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4 Tips for Travelling in Tonga

by Courtney
4 Tips for Travelling in Tonga

Visiting the Kingdom of Tonga is like a dream come true, especially for those sun seekers who love a good tropical paradise. The islands of Tonga are beautiful, remote and the perfect place to travel with friends, family or your lover. That being said, you definitely need to do your research before travelling to Tonga to make sure your trip is the best it can be. There are some things that can go wrong or become really inconvenient if you haven’t planned ahead.

So, to make things a little easier for you, I’ve compiled a list of my 4 tips for travelling in Tonga…

 

Make sure to visit during whale season

I mean, this is a no brainer. Yes, the Kingdom of Tonga is a beautiful place and would be absolutely wonderful to visit at any time of the year. But, if you want a really special experience that you can’t get anywhere else, then you have to travel during whale season.

Whale season generally runs from July to October, with the humpback whales arriving towards the end of June and starting to make their way back south around the end of October. In the months between, they call the warm, tropical waters of Tonga home, and it is here that you can enter their world and swim with them in what will be one of the best experiences of your life.

During our trip, everything was about the whales. You could see them breach out in the distance while you sipped on a sunset cocktail during happy hour, and they were all we spoke of with our fellow travellers at dinner time. Swapping whale stories was always the highlight of my day!

If you’ve already read my blog post about swimming with humpback whales, then you’ll already know why this was such a life changing experience for me. If you haven’t, then click here to check it out. I will warn you though, after reading you may feel inclined to book a flight or two…

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Give yourself plenty of time to travel between islands

The Kingdom of Tonga has one airline that services the islands, and ‘reliable’ isn’t exactly a brand keyword. RealTonga airline has a clear monopoly on flights in and around the tropical paradise and because of this, they seem to like to change their flight schedule on the reg and without warning. Usually, this would be infuriating but when you’re on island time in a place as beautiful as Tonga, then you just have to grab another beer and let it go. Or try to, at least.

During our visit to the Kingdom of Tonga, we flew into Tongatapu (the main island) and then onwards to Ha’apai. We stayed for two nights at the Scenic Hotel, which is just down the road from both the domestic and international terminals in Tongatapu. Our 8:30am flight to Ha’apai was rescheduled to 6:40am, which we were advised via email the day before. Then, after a very early alarm and arriving at the airport before it even opened, we were told that our flight had been rescheduled for 2:00pm. Cool, cool, cool, cool, no doubt.

So, with the group of travellers also heading to Ha’apai on the same flight, off we went back to the Scenic Hotel, who kindly allowed us all to check right back into the rooms we’d just vacated to get some more sleep. At around 7:45am, we were abruptly awoken with a phone call from the airline, who informed us that our flight had been rescheduled yet again, this time for 11:00am. We got up, checked out of our room again, had some brekky and went back to the airport. Our actual time of departure? 12:30pm. Good old island time!

Island time isn’t the only thing that can affect your flights, as we learned on our return journey after spending ten days in Ha’apai. We said our goodbyes to everyone at Matafonua Lodge and off to the tiny little airport we went. We checked in, sat down and waited for the plane to arrive.

The plane didn’t arrive. In fact, it was never going to arrive, as it had broken down on one of the other islands earlier that day. Since there are only two planes that service all the islands, we were essentially stranded.

Luckily for us, the owner of Matafonua Lodge, Darren, had experience with this kind of thing. He got us to get our luggage back and load back into the van and off we went, straight down the road back to Matafonua. Here, we had no idea when we’d get home and most of the others were going to miss their connecting flight home. Ours was booked for the next afternoon, but we still had no idea if we’d make it. It was pretty stressful, but after we realised there wasn’t much we could do, we grabbed a beer and sat by the lagoon.

The next day, we managed to get on a morning flight after a backup plane was sent to Ha’apai to pick us all up. It was possibly the tiniest plane I’ve ever been on, yet the smoothest flight I’ve ever had.

To sum it all up, you don’t have a choice when it comes to airlines in Tonga, but if you make sure to plan ahead and give yourself a couple of days travel between islands, you should be fine if something does happen. Trust me, it will happen!

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Prepare to rough it a little

Unlike some of the other tropical islands scattered across the South Pacific, the Kingdom of Tonga is quite undeveloped. The remoteness of the place is one of its greatest features, but those looking for a pampered, luxurious stay should probably head somewhere else.

For those prepared to rough it a little, you’ll find so much peace in living simply. At Matafonua Lodge in Ha’apai, we stayed in a traditional, Pacific-style fale, and all it had inside was a small bench and a double bed. There were shared bathroom facilities and a small restaurant, and that was it. Everything else we needed was right outside our door – the sunshine, the sand and the stunning lagoon.

We still drank cocktails and ate incredible meals, but the real fun was in not wearing shoes for two weeks and only showering for long enough to rinse the salt from our hair and skin. There were no televisions or shopping centres, but plenty of board games and books to read. It was so, so nice to get back to basics and live life as the islanders do!

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Say goodbye to the grid

If you’re the type of person that freaks out if you can’t refresh your Facebook feed or post an Instagram photo, then Tonga is not for you. Due to the remoteness of the tiny South Pacific nation, Tonga has limited and slow Internet access.

For those who love an opportunity to switch off and fully immerse themselves into their surroundings, then you’ll love going off the grid. For us, it was a wonderful break from technology. We didn’t find ourselves scrolling mindlessly through our social media feeds, and instead buried our heads in books or interesting conversations with each other and our new friends. Yes, we did have a little bit of Wi-Fi at our lodge, but it was so damn slow that I hardly bothered with it. It usually worked enough to send a couple of photos or messages to our loved ones, so I’d check in with the fam once or twice a day and that was it. There was barely enough connection to even upload an Instagram photo, so I didn’t even find myself posting as much as I usually would. It was actually really enjoyable!

 

 
 
 
 
 
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There you have it – 4 tips for travelling in Tonga! Have YOU visited beautiful Tonga before? What tips would you add to my list? Let me know in the comments!

 

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