If you’re hotel is in the downtown area of the capital city of Nuku’alofa, you’re in a great spot. You can explore easily without a car.
Walk/run along the seawall–There is a pedestrian path along the ocean that is perfect for enjoying the coastline. You’ll see locals wandering throughout the day and night. The water is a rich tropical blue-green, like the waters of the Caribbean. Keep your eyes peeled for pigs looking for food at the water’s edge. The path to the West of the king’s residence is quiet, while the path going toward the wharf is busier, but still very breathable. You can get fresh produce at roadside stalls for an impromptu snack or treats to take back to your hotel.
Wander through downtown–You can peruse the handicraft markets for Tongan gifts such as tikis, Polynesian pearls and tapa (hand-painted bark cloth), and take a break to try Tongan coffee at a cafe. The dollar-stores are also worth peeking into; we bought Tongan flip-flops from one.
If you like being an independent traveler, I recommend renting a car to drive around Tonga’s main island of Tongatapu.
Keep in mind that local cars are right-hand drive, which can be uncomfortable for those used to the driver’s seat on the left. Also, people drive on the left side of the road in Tonga.
Anahulu cave and beach–If you only go to one site in Tongatapu, this should be it. After paying a small entrance fee, you’ll be led down into the cave, which has amazing stalactites and stalagmites throughout. You can jump into the pool at the edge of the cave, as the locals like to do. When you’re done exploring the cave, you can take a dip in the Pacific at the small beach just steps from the cave.
The Blowholes (Mapu ‘a Vaea/Vaea’s Whistle)–When you stand on the cliffs, you’ll be mesmerized by the Pacific waves crashing into boulders up and down the coast. A good spot for meditation.
Natural land bridge and cliffs lookout–Stunning vista. The land bridge is a series of flat rock formations stacked upon each other. These formations help put on a show when they bear the brunt of waves. You can wade in the protected water between the “bridge” and the shore.
Tsunami Rock–This huge rock formation is thought to have been transported to its current location on land by an ancient tsunami. It’s fascinating to see coral fossils in the rock; they hold clues to geological history.
Ha’amonga ‘a Maui–It’s theorized that this architectural structure was built by a former king as a way to tell the longest and shortest days of the year. It’s Tonga’s Stonehenge.
Fafa Island–About a 45-min. boat ride from the wharf near downtown Nuku’alofa. There is a fee, which includes the ferry rides, resort access (including use of kayaks) and lunch.
Pangaimotu–I prefer this island over Fafa. It’s only a 15-min. boat ride, and the vibe is very relaxed and inviting. The beach bar is charmingly ramshackle, and the food is surprisingly good (perfect batter and texture for the fish in the fish and chips). The water is a marine preserve (like Fafa), and hubby saw a huge lobster and big fish while snorkeling. Visibility is excellent. You can spot schools of fish swimming very close to shore and baby corals at very shallow depth. The island is famed for a shipwreck that people like to jump off of at high tide. The wreck is also good for snorkeling.