Tonga is an archipelagic country in the South Pacific made up of 169 islands, 36 of which are inhabited. It’s known as the Friendly Islands. The country is divided into three island groups - Vava’u, Ha’apai, and Tongatapu. The capital city of Nukuʻalofa is on the main island of Tongatapu. The international airport in Tonga is Fua'amotu Airport, about 30 minutes from Nuku’alofa, and services flights from Fiji, the United States, New Zealand, China, and Australia. Its easy to get from the airport into the town; catch a local bus or taxi. To get around the islands, you either need to sail or fly. Real Tonga Airline operates short flights between most of the major islands. Once you’re on an island, you can hire a scooter, motorbike, or cycle; most cars are in terrible shape, as are the roads. You will need to purchase a Tongan drivers license in addition to your original one.
Nearby islands include Fiji, Samoa, Niue, New Caledonia, and Vanuatu. Tonga was first inhabited by Polynesian migrants around 1500-1000 BCE, but the first real settlement at Nukuleka is estimated around 825BCE. Europeans first arrived in the 17th century. The first arrivals were Dutch, but they were soon followed by the British and the Spanish. Tonga became a protectorate under the British in 1900 but is the only Pacific nation to not give up their sovereignty.
The currency in Tonga is the Pa’anga (TOP). The main economy is characterised by a non-monetary sector and remittances from family abroad, as well as agriculture. Bananas, coconuts, vanilla beans, and coffee beans are among some of the crops grown for both personal subsistence and sale. The government owns much of the monetary sector and Tonga is considered one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Tonga is a beautiful country, with the white sand beaches, lagoons, and incredible coral reefs that much of the Pacific is known for, but tourism is not yet a main part of the economy. There are plans to increase tourism in Tonga.
The climate in Tonga is tropical, with two distinct seasons. The warm season is December to April, during which both the cyclone season and the rainy season occur, and the colder season is May to November. Temperatures average 30 degrees Celsius in the warm season and around 26 degrees Celsius in the cooler season.
Budget accommodation in Tonga is found in most places, but you won’t find the traditional European-style hostels or the flashpacker hostels of New Zealand. Here, budget accommodation means a cozy shack on the beach, a homestay, or a guesthouse. There are just a few backpacker hostels in Vava’u and Nuku’alofa, but to get a real feel for the country, consider a homestay.
Tonga is known for its low key approach. Once you are settled into your accommodation, hit the beach or the mountains. Tonga’s rugged coastline is perfect for hiking, whether its a day walk at Mapu’a ‘a Vaea (blowholes near Houma) or an overnight hike on the island of ‘Eua. Water lovers will relish the snorkelling, scuba diving, surfing, and kayaking opportunities. If you want to do some offshore excursions, hire a sailboat or charter a fishing boat for a day. On Vava’u, don’t miss the whale watching trips where, if you’re lucky, you can swim with these gentle giants. The cave system at ‘Anahulu is a rather unique network of limestone caves and freshwater pools. It’s a day trip from Nuku’alofa, but well worth the time and money.
Tonga is a laid-back nation with breathtaking scenery and friendly locals. You’ll be on Tonga Time in no time at all!
Hi, I'm Jakob Lombardi,
the Hostelz.com local expert for Tonga hostels. Welcome.