10 things I wish I knew before going to Tonga

Roxana Acosta Sosa20 January 20212969 views14 min. read
10 things I wish I knew before going to Tonga
Tonga, I couldn't place it on the map, but when I talk about it with other people, I realize that I am not the only one. It is one of those isolated countries in the middle of the Pacific and integrated within Polynesia and in the shadow of its more touristy neighbors Fiji and Samoa. Tonga retains its essence, without large buildings or large hotel complexes, and captivates with totally different customs, such as the law that prohibits working on Sundays. Of course, there are many things about Tonga that I didn’t know, but I am sure it will increase its openness to tourism in the coming decades and will be increasingly known abroad. yaghtclub It is not easy to reach Tonga; you need to cross the whole world literally, but whoever has the privilege of visiting this set of islands will take with them some unforgettable experiences. But first, you need to inform yourself about where is Tonga. So I hope to be able to help intrepid travelers who want to venture into the "Friendly Islands" of the South Pacific and all those who only want to read and discover interesting facts about Tonga.

1. Tonga, the great unknown of the South Pacific

coconut trees Wondering where is Tonga? The country consists of 177 islands in the South Pacific, of which the vast majority are uninhabited. Only about 36 islands have a settled population. Until relatively recent years, the Kingdom of Tonga was not a major tourist destination. The most ordinary tourists were Australians and New Zealanders due to their geographical proximity, but, even so, the neighboring countries Fiji and Samoa used to take the majority of visitors (around 800 km away).  Since a few years ago, all this began to change, and Tonga is working to sell itself internationally and grow in tourism as it is a great source of income. Today, Australians and New Zealanders are still the most common tourists, but, increasingly, other nationalities from Asia are on the rise, as are Europeans, although to a lesser extent. If you want to travel to Tonga, you should know in advance that it has a larger island called Tongatapu, which is the most populated. In it is the capital of the country, Nuku'alofa, where King Tupou VI resides and where almost all the economic activity of the territory moves. Next to Tongatapu is the smallest and most luxuriant island of the Eua. Further north, we find the Ha'apai group of islands, a group of tiny islands with minimal infrastructure, and finally, the Vava'u group of islands. It is larger than Tongatapu in extension and has the main city, Nelafu. Tonga has many tourist attractions, and is that its monarchy ensures the preservation of the values and traditions of the population. Customs that surprise and worth knowing. Life in the country is simple and at the same time easy.

2. How to travel to Tonga?

air travel to tonga How to Travel to tonga? is the second most important question of many travelers. If you also have doubts, here I will try to help you.  To get to Tonga, you will first have to get to one of the three cities that have a direct connection to the country: Auckland in New Zealand, Sydney in Australia, or Suva in Fiji. Whatever your starting point of the trip, you will have to arrive in one of these three cities and then take a direct flight to Tongata, the main island and administrative center of Tonga, where the Fua’Amotu International Airport is located. From the airport to the capital Nuku’alofa there are about 20 minutes by car, so it is recommended that you have this journey closed in advance with your hotel. To choose one of the three cities that allow you to reach Tonga, I recommend that you value the following aspects: • How much does it cost you economically to get from your starting point to the three cities? • How much does it cost economically to get from the three cities to Tongatapu? • Total time of flights from the start point to the endpoint. Assessing which of the options fits with your budget allows you to waste less time traveling. To give you an idea, direct flights to Tonga take approximately 4h from Sydney, 4h and a half from Auckland, and 1h and a half from Suva. Indeed, I propose that you do almost a market study on how to travel to Tonga. But it is the way to find the best option so that you find the best value for money. You must bear in mind that you will have to combine several air travel to Tonga. If you are in Europe, no airline operates flights between Auckland, Sydney, Suva, and Tongatapu. So you will most likely have to buy flights separately.

