Tonga Travel Guide

Tonga is an amazing travel destination but it's not like Fiji. Don't go expecting luxurious resorts or modern facilities. The main island, Tongatapu, is small and populated by only about 100,000 people. A week on Tongatapu is long enough to really enjoy yourself. There's plenty to do, including cultural nights and snorkelling trips. There are beautiful beaches and coral reef, plus a wind-swept southern edge with amazing volcanic landscapes. If you are looking for something a bit more adventurous, nearby Eua island is worth a visit. Driving is simple to do and there are cars to hire but you need to book early.   

  • We travelled to Tonga to understand the destination for you, so drop us a line for more information. 
  • Before you consider booking flights and accommodation, we strongly recommend you seek advice on your timings, cost and logistics. 
  • Tonga is a simple place to holiday but is complicated if you aren't organised or informed. 
  • We've written a brief travel guide here which will help you identify some of the pitfalls and you can read our other articles to find out more about what to expect on your holiday to Tonga. 

By Simon Mustoe

Overview

Tonga only gets about 35,000 international visitors a year and tourism has not developed in the way you will think, when imagining places like Fiji. 

The Kingdom is a destination that attracts a discerning traveller. It is very relaxed and a wonderfully pleasant and friendly place to enjoy, if you're a bit independent. If you're looking for pampering and luxury, chances are you won't find it here. 

What you will discover, is a very friendly place to travel, that's very simple to get around and a rewarding place to stay, where you can literally dip your toe in the ocean and enjoy what it's like to holiday like a local.

Getting there

From Australia, the best available flights are either on Air Fiji via Fiji, or direct from Sydney. The flights don't operate every day, so you'll need to take advice on how best to connect your visit with the experiences on offer. Note, some of the flights arrive in the very early hours - 1:20am, in the case of the Virgin Airline flight from Sydney. Most hotels provide transfer services.   

Visas

For visitors from Australia, a visa is approved on entry at no charge. For the latest visa information, check the Kingdom's website. http://www.thekingdomoftonga.com/about/

Getting around

The Kingdom is scattered over 700,000 km2 of the Pacific and is 800km from north to south. The nearest and most accessible island, Tongatapu, is also where the capital Nuku'alofa is located. This island is about 45km wide. 

The main airline Real Tonga Airlines services the other islands. It's a 40 minute flight to Ha'apai, about one hour to Vav'au and a mere seven minutes to Eua!

Real Tonga is susceptible to regular schedule changes and cancellations due to inclement weather and even pilot availability. We would always advise building in extra time to account for possible delays and connections with international flights, as such cancellations aren't always covered by travel insurance. 

NOTE: if you book a tour onto Vav'au or Ha'pai and it doesn't include flights, you may need to factor in up to an extra three days (two there and one back) plus accommodation, to complete your trip. Not all operators adequately list inclusions or exclusions upfront.  

There is  a ferry service between islands but as recently as 2009, the previous ferry sank sue to lack of seaworthiness. There is no way to vouch for the reliability of the current vessel. The journey time from Tongatapu to Ha'pai is 14 hours. A twin-hulled catamaran brought in from Australia recently is able to do the run in 5 hours but only travels on certain days of the week.   

Driving

We can help you hire a car but there is very limited availability. Don't leave it late to book. 

There are strict speed limits on the island. Tonga has a very well developed parliament and legal system that reflects the conservative, religious and social norms of the country. Tongans generally drive very carefully and slowly, though not always as adhering entirely to elements of road use, as we may be accustomed to. Nevertheless, driving is a leisurely activity and quite safe for visitors - though there are plenty of kids, pigs and dogs to look out for. Tongans drive on the left hand side of the road (most of the time).  

Currency

The Kingdom has its own currency, TOP or Tongan Panga. This can be withdrawn from a number of bank machines in the capital. Here is the latest foreign rates exchange for the ANZ bank: http://www.anz.com/aus/RateFee/fxrates/fxpopup.asp 

Cost to Stay

There are a range of accommodation places from the most basic from about $60 TOP to $400 TOP. 

Tonga is not a 'cheap' destination but it is an island so food that's not grown here is shipped in. The costs reflect the country's isolation and it's affordable but comparable to Australia and New Zealand on price. If you come here thinking you can pay little and get luxury service, you're going to be disappointed. 

If you expect to pay $60 TOP for a place to stay, then don't be surprised if you end up with somewhere akin to a low-end caravan park at home. For prices around the $150-250 TOP twin share a night (currently about AU$120), you will get somewhere nice, clean and comfortable. 

As with any destination, there are always hidden costs in low-end deals, so beware!

Weather

Tonga's weather is typical tropics. The wet season is from about November to April. The further north you go, the warmer and wetter it gets. Summer peak temperatures can reach 32°C (90°F). During other times of the year, the climate is pleasant with sea breezes.

Note: Tonga is prone to cyclones and hurricanes between December and March.

Take advice

Please take advice before you lock yourself into a couple of thousand dollars of payments. Let us help you understand the destination first and then we can help arrange things for you and we'll be there for you, if anything goes wrong during your trip. 


Travel advice

Tel +61 (0)3 9014 9687

Email travel@wildiaries.com

The team we have working on your travel arrangements have almost 100 years combined experience helping people plan specialist travel. One thing we know for sure is that if a deal looks too good to be true, the chances are it is. Agents aren't there to make your trip more expensive, they are there to negotiate the best deal possible for the experience you want - the 'cheap deal' you find online is rarely what you think it is. We regularly encounter a range of upsets, mishaps and costly mistakes caused by impulsive purchases in response to deals online. Travel, particularly to foreign nations, is a big purchase and it helps to have someone you can call on to seek the advice you need before you travel.

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How to find the right trip for you

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Chasing Cheap Deal Ghosts and the Evil Agents Fallacy

Wildiaries • October 2016