Suva, Fiji
Wannabe mermaid travelling around the world

Travel Guide to Tongatapu, Tonga

Tongatapu is the main island of Tonga and home to the country's capital of Nuku'alofa. While most travellers seem to give Tongatapu a pass, there are plenty of wonderful restaurants, hotels, and things to do (especially of the adventure and outdoors variety) on this odd-shaped island. In this guide, I'll share which places are worth spending time at as well as which places are worth giving a pass. 
polmuadi flickr

1. Chef Zero

Tamakautonga Rd, Nuku'alofa, Tonga

Chef Zero is by far the best restaurant in Nuku'alofa where nearly every dish is a hit. Their lobster (about 50 pa'anga/$30AUD) is one of the most famous dishes and isn't served daily, so call ahead to double check if they're serving it before you go. Otherwise, the lasagna and all seafood mains are delicious. You can't go wrong with their fish ceviche as an appetizer.

2. Billfish Bar and Restaurent

'Anopanilolo Road, Nuku'alofa, Tonga

Billfish Bar and Restaurant is where the locals and expats go for a bit of dancing, music, drinking games, and the famous Billfish Burger - a whopping hamburger pack with thick slabs of beef and stuffed with toppings. Their fish and chips are hearty as well. Come hungry! They often have a live DJ playing a variety of tunes. Some 80s pop, some country, some Caribbean... you never know what you're going to get.

This restaurant loses a star because they can't seem to agree on a drink price. I went to order a G&T from the bar (listed $4 on the menu) and was charged $6 one time and $8 another. Their excuse, "It's an old menu."

3. Marco's PIzza & Pasta

Unga Road, Nuku'alofa, Tongatapu Island, Tonga

A simple pizza joint with decent wood-fired pizza served hot in a friendly atmosphere. It's off the main road so you'll usually find a mix of locals and Peace Corp workers chatting over a soda and slice of pizza here. The margarita is better than the vegetarian pizza for those who opt for their pies without meat. They require you to order a large at minimum if you want to split the pizza half and half.

4. Friends Cafe

Taufa'ahau Road | Opposite the New Zealand High Commission Office., Nuku'alofa, Tongatapu Island, Tonga

I really wanted to love Friends Cafe -- it's no doubt the most popular cafe in Nuku'alofa among tourists (you'll rarely find a local dining here, though). I ordered the fritatta and Thai pumpkin soup and both were disgusting -- to the point where I fed the fritatta to a stray dog. The ambiance is great and the coffee is decent. Perhaps I should've tried one of the mains. But with their prices, I doubt I'd go back and risk wasting my money. Some delicious looking vegetarian options on the menu, though. Maybe others who visit will have better luck?

5. Cafe Escape

Taufa'ahau Road | FML Building, Nuku'alofa, Tongatapu Island, Tonga

A clean, small, and quiet cafe that sells a variety of dishes and baked goods. People seemed to really enjoy their fish burgers while I got a vegetable panini (just let them know what you want inside if they don't have something you like featured on the menu). Very friendly staff and it seemed like they knew regular customers by name.

6. Seaview Lodge

Vuna Road, Nuku'alofa, Tongatapu Island, Tonga

Even if you're not staying at Seaview Lodge, you should certainly visit for dinner or breakfast. It is one of the best fine dining venues in Nuku'alofa and set on the water where you can have your meals with views of the sea. Most menu items feature fish and meat (vegetarians might struggle outside of breakfast). Service is fast and friendly, and the prices are well worth it. This is a great alternative to Friends.

7. Seaview Lodge

Vuna Rd., Nuku'alofa, Tongatapu Island, Tonga

An incredible place to stay if you plan to spend a few days sightseeing and whale watching from Nuku'alofa. The lodge is located just across the road from a beach, where it tends to be very quiet and peaceful. It's also walking distance to the main centre of the city and their onsite restaurant is one of the best in Tonga. The service is very friendly, and you'll appreciate having somewhere clean and quiet to come back to after a big day out.

8. Waterfront Lodge

Vuna Rd | Ma'ufanga, Nuku'alofa, Tongatapu Island, Tonga

This hotel has ocean views and is one of the best places to stay in Nuku'alofa if you plan to be based here for whale swims as most of the boat departures are within walking distance. The staff are very friendly, the rooms are clean, and you can get to the bus terminals and into the city very easily. Plus, the restaurant at the lodge is one of the best in town.

9. Waterfront Restaurant

Vuna Rd, Nuku'alofa, Tongatapu Island, Tonga

A favourite restaurant among locals and expats in Nuku'alofa, this venue has great food, friendly service, and is set on the harbour. You can't go wrong with nearly any dish and their desserts are some of the best in town (especially the cream puffs!). Be sure to book a table if they're serving high tea while you're visiting -- it's a fun event where every dresses to impress and socialises over tasty pastries and tea.