Air travel to Tonga

air travel As I have already mentioned, you can fly to Tonga from Auckland, Sydney, or Suva. So once you are in the commented Tonga cities, the flight will be direct and relatively short. The only companies that operate these routes are: • Air New Zealand • Fiji Airlines • Virgin pacific • Singapore Airlines With the opinions of many travelers in mind, the Virgin Pacific has offered them more competitive prices (approximately € 300 per person round trip). If you are one of those who prefer not to take many air travel to Tonga and reduce the combination of companies, then my recommendation is that you fly with Singapore Airlines, since they fly from Singapore to Tongatapu with a stopover but without changing companies. Not all companies fly every day of the week, so depending on the dates, you will have to combine them. It is also important to note that there are no flights on Sundays in Tonga; there is a very peculiar law and one of the interesting facts about Tonga, which we will talk about below. Nobody said that getting to paradise was easy. Oddly enough, there are no direct flights from Tonga to other Pacific islands like Samoa, Cook Islands, or Vanuatu. If you want to take a trip to the South Pacific, Tonga will not be the simplest and best-connected option. In case you want to combine countries in this area, you will always have to fly to Fiji as a connection point with the rest.

3. Sundays are holidays by law

tonga There is a weekly holiday that I have already mentioned above about Tonga: Sundays are holidays by law. As soon as you arrive in the country, you realize that religion is very present in daily life and that Sundays in Tonga are special. When you walk around, you see many more churches than necessary based on the population level, each of them is from a different current: Evangelists, Baptists, Catholics, Adventists, etc. The songs that are heard in the afternoons also suggest that the rehearsals, and the sentiment put into them, are not a hobby. On Sundays, no one is allowed to work, except for the tourist resorts, and the day is dedicated to the pillars of life in this country: family and religion. It is very curious to see all the bars closed, the stores, the airport, the port, and there are no cabs. There is nothing to do, especially for tourists. But you can take a boat and go to a resort on a nearby island to spend the day. Or stay and experience the real Sundays and interact with Tonga people. You have to be dressed properly, with long pants and shoulders covered. Note: If you need to buy something to eat, be sure to do it on Saturday.

4. Tonga is known as the Friendly Islands

tonga island Do you want to know interesting facts about Tonga? Here is another one. Tonga is known as the friendly islands because its locals are smiling, friendly, and generally very generous. If you get lost and need help, Tonga people will help you with a smile. Besides being nice and friendly, they are very calm. They are very inclusive, and they like tourists to get involved in their day to day, so if you decide to go to the Church on Sunday, they will welcome you with open arms and will even allow you to take Instagram photos. They are proud to show you and share their culture. For this reason, Tonga is not known for being an unsafe country, and it was James Cook who named it "Friendly Islands." If the locals see you, they will greet you, and they do not reject the tourist; they like you to get involved. All this does not take away from the fact that some Tongans will tell you that they have suffered from bag thefts (without violence) in Tongatapu in recent times.

5. Tonga is the last remaining monarchy in the entire Pacific

rime ministers office If you travel to Tonga, you will be heading to the last remaining parliamentary monarchy in the entire Pacific. Until less than 10 years ago, it was still a feudal monarchy (as in Europe in the Middle Ages), but one of its last monarchs changed the laws, and a parliament with rulers was created for the first time. Despite this, the figure of the king is still present. All the lands of the country belong to him, and it is he who makes concessions for the citizens who request it. In 2015, the coronation of the new king, Tupou VI, took place, who continues in his mandate to this day. Tonga is such a small country that the king there is truly close and hearty. In fact, there is a particular parish where Tupou VI usually attends Mass with his wife where they mix with Tonga people, and you can even greet him closely even if he is accompanied by his private security.

6. In Tonga, bargaining does not exist

market in tonga If you went to India, Thailand, for example, you would have come across sellers who usually increase the price of some products, especially those who sell on the street. Generally, when they see tourists, these sellers tend to raise their prices a lot, many times more expensive than those that one could find in their country of origin. This is when you can ask for discounts, and many of them agree. Something that you should know about Tonga is that here bargaining does not exist; normally prices are marked in most stores.  As for its official currency, it is called Pa'anga, and if you look in currency conversion pages, you will see it written in many places as TOP. There are two banks ANZ and Bank South Pacific. In almost all stores, they charge a commission for paying with a card, so my recommendation is that you always pay in cash. Another piece of advice we can give you, don't forget to take extra cash to the small islands where you won't find ATMs.

