!
1. Visit a Church on Sunday
If you happen to be in Tongatapu on a Sunday, this is one of the most unique things to do in Tonga! The whole country is mainly Christian and usually, everybody is going. It’s a tradition to meet with the family and to have a big feast after the ceremony.
Tongans dress in their traditional, for women its a dress and a Tupenu (a type of cloth skirt) with a ta’ovala (a Tongan mat); for men its also a Tupenu with a ta’ovala, tied with a kafa (a Tongan string made of coconut fibre accompanied by a collared shirt.
I’m not religious at all, but by the things I’ve heard, I was curious to go and experience a ceremony. From the outside, I could already hear cheerful singing – similar to the one at the airport. So I went in, and took a seat at the far back, observing the atmosphere and the people.
Although all the speaking, and singing was in Tongan, it was lovely to see people dressed up and soak in the vibes. I’d recommend going for a bit, just for the sake of it.
2. Day Trip To Nearby Islands
A tour to the nearby islands can be done on any day – however, it’s one of the best things to do on Tongatapu on Sundays. As most things on Tongatapu are closed on Sundays, it’s a great option to have a day out. There are three islands just off the coast: Fafa, Pangaimotu and Atata.
The boats to either of them leave from the ferry terminal next to Ngutulei Bar & Restaurant. You can book tickets in advance via the tourism bureau in town or you just go there directly. You will go and spend the day at one of the resorts.
Fafa Island Resort
Rather the upper-class option out of the three is the Fafa Island Resort. A day-trip costs around 95 TOP w/ lunch included. The ride takes only takes 30 min by boat which operates up to four times a day.
Royal Sunset Island Resort Atata Island
My choice out of the three was the Royal Sunset Island Resort. The ride takes about 30 minutes and the cost for the day was 65 TOP w/ lunch included. Furthermore, they took us on a one-hour snorkel trip to their reef. Above all, you can also use the paddleboards and snorkelling equipment for free and have a little walk to the island’s village. So worth it!
Pangaimotu Island Resort
Pangaimotu Island Resort is the most budget-friendly option. It’s only a 10-minute boat ride and costs around 45 TOP w/ lunch included. There is a shipwreck just off the coast to which you can swim and explore snorkelling.
3. Ha’amonga ‘a Maui
Its time to explore the East side of the island. The most common way to explore the island is by either taking a tour or renting a car ( no scooters are available, unfortunately). Your hotel or guesthouse will probably have a contact with a rental car agency. In Tonga, you drive on the left side and cars are usually in automatic.
A great day out to the Eastside of Tonga should include a stop at Ha’amonga ‘a Maui, which is often compared to England’s Stonehenge. One theory includes it being a gateway to a royal compound, another says it could have a significance in the lunar calendar.
It’s roughly a 20-minute drive from the centre of Nuku’alofa and the entry is free of charge.
4. Oholei Beach
One of my highlights and favourite places on Tongatapu is Oholei Beach. It’s got that perfect powder-white sand with palm trees as the backdrop. On the other hand, is a reef that provides some shelter and makes swimming enjoyable. The nearby Oholei Beach Resort offers weekly dinners + show nights on Wednesday and Friday.
Bonus tip: if you drive along Tuku ‘Aho Road watch out for the street vendors selling local food, a pancake-like dish with sweet coconut-caramel sauce.
5. Visit Secret Beaches on an Island Tour
The best way to really see unique things in Tongatapu and Tonga is to go on an island tour. Xtreme Tour is a Tongan tour agency run by Xiua. Born on the island, Xiua is extremely knowledgeable and enjoys sharing his wisdom about Tongan culture and history. The best way to get in touch with him is via his Facebook page or via NOA Guest House .
He offers various tours around the island, tailored to your interests and time. He took me to the south to a secret beach with no other people around. The way there includes a short trek through thick bush and awards you with a pristine beach. If you are lucky you can see the humpback whales from the shore!
