Tonga is completely underrated as a destination!
As Aussies we tend to flock to Fiji, Samoa and Vanuatu while Tonga remains a somewhat forgotten jewel of the South Pacific.
Aside from the reasonably priced flights, short 4.5 hour travel time from Sydney to Nuku’alofa (on Tongatapu mainland), generous exchange rate, balmy weather and endless coastlines… these are my top five reasons why you might consider adding Tonga to your bucketlist.
- Swimming with humpback whales
Without a doubt, this experience will knock your socks off! Off the coast of islands such as ‘Eua and Vava’u between June and November, humpback whales make their yearly migration from Antarctica. Avid whale-lovers and conservationists have turned this into an enchanting tourist experience that involves swimming/snorkelling with these majestic creatures in their natural habitat. There are lots of people that offer this experience – be sure to choose an eco-friendly company that focuses on creating a stress-free experience for the whales! Check out these eco-friendly companies’ websites for more information www.whalestonga.com (Vava’u) and www.deepbluediving.to (‘Eua and Tongatapu). Expect to pay $150-$200 for a full day experience.
2. Next level ‘glamping’
Lots of the smaller islands off the mainland truly make you feel as though you’re living in an undiscovered paradise. There is little to no development, with accommodation mostly consisting of small huts with nothing but beds on sand floors… imagine glamorous and completely private camping. Most of these islands only have small generators for electricity so it’s likely that you’re room will be lit by candles or kerosene lamps, that dinner will be around a campfire and the food will be straight from the ocean. Also don’t be surprised if you run into a little tribe of piglets on the beach, these gorgeous babies come out of the forest looking for beach worms in the early morning and are great companions for a sunrise stroll.
This type of experience is best found on the smaller islands of the larger Ha’apai group reached by an overnight boat or 40min flight from Nuku’alofa to Pangai. The island of Uoleva has a particularly good reputation for being easy to access via a fifteen minute boat ride once in Pangai, yet providing the complete Robinson Crusoe experience. This was my favourite destination, and there were only ever about four visitors on the island, mixed with a small handful of locals. I loved my fale style accommodation at Taiana’s Resort (pictured below) which will set you back $20-$40 per night. If this appeals to your inner island-dweller make note that this type of accommodation may be more easily booked at a local travel agent on the mainland of Tongatapu or larger Lifuka/Foa islands of Ha’apai as there are limited business websites available.
Try http://www.tongaholiday.com/where-to-stay for some options including Taiana’s. If you’re more of the plan-ahead type, there is also the Talitali’anga Eco Resort which boasts absolute beachfront safari tents for $150 per night www.talitalianga.com
3. Affordable yacht sailing trips
Whether you want to hit the high seas for a day or a week, the yacht and crew hire is very reasonably priced when compared to Australia or Europe, and makes for a deliciously decadent experience. Most trips will leave from Vava’u, which is renowned for its diving/snorkelling in crystal clear, flat-as-a-tack seas. You can sail to many of the main points of interest, jump straight from the bow into some of the most pristine water in the world and feast royally while you slowly watch the world go by with the sun setting over the Pacific. Heaven!
You’ll get the best deal by booking through local agents.
4. Adventure activities
From kayaking tours to night-diving, kava parties to Tongan feasts, climbing banyan trees to exploring sink holes, peering into volcanoes (Tofua Island) to swimming through an underwater channel to pop up inside the hidden Mariner’s Cave – Tonga has an incredible array of activities that will definitely get the blood pumping. My favourite was the off-road go-kart tour of the beaches and rainforests in Vava’u. This may not sound particularly adventurous, but let me assure you that your heart will be racing on some of the steep mountainsides.
Vava’u is adventure-Mecca, feast your eyes on the activity options here: www.vavau.to
5. A bit of culture shock
Tonga is much richer in culture than I had anticipated. Church chorus echoed through villages with particularly palpable electricity on Sundays, kava ceremonies took place in open public spaces, funeral processions and burial grounds blew me away, the young men that often dress as women and take on the role of wife/mother/sister in a family where no other women remain made me feel all warm inside and the grocery stores are full of wonders like pineapple cream biscuits and ten kilo tins of corned beef.
You can island-hop until your heart is content, by booking short 30-60min flights through www.realtonga.to or take the slow scenic route and travel by ferry with the locals. Some shorter trips like Tongatapu to ‘Eua/Ha’apai can be done in a day, whereas Tongatapu to Vava’u will take several days. Ferries can be booked online through the Friendly Island Shipping Agency www.fisa.to
Note that many services, often including travel agents and airlines/ferries may not operate on Sundays…but that won’t matter, because you’ll be so relaxed you won’t even know it’s Sunday!
Have you travelled to Tonga or is it on your list? Tell us about your experiences in the comments!