7. Telephone code and plugs

telephone Although you know where is Tonga, you should also know that they have their own telephone companies: TCC and Digicel. Both companies reach any point in the country, but it is important to bear in mind that the 3G network does not always work well. There are places or times of the day when it doesn't work, and you won't be able to surf the Internet. So if you are one of those who need a connection, do not count on it on this trip; not even the best hotels can assure you of anything. Digicel is currently doing a good job of marketing and is the best-known thanks to its advertising, and it also offers free SIM cards to all tourists. You just have to go to the store they have in the capital of Tonga, Nuku’alofa, and present your boarding pass to get it. Once you have the SIM card, you can recharge as you need it; there are one-month plans of 2Gb for 20TOP and also weekly plans of 500Mb for 5TOP. Regarding the plugs, if you travel to Tonga, they are the same as in New Zealand and Australia, so do not forget to bring an adapter. I recommend a universal adapter with USB inputs to charge several devices at the same time.

8. Discover the Tonga language

book The official language is Tongan, but the vast majority of the population speaks English perfectly. It is easy to communicate, and there will be no problem, the only more complicated area is the Niua Islands, where their isolation means that they barely speak English and Tongan has been modified little by the influence of Samoan, since it is the only radio signal that it comes to them because they are closer to neighboring Samoa than to the rest of the Tongan islands. If you want to communicate with people, here you will find some words you can learn before traveling to Tonga: • Hello: Malo e lelei • Good morning: Malo e lelei ki he pongipongi ni • Good afternoon: Malo e lelei ki he efiafi ni • How are you?: Fefe hake? • Yes: 'Io • No: ‘Ikai • Thanks: Malo • Thank you very much: Malo ‘aupito • Please: Faka mole mole • Whale: Tofua’a

9. In Tonga, winter does not exist

tonga nature After deciding which air travel to Tonga take, you should know what to pack. The climate in Tonga is tropical, so temperatures always range between 20 and 26 degrees. There is no winter, but there are two different seasons as a tropical country: wet and dry. From May to October, it is the coldest and driest time, and therefore with less humidity. On the other hand, from November to April is the warmest and most pleasant time for water sports, although it is also the time of cyclones, which rarely reach Tonga but have touched the locals several times; the last time was in March 2018. Regardless of the weather, it is important to know that June to October is the season for humpback whales as they go to the warm waters of Tonga, fleeing the Antarctic winter. So during these months, it is very easy to spot them and even bathe with them in the open sea. It is very important to have information on how to carry out these encounters in order to no affect their environment. Without a doubt, it is an incredible experience. It is something so special that each person who lives it can never imagine what it feels like until the big day arrives. Seeing them move slowly and sweetly having that large size makes it something magical. This is something amazing about Tonga. Just make sure that the company you are going to do this excursion with has the corresponding license. Also, it is recommended to make from the Eua Island.

10. The transport in Tonga

yachting After knowing where is Tonga, this is one of the critical points, and it is that normally any island country does not stand out for the ease of mobility. Still, I would dare to say that in Tonga, this issue is a bit more complicated than usual. To move around the country between islands, there are two ferries, a slow one and a fast one, but to find out when each one leaves, you will have to ask the port the same week you want to travel. The weather or unforeseen events like national holidays can cause plans to change. As an alternative option, there are internal flights operated by the national company Royal Tonga, but they are not more reliable than the ferry. There are usually cancellations and delays, so the best thing you can do in Tonga is to always play with several days to spare, bearing in mind that there are no services of any kind on Sundays, so you never miss your international flight. I believe that transportation and knowing how to travel to Tonga is an issue that you have to know well so that you are not caught unexpectedly, since I know of some tourists who lost international flights because they were not informed of the mobility peculiarities that the country has. On the other hand, driving in Tonga is easy; if the police stop you in the capital of Tonga, Nuku’alofa, they will ask you for a Tongan driving license. If you do not have it, you can be fined. It is up to you whether to risk it or not; in case you want to be safe, you will have to obtain a Tongan driving license in Nuku’alofa by going to an official office and paying the cost of the license.

Final Thoughts

aerial view of tonga There are many interesting facts about Tonga that will impress you, but what better than to experience it face to face. Travel to Tonga because it is a wonder. Organize it can be super fun, and it really worth it.

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