Local Tongan woman watching from boat (Shutterstock)
List Words : Insider Secrets | 15 November 2018

5 life-affirming things you must do in Tonga

Tonga is the perfect South Pacific island getaway. Expect palm fringed beaches, a colourful and lively local culture and intimate encounters with humpback whales and their new born calves

1: Wander the aisles of Talamahu Market

Craft stall at Talamahu Market (Dreamstime)

Craft stall at Talamahu Market (Dreamstime)

Want to see the real Tonga? Head to Talamahu Market in the centre of Nuku’alofa. Here you can pick up all the necessities of Tongan life from fresh fruit and vegetables, flip-flops and clothes and even beautiful handmade souvenirs to take back home.

It’s also a snapshot of daily Tongan life. Talamahu Market is where locals chat and gossip, share stories and do deals. Saturday mornings are the busiest, but whatever day you visit you’ll get the chance to meet the locals and immerse yourself in the island lifestyle.

2: Marvel at Mapu’a 'a Vaea blowholes

Mapu'a 'a Vaea blowholes (Shutterstock)

Mapu'a 'a Vaea blowholes (Shutterstock)

The Mapu'a 'a Vaea blowholes are a spectacular sight. Waves hit the eroded limestone coast near Houma, rush through chambers and then spout 30 metres into the air. On a windy day, with a strong swell, hundreds of blowholes spurt skyward at once.

The blowholes are best viewed near the village of Houma, home of the venerable Vaea family after whom the blowholes are named (Mapu’a 'a Vaea roughly translates as ‘Chief’s whistles'). The limestone coast stretches for five kilometres here and the village is worth a visit too.

3: Swim with humpback whales

Snorkelling with a humpback in Tonga (Dreamstime)

Snorkelling with a humpback in Tonga (Dreamstime)

Tonga is one of the best places in the world to see humpback whales. They travel up from Antartica to Tonga every year between May and November, seeking out Tonga’s warm, calm waters to mate, give birth and socialise. After arriving at the two most southern islands of 'Eua and Tongatapu, they tour the other islands showing off their newly born calves.

Snorkelling with these giant, gentle creatures has become a popular activity for wildlife lovers in Tonga. Make sure you use a responsible company like like Deep Blue Diving, based at Faua Wharf, who not only provide all the gear and knowledge you need, but put the welfare of the whales first and foremost.

4: Escape to Pangaimotu Island

Palm tree with rope swing at Pangaimotu island (Dreamstime)

Palm tree with rope swing at Pangaimotu island (Dreamstime)

Paradise is never far away in Tonga, even in the relative hustle and bustle of the capital, Nuku’alofa. Simply head down to Faua Wharf and catch a boat to Pangaimotu Island. Within 10 minutes, you can be strolling along sugar water beach, snorkelling in crystal clear waters or tucking into a seafood feast at the rustic Big Mama’s yacht club.

On most days, you’ll have the island pretty much to yourself, apart from a few avid divers exploring the shipwreck that juts out of the water just off shore. From Monday to Saturday, the boat to Pangaimotu leaves from Faua Wharf, Nuku’alofa at 11am and returns to the main island at 4pm.

Sundays offer an altogether different experience. With most businesses closed in Nuku’alofa, locals descend on the island to swim and picnic and play. Boat departs at 10am, 11am, 12pm and 1pm and return at 4pm, 5pm and 6pm.

5: Unlock the mystery of the Haʻamonga ʻa Maui

Haʻamonga ʻa Maui arch (Dreamstime)

Haʻamonga ʻa Maui arch (Dreamstime)

The Haʻamonga ʻa Maui is Tonga’s Stonehenge, a mysterious stone structure that is revered by locals and shrouded in mystery. Legend has it that the structure was made by the god, Maui, who found the stones on Wallis island and brought them to Tonga in his canoe.

Recent studies have suggested that as well as serving a ceremonial purpose, the Haʻamonga ʻa Maui are also astronomical tool, telling the position of sunrise on solstices and equinoxes. Regardless, the impossibly picturesque setting of the arch near the village of Niutōua makes a visit an absolute must.

Hayley Garner is a travel industry professional who has worked for some of the biggest names in adventure travel. You can find more about Hayley and her travels at her website, Wild Ever Since.

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