Once travellers arrive on cheap flights to Tonga, deciding what to do might just be the most onerous task. The island nation, south of Samoa and east of Fiji, offers snorkelling, diving, game fishing, kite surfing, yachting, whale-watching, hiking, experiencing its traditional culture or just lazing on its palm-fringed, soft-sand beaches.
Tonga, a constitutional monarchy, is made up of four main groups of islands. Starting in the south, these are the Tongatapu Group, the Ha’apai Group, the Vava’u Group and the Niuas.
The “Friendly Islands” was the name Captain James Cook bestowed on it in the 1770s and it still applies. Tongans are friendly and gracious people. Almost half of the population live in Nuku’alofa on Tongatapu (the capital city). This is where the majority of the tourist attractions are, such as the Royal Palace. To experience traditional Tongan life head to the villages. Fishing and farming, making cloth and weaving are the daily activities.
The climate is Tropical. There are two seasons – the dry season (May to November) and wet season (December to April, of which February and April are the rainiest months). November to March is cyclone season.
The dry season (May to November) is high season on Tonga when most visitors arrive on cheap flights to Tonga. December and January are also very busy months as this is when Tongans return home from Australia, New Zealand and the US. For yachting, May to October is peak season and for whale watching, it’s July to October.
February-April is the wettest – and most humid – time of year on Tonga and this is the low season. November to March is cyclone season.
Chathams Pacific flies domestically, linking Nuku’alofa with Vava’u, Ha’apai and Eua. There are private buses that run from early in the morning to late evening. Ferries link Tongatapu with Ha’apai and Vava’u. Taxis are plentiful, easily recognisable by the “T” on their license plates. It’s best to settle on a fare before you set off. If you’re taking a taxi from Fua’amotu Airport to downtown Nuku’alofa, the fare is approximately TOP$40 (about $23 AU). A taxi around Nuku’alofa can cost up to $6 (approximately $3.50). Bicycles are available to rent in Nuku’alofa, Vava’u and Ha’apai.
If you wish to rent a car you’ll need a local driver’s license. The cost is about TOP$60 (about $34 AU) and licenses are available at the Ministry of Transport in Tongatapu or from the Police Station in Vava’u. There are several rental-car companies in Nuku’alofa and a couple in Nelafu on Vava’u.