6. Natural Arch
A super unique spot in Tonga is to visit the Natural Arch. The way there will be bumpy but passes fields of palm trees, taro farms and other local plantations. The Natural Arch – or Hufangaplupe is also known as the ‘pigeon’s doorway’ and has once been a sea cave. It’s a panoramic view and proximity to the nearby eponymous beach makes it the perfect stop.
7. Hufangalupe Beach
Hufangalupe Beach is a beach near the Natural Arch and a popular place for people to swim at high tide. It got amazing white sand, and not many other people around! Nearby, you find the most amazing cliffs which make fantastic photography options.
Furthermore, the view from the cliffs is exceptional. You can see most of the cliffs are washed out from the sea and many of those caves have collapsed into the sea.
8. Spot Flying Foxes
Once you leave Hufangalupe Beach, you can visit the Flying Foxes – however, not at the place that MapsMe might tell you. Head towards the village of Ha’avakatolo 2km from Liku’alofa Beach Resort. It is here where you’ll find hundreds of Flying Foxes casually hanging in the casuarinas trees.
To find a lesser-known spot, contact Xiua for some of the unique things to see in Tonga!
9. Ha’atafu Beach
One of the most unique things to see in Tonga, depending on the tides, should be Ha’atafu Beach on the west coast of Tongatapu. It’s a popular beach with locals and tourists alike, as this is where are most of the resorts are. The location makes it the perfect place for all kinds of water activities such as surfing, snorkelling or sea kayaking.
If you happen to drive back towards the city centre, during low tide you can see the fishing pigs along Vuna Rd, on the beach. They are not actually fishing, but rather rummaging for seafood.
10. Visit a Tongan Coffee Roastery
You might not think Tonga and Coffee is a thing, but in the middle of Nuku’alofa indeed is a coffee roastery – Tupu’anga Coffee. All of the beans are Arabica, sourced locally, roasted and packaged on the premises. The company is not only an ethically fair trade enterprise, but also a social one. They raise funds for a Pacific youth mentoring programme run in South New Zealand which helps over 300 students into jobs and tertiary studies.
You can try their coffee at Friends Cafe & Tourist Centre in the centre of Nuku’alofa and buy your own coffee beans to take home.
Go to Google and type ‘Tupu’anga Coffee Factory and Cafe’ for the exact location. Open: Mon to Fri 8 am to 4 pm, Closed Sat & Sun
Which brings me to the next point…
11. Try Local Food in Tongatapu
It’s not a common thing for Tongans to go to a restaurant to eat Tongan food. However, one of the restaurants in the city centre does offer some of the typical Tongan dishes.
At Friends Cafe, you can find purple kumara mash alongside Ota Ika (Tongan Ceviche). The portions were great and the combo just something different – loved it! I came here every day for breakfast, as they serve a huge porridge with coconut sauce and a large flat white coffee was extra larger.
Another great place for some seafood and the BEST view of the sunset is The Seaview Lodge. In fact, I came here on so many evenings because I always want to make sure to catch the sunset when away. They’ve got an outdoor deck overlooking the nearby ocean, happy hour and delicious homemade bread, and great nibbles to share with friends. Also, make sure to try the lobster soup – it’s the best!
12. Go Swimming With Humpback Whales
This one had to be the most unique thing you can do in Tonga. Tonga is one of the only places in the world where you can go swimming with humpback whales. Make sure to visit the islands in the time between June to October to get a chance to experience this!
Read my blog post on Swimming with Humpback Whales in Tonga here.
There we have it, 12 of the most unique things you can do in Tonga! It’s a fascinating island that will leave a mark on you long past you visited. It’s truly one of the most remote and beautiful islands and I hope this blog post gives you the inspiration to visit one day!
With that being said, all of the above must things to do in Tongatapu, Tonga are feasible to tick off in a seven-day stay on the island. I even squeezed in a short visit to the nearby island of ‘Eua which you can read about here.
Pin it for later!