Made up of 171 islands and spread across a significant expanse of the South Pacific Ocean, the Kingdom of Tonga is dotted with important archaeological sites and an array of impressive natural landmarks, including a chain of volcanoes stretching along some 800km of terrain. The Kingdom is also one of the region’s great sailing centres, with beautiful scenery providing the perfect backdrop for wind-fueled sea faring and other more high-octane water sports.
Despite its relatively secluded geography, Tonga attracts a substantial number of adventurous visitors a year keen to explore its natural wonders along with its stone henges, terraced tombs and ancient moats. And among its most visited attractions are a number of truly unique places of interest far removed from those that feature on your average travel itinerary. Here’s our pick of 12.
Marvel at an aquatic natural phenomenon
Spread across some 5 kilometres of Tongan coastline are the Mapu’a ‘a Vaea blowholes, which perpetually propel water high in the air. Located on the island of Tongatapu near the village of Houma, the remote site attracts a small sprinkling of visitors every year, all keen to see the spectacle for themselves. Windy days are the best time to visit as the rougher waters can make the blowholes’ emissions even more impressive to the eye.
Pick up some foodie treats at a local market
There’s no better way of getting under the skin of a place than to visit an authentic local market. Talamahu Market is Tonga’s main fresh-produce hub and is a constant buzz of activity, offering locals and visitors alike the chance to wander the aisles and peruse a huge variety of items ranging from handmade woven-frond baskets, branches of bananas, kaleidoscopic pyramids of fruit and cooked-food stalls. There are also plenty of arts and crafts stalls, providing the perfect chance to purchase gifts and souvenirs.
Immerse yourself in Tonga’s rich history
Inviting visitors to embark on a 3,000 year journey through Tonga and the wider region’s rich history, the Ha’a Fonu-Tonga Maritime Museum is a veritable goldmine of fascinating exhibits and displays that tell the story of the area’s earliest settlers through to the first European visitors in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. As well as its educational focus, the museum also houses a Beach Shop selling an assortment of arty gifts and souvenirs.
LOCATION 1 Ika Lahi Road, Kanokupolu
Visit a historic burial site for ancient kings
As with so many of Tonga’s historical landmarks, the Langi Tombs comes with a backstory that is likely to be part historical veracity and part folklore. As legend has it, the burial site for former kings was constructed as a way of demonstrating the spiritual and political power of the Tongan Empire. Far larger than your average tombs, they are covered with huge coral stone mounds and remain a fascinating reminder of Tonga’s cultural and spiritual heritage.
Take a dip with a humpback whale
Between July and October each year, a large population of humpback whales gathers around Vava’u Islands in Tonga. For visitors wanting to catch a glimpse of these magnificent ocean creatures, this represents the best time for joining a whale watching tour as well as indulging in the truly unique opportunity of swimming with a humpback mother and her calf. There are several tours companies in Tonga offering such adventures, all of which can be found online.
Gawp at a stone trilithon shrouded in mystery
The origins of the three coralline stones known as the Ha’amonga A Maui Trilithon are shrouded in mystery and legend, with nobody entirely sure how they were constructed or placed here. Located in the north of the island of Tongatapu, near the village of Niutōua, the distinctive structures are thought to date all the way back to 1200 AD and are among the most famous of all of Tonga’s myriad archaeological sites. There’s no entrance fee or barriers and visitors and come and admire the landmark at their leisure.
LOCATION Taufa’ahau Road, Niutoua
Discover what lies beneath
With average temperatures ranging between 25C and 29C all-year-round and a multitude of natural ocean wonders, Tonga offers exceptional aquatic exploration such as scuba diving, snorkelling and freediving. Reef systems, lagoons, marine reserves and caves, as well as a sprinkling of impressive shipwrecks, attract large numbers of divers who come to enjoy the area’s unique marine geography. Among the most popular diving spots are Tongatapu, Ha’apai and Vavaʻu.
Let your hair down at a vibrant nightspot
With a sign reading “Probably the best bar in Tonga” at its entrance, Reload Bar certainly isn’t shy about blowing its own trumpet. Once inside this perpetually busy watering hole and it becomes clear why it’s very likely worthy of the title. A pumping dance floor is always full to the max, while an upstairs balcony provides respite from the pulsating action below, as well as excellent people-watching opportunities.
LOCATION Taufa’ahau Rd, Nuku’alofa HOURS Mon-Fri 12pm-12.30am Sat 12pm-11.30pm Closed Sun
Go for a dip in an awe-inspiring cave
Nestled in the village of Haveluliku on the Eastern Side of Tonga, the limestone Anahulu Cave is littered with large stalagmites and stalactites that captivate all who see them. Surrounding them are fresh water cool pools where visitors can enjoy a refreshing dip while admiring the dramatic scenery and there’s a sandy beach just in front of the entrance too.
LOCATION Haveluliku HOURS Mon-Sat 10am-6pm Closed Sun
Explore a verdant botanical garden
The brainchild of Tonga’s former Minister of Agriculture, the ‘Ene’io Botanical Gardens are positively crammed full of over 500 plant varieties. Visitors can join a guided tour, or book themselves onto a short garden walk, a birdwatching and hiking tour, or a full-day cultural tour. There’s also a café and gift shop selling a range of handicrafts and other curios.
Join the wild crowds at a Tongan rugby match
It would probably be no exaggeration to describe rugby in Tonga as a religion. The Tongan national rugby team – known as Ikale Tahi – attract fanatical support when they take to the field at Teufaiva Sport Stadium, whose 10,000 seats are full to the brim on match days. Visitors keen to immerse themselves in a magical Tongan rugby experience can buy tickets online or at the stadium.
Catch sight of aeronautic foxes in their natural habitat
While there are numerous parts of Tonga where you can get to admire the remarkable sight of flying foxes (also known as ‘fruit bats’) propelling themselves through the air, one of the most abundant spots to do so is the village of Kolovai, located near the island’s western tip. Here, these curious creates can be seen clinging upside down to the trees and hurtling between them, seemingly oblivious to the fascination they are causing.