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Tonga

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Royal Sunset Island Resort
Royal Sunset Island Resort - dream vacation

Atata Island | Nuku\'alofa, Tongatapu Island, TongaAtata Island

Waterfront Lodge Nuku\'Alofa
Waterfront Lodge Nuku\'Alofa - dream vacation

Vuna Road, Ma\'ufanga - P.O. Box 1001Nuku\'alofa

Little Italy Hotel Nuku\'Alofa
Little Italy Hotel Nuku\'Alofa - dream vacation

P.O.Box 2891, Vuna Road, Kolomotu\'aNuku\'alofa

Fafa Island Resort
Fafa Island Resort - dream vacation

Fafa Island PO Box 1444Nuku\'alofa


Tonga, the "Friendly Islands", is an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean.

Regions

The country is divided into four island groups, or regions.

Cities

  • Nuku?alofa ? Tonga's capital.
  • Neiafu ? Barely a city even by Pacific island standards, Neiafu is the administrative centre of the Vava?u group.

Understand

The archipelago was united into a Polynesian kingdom in 1845. It became a constitutional monarchy in 1875 and a British protectorate in 1900. Tonga acquired its independence in 1970 and became a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. It is one of the few indigenous monarchies in the Pacific. Tonga is one of the last absolute monarchies in the world and is based upon an essentially feudal system where the king disburses land and positions without recourse to any elected body. Although Tongan royalty is largely loved and revered by Tongans, younger people have an appetite for stronger accountability and a more modern constitution. An election was held in November 2010. This was planned to lead to a major reduction in the powers of the King and the land-owning nobility in favour of a more democratic form of governance. However, of the 26 seats in Parliament only 17 are elected, with the rest being allocated to the nobles. After some horse trading, it was a noble who emerged as the Prime Minister.

Tonga has an economy with none of the corporate chain stores and with local small businesses providing all necessary goods and services.

There were pro-democracy riots in Nuku'alofa in November 2006 which left 8 people dead and large portions of the town centre burnt out. Rebuilding after the riots in Nuku'alofa has been more or less completed and there are abundant tourism facilities.

Tourists were not a target during the riots and you will find Tonga a friendly and appealing place to visit although don't expect the same level of infrastructure as in more developed countries.

Get in

Visas

The only visa exemption is in place for citizens of any Schengen country (including Faroe Islands and Greenland), who do not need a visa for a stay of 90 days or less within a 180 day period.

Citizens of the following countries can get a free, one-month visitor's visa on arrival if they can prove they have a return ticket to leave Tonga at the end of their stay and sufficient funds to cover their stay: Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Cook Islands, Dominica, Fiji, Ireland, Japan, Kiribati, South Korea, Malaysia, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Monaco, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Samoa, Seychelles, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Turkey, Tuvalu, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States of America, Vanuatu and Wallis and Futuna.

Visitor's visas can be extended at the immigration department in the capital.

By plane

Fua'amotu Airport (TBU) is on Tongatapu around half an hour from Nuku'alofa.

  • Air New Zealand flies from Auckland five or six times weekly, excluding Sundays
  • Virgin Australia flies from Sydney and Auckland twice a week.
  • You can also arrive from Fiji (Nadi and Suva) on Fiji Airways, with connections from the USA, Hong Kong, Australia and Samoa.

A crowd of local taxi drivers meets each incoming flight at the airport and they usually charge 50 pa'anga to Nuku'alofa. The Teta Tours mini-bus also meets flights and will deliver you to your hotel or guest house for 10 pa'anga.

If you arrive on Saturday, beware that there will be no shops open on Sunday, bar one or two bakers, and that your hotel may not serve meals until the evening (some provide a packed breakfast on Saturday evening!). So discuss food arrangements for Sunday with your hotel or you may go hungry!

By private boat

Lots of people arrive by private yacht since Tonga, particularly Vava'u, is a common stop on the around-the-world circuit.

Get around

To get between island groups, you basically have to fly (or sail).

Motorbikes, scooters and cycles can be rented on Tongatapu, Vava'u and Ha'apai. On Tongatapu you can hire a car. There are also taxis. To get around the main island, Tongatapu, Teta Tours and Toni's guest house offer day tours of all the main tourist sights. The speed limit is usually 40km/h and this is stuck to by the local drivers. You're meant to also buy a local Tongan driving licence on top of your existing licence before you drive (25 pa'anga). The roads are good in and around Nuku'alofa but deteriorate the further from the town and the further south you travel. Most cars in Tonga are in a terrible state, maintained on a budget and held together by a combination of 'Western Union' stickers and prayer. The low speed limit helps to keep accidents down. There are buses to various points on Tongatapu from Nuku'alofa although there are no timetables.

