Prior to my arrival to Tonga, I knew nothing about the country except that she was good at rugby, Polynesian ancestors and never relinquished its sovereignty to any foreign power. Tonga is a small island nation with only about 100,000 people of whom 70% reside in Tongatapu. It was also another nation that was full of churches and the Mormons are trying to change Tonga into the first Mormon nation. Well, at least that was what I was told from the locals.
Arrival in Fua’amotu
In order to get to Tonga from Samoa, it was cheaper to make a stop in Auckland, instead of making a stop in Fiji, since there were no direct flights connecting the two countries. I ended up going to New Zealand for around 8 days, which was great and a lot of fun. It was a three hour flight from Auckland to Fua’amotu. I arrived at the airport and the only option to get into town was via a taxi. I knew from the start that the price was going to be 40P, but luckily, I met a random German guy who was going to the same hostel. Thus, we shared the taxi at 9pm in the evening.
FYI, there was nothing unusual about the arrival and immigration process. Everything was smooth and as soon as you get out of the airport, there will be plenty of taxi drivers. Tonga is a small place and you won’t have to worry about being robbed or taken to the wrong place by the taxi driver. Tongans were honest and they were not the type of people to trick you. Better yet, Tongans were very caring and they would do almost anything to help you out.
We arrived at the Backpackers Townhouse and stayed in an 8-bed dorm. They were not bunk beds and included an ensuite bathroom and a refrigerator to store food. The cost was only 25P per bed per night and I thought that was a bargain.
Trip to Fafa Island
The next day, I decided to go to one of the islands since it was a bright sunny day. There were daily trips to Fafa Island and Pangaimotu Island from right next to the ferry terminal. There were small speedboats that whipped across to Pangaimotu in 15 minutes and to Fafa in 30 minutes. I got to the boat stop a bit early at 10:50am and decided to lie down and wait around with the rest of the locals. The boat to Pangaimotu was leaving at 11am, but for some reason, I missed the boat. It was a small boat and they were not calling out “Pangaimotu Pangaimotu” which I had expected like on the other islands or anywhere else in the world. Thus, I missed my ride to Pangaimotu and instead, took the boat to Fafa Island. The trip to Fafa was 100P including lunch, which was ok after all. It was an unexpected last minute change, but nevertheless, it ended up being awesome. I was on the boat with a Dutch couple that was on vacation and staying at the Fafa Island Resort. The island was owned by the resort and there was nothing else there other than the resort. It reminded me of the island resorts in Fiji and I was just a day trip guest.
The ride was very smooth and the Fijian captain even let me drive the boat for a bit. That was a cool experience.
The view was really beautiful too. As we approached Fafa Island, there was a big reef and I saw hundreds of fish from the boat. The area was well conserved so a top destination to visit while in Nuku’alofa.
Fafa Island was quiet with very little guests staying there. I heard it was around 200 Euros per night for a bungalow so it was not cheap. On top of that, everything on the menu was more expensive than Western prices so you will pay a fortune if staying there. I guess being on a remote island getaway is nice once in a while. Well, if you have the money, that is.
I snorkeled around the island for a couple of hours, walked around the island (took around 20 minutes), ate lunch, took a nap and was ready to go back to Nuku’alofa. The boat picked us up around 16:00 in the afternoon and that was more than enough time on the island.
On the way back next to the boat terminal, there was a small fish market. I ended up buying an entire bowl full of sea urchins. I had sea urchins for the next two days, since I could not finish everything in one seating and the cost was only 30P!
Trip Around the Island
The next day, Bjorn and I decided to rent a car and go around the island. Bjorn was the guy that was sharing the dorm with me, whom I met at the airport. Renting a car in Tonga was not complicated, but definitely look around for the best deal. It will be much cheaper and better to rent a car than going around town with a hired taxi. I enjoyed the flexibility of stopping everywhere and chilling out without having to worry or deal with the taxi driver.
We started off by visiting Captain Cook’s landing point. It was a small memorial in tribute of his landing. There was really nothing much to see there so it was a quick five minute stop.
Then, we continued along the road to the eastern side of Tongatapu Island. We saw something really unusual in the ocean. Believe it or not, we saw these pigs “fishing” for seafood. It was not only one but several pigs out there. It was unique and I even saw five little ones hanging out at the beach too. I guess these pigs eat a lot of coconut meat, but once in a while, they must crave for real meat.
All along the eastern coast, there were several caves and beaches. Most of the time, we had to pay to have access to these places since they were privately owned. The price could be anywhere from 10P to 20P. As you go through coconut trees and graveled roads, you will notice roads that led to beaches. One of the must see places was the Mapu’a ‘a Vaea Blowholes (indeed, the name was really long).
As we cruised along the northern coast, we got close to the village of Niutoua to see the main highlight of Tonga. Ha’amonga a Maui was a stone trilithon constructed from three coral limestones and better known as the “Stonehenge of Tonga.” I have not been to Stonehenge so I don’t know how to compare, but these stones were greater than 30 tons each and it was a mystery how the locals carried the stones from the coast to this point.
The island was pretty big and it took an entire day to go around. There were various spots to stop on the way and we managed to do this by looking at the map that we got at the information booth.
A great highlight of that day was when we approached a truck that was picking coconuts on one of the side street. I asked the guy if I can buy a coconut and he gave us two for free. He was wearing this funky outfit, so I asked him if he could climb a tree and get me a coconut.
Without hesitation, he went up a tree that was almost 10 meters high and picked a few coconuts. That coconut tasted really nice and it was a treat. These guys were picking coconuts for their pigs. They drink the coconut juice and the pig eats the meat.
The next day, Bjorn left for the outer islands, so I decided to walk around downtown. There was not that much to do, but there were a few sights. To make note of some key sites, the Royal Tomb was right across from the guesthouse, but we were not allowed to go in.
I believe the tomb opens every once in a while, but when I was there, they were mourning the death of the queen mother. Thus, the entire country was shut down for around 10 business days and a lot of the locals were wearing traditional clothing to mourn the death of her.
There was a big church beyond the Royal Tomb called the Free Church of Tonga. I did not go inside, since I’m not a big fan of going inside the church since almost all churches start looking the same. I have been to over a thousand churches. True testimony!
Enough information on the first few days in Tonga. I will write more about how I met some expats while I was in Tonga and how it changed my viewpoint on things.
- Currency: Tongan Pa’anga (approximately $1 USD = 2.25 Pa’anga in March 2017)
- Money Exchange: I don’t recall a money exchange at the airport. I withdrew money from the ATM. There were several exchange places in the city center, but the exchange was not that favorable and better off to withdraw money.
- Internet: Internet is usually paid and is expensive. There is no free internet at restaurants or bars. The better option is to buy a SIM card at the airport and use data on the phone.
- Language: Tongan is the official language but most people speak English.
Where to stay
There were not that many options for cheap places to stay. I ended up staying at the Backpackers Townhouse and this was a great choice. I ended up staying there during my entire duration since it was a good price, a homey environment and the owner Yvette was very helpful.
The other option was Hafu’s House Backpackers Hostel. I met Hafu and his partner in person and they were really great people and fun to hang out with. I would have loved to have stayed at their place, but I only met them on my last night in Nuku’alofa, thus, the next time
Where to eat
There were many places to eat near the center of town or you can do it yourself by buying groceries at the market and meat products at the supermarket. The nicer establishments in town had prices similar in the Western world, but if you stuck with the local restaurants, the meals were relatively cheap and almost better to eat out every meal.
- You can rent a car for the day and go around the island. You only need it for a day, so keep that in mind. If you are alone, it will be better to go around on the local bus.
- Connectivity is scarce, so buy a SIM card.
- Bring lots of repellent and sunscreen (it was double the price of New Zealand!).
- The sun is hot and very humid in Tonga. Some of the backpacker places have the option of the aircon, but you will pay more. I was told that electricity is quite expensive there.
- If you want to save money, eat at the local joints near the market.
- Bring a small umbrella, there were plenty of showers.
- If you want seafood or fish, go near the boat terminal and they sell fresh stuff.
- A lot of the products are imported so any necessities should be carried in, or else it won’t exist or will be double the cost.
I visited in April 2017