Talk

The official languages of Tonga are Tongan and English.

Tongan is the most widely spoken language in Tonga. English is also widely understood because many of the high schools teach exclusively in English. Many Tongans when asked a question they are unsure of or don`t understand will reply with a "Yes". In this case, ask a follow up question and if the reply is still "Yes", ask someone else.

See

  • Tongatapu. Tongatapu is Tonga's largest island with over two-thirds of the country's small population. It is a coral island surrounded by coral reefs. The capital, Nuku'alofa, on the north coast, has a relaxed air, despite the troubles of a few years ago. There are some interesting places to visit, such as ancient tombs and coastal blowholes, and some nice beaches with good snorkelling. Tongatapu also provides a good opportunity to view a unique culture. There are several small islands to the north of Tongatapu that have been developed into resorts. Nuku'alofa has good quality accommodation and guest houses within range of the backpacker.
  • 'Eua. 'Eua Island is located only 17.5km east southeast from Tongatapu. It is the highest island in Tonga and is not related geologically to the other islands, being much older. It has beaches on the western side but dramatic cliffs on the east coast, with Tonga’s largest tropical rain forest, which is a great place to go trekking. There are a few small guest houses.
  • Vava'u. Vava’u is a group of more than 50 islands, about 150 miles north of Tongatapu. They are either raised coral limestone or coral atolls. The beautiful harbour opposite the main town of Neiafu is a common destination for yachties sailing the South Pacific, attracting about 500 yachts every season. The waters of the islands are known for their clarity. The area attracts many humpback whales between June and November and there are organised tours to see them. Other things to do include diving, renting a yacht, kayaking; game fishing and kite surfing. There are some good walks on the main island. There are many places to stay both in the capital Neiafu and on the outlying islands.
  • Ha'apai. Ha'apai is a group of about 60 islands, south of the Vava'u group and north of Tongatapu. Only 20 islands are constantly inhabited. This is where the Mutiny on the Bounty occurred in 1789. The total population is approximately 5,500. There are plenty of sandy beaches plus good diving and snorkelling and the opportunity to see some whales. Ha'apai offers the whole range of accommodation, from budget to upmarket resort.
  • The Niuas. The Niuas are reachable by weekly flights from Vava’u. Niuatoputapu is 240km north of Vava’u and has a population of around 1400. It has beautiful white beaches, particularly on the north-west side of the island. Niuafo’ou is the northernmost island of Tonga. It is known as Tin Can island from the fact that in earlier times mail was delivered and picked up by strong swimmers who would retrieve packages sealed up in a biscuit tin and thrown overboard from passing ships. Niuafo’ou is the tip of an underwater volcano. The last eruption was in 1946, after which the whole island was evacuated for ten years. Accommodation on both islands is limited.

Do

Apart from a few historical sites on Tongatapu most things to do in Tonga reflect its island nature. Diving, snorkelling, fishing, boat trips, kayaking and kite surfing are all possible. There are some lovely beaches if you just want to laze around. Tonga has some good restaurants and this is the place to come if you like lobster.

Take time to learn a little about Tonga's fairly feudal culture and its many traditions. Go to church. Even if you are not religious the singing can be very moving. Watch tapa cloth being made from mulberry bark and try a drink of kava, the traditional drink, which is a mild narcotic.

Along with other pacific island nations Rugby Football is also popular on Tonga.

Buy

Money

The national currency is the pa'anga, or Tongan dollar, denoted by the symbol "'T$" or somtimes "PT" (ISO currency code: TOP). Denominations are 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 seniti coins and 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 pa'anga banknotes.

Costs and shopping

Although Tonga is a developing country, prices for many things are comparable to or slightly greater than New Zealand or Australia. Most of what you eat, apart from fish, lobsters, roots and tubers, fruits and vegetables will have been imported. A good meal out will cost 30-50 pa'anga, a beer in a restaurant or bar costs about 5-6 pa'anga, hiring a car is about 50-60 pa'anga a day and cigarettes are 7-8 pa'anga for a pack of 25.

  • Tapa. Tapa cloth is made from the bulk of the paper mulberry tree. Although tapa is found throughout Polynesia, Tonga is the only country where it is still a part of daily life. The bark is stripped from the tree trunk and the outer bark is then scraped off from the inner bark and discarded. The inner bark is first dried in the sun before being soaked. It is then beaten into strips of 25cm using wooden mallets. The continuous beats of the tapa mallet are still a common sound in Tongan villages. The narrow strips are then beaten together into a wider sheet and decorated.

Eat

Tongan feasts are a must-do. Tour companies and hotels organize feasts, together with traditional dancing, on several nights of the week on Tongatapu and in Vava'u.

Drink

Tonga is lively well into the evening, generally becoming suddenly very quiet at around 11PM. Expect to see people walking around until late. Beer and liquor are available from many outlets, including Fijian, Australian and New Zealand imports to complement the local brews. If you are keen to check out native drink, try Kava (something like liquid novacaine) at least once.

The local beer is called Ikale and is sold in 330 ml bottles in most restaurants and bars (4.50-5 pa'anga). Or you can buy the same bottles from one of the many 'Chinese' roadside shops or a supermarket for 2 pa'anga or less. Imported beers are mainly from Australia although there are also some from Europe. Most are sold in 330 ml cans or bottles.

Sleep

There is a wide range of accommodation in Tonga, ranging from luxurious to budget. Most have relatively few rooms, though. The Tonga Visitors Bureau [1] has a full listing. See detailed listings on the pages for Tongatapu, Vava'u and Ha'apai.

Work

If you don't work you don't eat. Tongans don't want to hear that it's hard on the coral beaches lined with palm trees and emerald lagoons. There are many opportunities for skilled trades from the streets to the shops, in the schools to the churches and yes from the markets to the office. This is a hot spot for skilled navigators spanning throughout 169 villages and 150 islands. Some major exports include vanilla, handcrafts and specialty pumpkins grown for export to Japan. Other agriculture sectors include root crops like taro, tapioca, sweet potatoes, yams, coconuts, bananas, mangoes, papayas, pineapples, watermelons and even peanuts.

If you are on a visitor's visa, you cannot be involved with business or take up employment while in Tonga. You also cannot take courses from an educational institution. It is mostly illegal to try to change a visitor's visa into a visa that allows for employment, so if you intend to have a job while in Tonga, make sure you have an employment visa in advance. Apply for your visa at least one month in advance. If you are already in Tonga and would like to extend it, contact the immigration department one month in advance about the extension.

While employment visas are technically available, the immigration department will probably be reluctant to grant you one as Tonga has a high unemployment rate, and would prefer that jobs be taken up by Tongan citizens as opposed to outsiders. If you're coming to Tonga for humanitarian or volunteer work, you need an employment visa for that.

Stay safe

One thing to remember when going for a swim is that there are many sharp corals near the beach, especially near Tongatapu and PangaiMotu. It is a good idea to wear a cheap pair of sandals while in the water. There are jelly fish and they do sting! They are also hard to see. It is a good idea to have a bottle of vinegar handy in your bag to help treat any stings.

Stay healthy

An outbreak of chikungunya, a mosquito-borne disease, started in 2014, so take precautions against mosquito bites. An outbreak of Dengue fever was also reported in early 2015. There is no malaria in Tonga though.

Exercise the usual caution when snorkelling, as the coral can be dangerous.

Respect

For maximum respect, keep your knees covered (both men and women). Men, keep your shirt on everywhere except at the beach. Topless men off cruise liners have been arrested and held until after the ship has left! This is a very conservative Christian country. Keep in mind that Sunday is strongly revered, the vast majority of the population will attend religious services, very few shops will be open and there is very little to do. Hotels will be open, as will some restaurant and beach resorts, although mainly to serve expats and tourists. Small shops, including, in Nuku'alofa, a popular bakery, may open later on Sunday afternoon.

TV stations close or play Christian shows on Sundays. Radio stations will also play religious programmes on Sundays. To compensate, the cinema in Nuku'alofa usually has a screening just after midnight on Monday morning.

Tonga features many major Christian denominations; the Methodist church especially has a widespread presence. Many of the services are very enjoyable. Strike up a friendship with some locals and you will have no problems finding an enjoyable Sunday experience despite the lack of commercial activity.

Connect

Telecommunications in Tonga are handled by two operators; Digicel Tonga and Tonga Communications Corporation. The latter operates a 900 MHz GSM-network.

WiFi hotspots are how people connect to the Internet in Tonga and you should expect slow connection speed, data limits and high prices. Given the country’s location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean it’s not surprising.

Tonga Post handles international and domestic mail in the country.



Exercise normal security precautions

The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The purpose of this Travel Advice is to provide up-to-date information to enable you to make well-informed decisions.

Crime

Petty crime occurs. An increase in theft, including house break-ins, has been reported. Ensure that your personal belongings, passports and other travel documents are secure at all times. The incidence of crime increases after dark.

Women’s safety

Some cases of sexual assault targeting foreigners have occurred. Women should avoid isolated areas, especially at night. Consult our publication entitled Her Own Way: A Woman’s Safe-Travel Guide for travel safety information specifically aimed at Canadian women.

Demonstrations

Demonstrations may occur and have the potential to turn violent suddenly. They can lead to significant disruptions to traffic and public transportation. Avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings, follow the advice of local authorities and monitor local media.

Transportation

Traffic drives on the left. Driving can be hazardous due to poor road conditions and lack of adequate lighting for night-time driving. Roads in Nuku’alofa are paved, but most other roads are not.

Inter-island ferries do not always meet international safety standards. You should verify the credentials of the operator and the state of the vessel’s safety equipment.

Internal air service can be unpredictable. Flights are often cancelled on short notice. Consult our Transportation Safety page in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.

General safety information

You are encouraged to register with the High Commission of Australia in Nuku'alofa in order to receive the latest information on situations and events that could affect your safety.

Exercise caution when swimming as dangerous currents exist.

Basic tourist facilities and services are available in Nuku'alofa but limited elsewhere.

Health

Related Travel Health Notices
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
Vaccines

Routine Vaccines

Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.

Vaccines to Consider

You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread by contaminated food or water. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.

Influenza

Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or through personal contact with unwashed hands. Get the flu shot.

Measles

Measles occurs worldwide but is a common disease in developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Measles is a highly contagious disease. Be sure your vaccination against measles is up-to-date regardless of the travel destination.
 

Yellow Fever Vaccination

Yellow fever is a disease caused by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.

* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
Risk
  • There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
  • Proof of vaccination is not required to enter this country.
Recommendation
  • Vaccination is not recommended.
Food/Water

Food and Water-borne Diseases

Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.

In some areas in the Oceanic Pacific Islands, food and water can also carry diseases like hepatitis A. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in the Oceanic Pacific Islands. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!

Travellers' diarrhea
  • Travellers' diarrhea is the most common illness affecting travellers. It is spread from eating or drinking contaminated food or water.
  • Risk of developing travellers’ diarrhea increases when travelling in regions with poor sanitation. Practise safe food and water precautions.
  • The most important treatment for travellers' diarrhea is rehydration (drinking lots of fluids). Carry oral rehydration salts when travelling.

Insects

Insects and Illness

In some areas in the Oceanic Pacific Islands, certain insects carry and spread diseases like chikungunya, dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis, lymphatic filariasis and malaria.

Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.


Malaria

Malaria

There is no risk of malaria in this country.


Animals

Animals and Illness

Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, monkeys, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats. Certain infections found in the Oceanic Pacific Islands, like rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.


Person-to-Person

Person-to-Person Infections

Crowded conditions can increase your risk of certain illnesses. Remember to wash your hands often and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to avoid colds, the flu and other illnesses.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV are spread through blood and bodily fluids; practise safer sex.


Medical services and facilities

Medical services and facilities

Medical facilities are limited. Nuku'alofa and Neiafu have hospitals with emergency facilities. In the event of a major accident or illness, medical evacuation to New Zealand or Australia may be necessary. Medical transport is very expensive and payment up front is often required.

Keep in Mind...

The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.

Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.

You are subject to local laws. Consult our Arrest and Detention page for more information.

Laws

Penalties for possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs are strict. Convicted offenders can expect jail sentences, community work or heavy fines.

Tonga has very strict rules regarding impaired driving. Local authorities conduct random breath testing for alcohol.

Homosexual activity is illegal.

Offences such as theft and sexual or physical assault may result in corporal punishment.

Culture

Dress conservatively, behave discreetly, and respect religious and social traditions to avoid offending local sensitivities. It is an offence to appear in public without a shirt except on the beach.

Money

The currency is the Tongan dollar or pa'anga (TOP). While automated banking machines (ABMs) are available on Tongatapu, especially in Nuku’alofa, service may be limited on other islands. Traveller's cheques and foreign currency can be exchanged at major banks. Credit cards are accepted at most major hotels, as well as at some restaurants and stores.

Climate

Tonga is located in an active seismic zone and is prone to earthquakes and tsunamis.

The rainy (or monsoon) and typhoon seasons in the South Pacific extend from November to April. Severe storms can cause flooding and landslides, resulting in significant loss of life and extensive damage to infrastructure, and hampering the provision of essential services. Keep informed of regional weather forecasts, avoid disaster areas and follow the advice of local authorities.

During a typhoon or monsoon, hotel guests may be required to leave accommodations near the shore and move to safety centres inland. Travel to and from outer islands may be disrupted for some days. Contact the Meteorological Office (tel.: 23401) or consult the Fiji Meteorological Service for weather reports if you are contemplating sea journeys.

Consult our Typhoons and monsoons page for more information.

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