10. Carpe Diem

Wellington Road, Nuku'alofa, Tongatapu Island, Tonga

This cafe on the main road has confusing opening hours (they don't seem to stick to their sign) but great food, especially if you're looking for fresh, healthy meals or are vegetarian. There are veggie burritos, tacos, salad bowls, and wraps. A great spot for a quick bite to eat if you're not feeling ravenous. A bit on the pricey side but still worth the money.

11. Liku'alofa Sunset Restaurant & Bar

Kanokupolu, | Hihifo, Nuku'alofa, Tongatapu Island 0000, Tonga

What a fun spot to socialise and try new Tongan dishes buffet style. Visit during sunset to see Tongan dancers perform Polynesian (or Polynesian inspired) dances with pink skies as your back drop. While the event was made for tourists, everyone is invited to join in on the festivities so you'll see plenty of locals in attendance, too. Bring plenty of $2 pa'anga bills to tip your favourite dancers.

Rooey202 flickr

12. Lunarossa Restaurant

‘Umusi/Ma’ufanga,, Nuku'alofa, Tonga

Lunarossa may not look like much from the outside (or the inside) but the quick and friendly service, free bowl of hot soup, and friendly owner named Marco easily make up for the dull overall vibe. My friends loved the tuna sashimi and I enjoyed the heaping plate of garlic fettuccine. Portion sizes are large, even by Tongan standards.

13. White Sands Beach Resort

'Utukehe Beach, Fo'ui, Ha'avakatolo, Tonga

Don't expect five-star resort vibes here, as the rooms are looking a bit tired and the mattresses have certainly seen better days -- but this "resort" is in a great location with a beautiful beach just in front of the property. The rooms are spacious and rooms have access to a large fridge and communal kitchen area. Think rustic and arrive with semi-low expectations and you'll have a great stay.

14. Ha'atafu Beach Resort

Ha'atafu Beach | Ha'atafu Beach, Tongatapu Island n/a, Tonga

A wonderful place to stay where you'll feel like you're staying with locals. Surfers, there is probably not a better spot than here as well if you're looking for semi-consistent and decent waves in Tongatapu. The vibe at the hotel is casual, the food is delicious, and it's very easy to make friends. Families seemed to also enjoy their time here as well and it was fun to watch staff play with the kids.

15. Royal Sunset Island Resort

| Nuku'alofa, Atata Island, Tonga

Tucked away on 'Atata Island, this little resort is rustic and is staffed by friendly Tongans. A handful of fale (bungalow rooms) have sea views so be sure to request those. It's a great place to simply relax, swim, and pass the time with a good book -- don't expect many frills or anything too fancy. Since goods need to be brought in by boat daily, inform them well in advance if you have any dietary requests so they can prepare. Power is off at night but they breeze keeps mozzies and heat at bay.

C.R. Skyscanner

16. Hufangalupe

Hufangalupe Beach, Tonga

This natural bridge is a bit complicated to find, but if you follow the main dirt road leading up to it, you'll eventually get here. The bridge was formed by a collapsed cafe and you can see water flow into the cave underneath. Be sure to also check out the views from the cliff ledge near the cave -- apparently, you can often see whales!

C.R. Skyscanner

A beautiful beach located on the bottom of a cliff. At high tide, you can swim and relax on the white sand. Low tide may not be great for swimming as the beach is a shallow slope. Though the walk down looks daunting, it isn't as challenging as you might think. A great way to escape the heat and spend a few hours in the day.

Nomadic by Nature Skyscanner

18. Pangaimotu Island Resort

Pangaimotu, Nuku'alofa, Tongatapu, Tonga

This is one of the best day trips from Nuku'alofa and is open on Sundays. Catch the small boat from the harbor and enjoy a day on this little island. The snorkelling around the area is slightly lackluster, but there are a handful of major shipwrecks from previous cyclones. You can also find a completely submerged wreck near the one closest to shore. Entrance includes lunch (delicious). Tip: Walk around the island at low tide.

19. Anahulu Cave

Haveluliku, Tonga

This limestone cave has a freshwater watering hole inside where visitors can swim. Tourists and locals alike tend to flock here on hot degree days and opens out to a spacious beach. Entrance is around $10 and it's best to go early in the morning before it gets too crowded -- people usually don't arrive until 1-2pm.

C.R. Skyscanner

20. Ha'amonga'a Maui Trilithon

Lapaha, Tongatapu Island, Tonga

It's no Stonehenge, but it certainly is an interesting place to stop while you're in Tongatapu. It was once used either for weather forecasting or navigation, though nobody knows for sure. Souvenir stands are often present where you can buy handicrafts and jewelry. There is a large grassy area perfect for picnicking.

21. Backpackers' Townhouse

Mateialona Road | Nuku'alofa, Nuku'alofa, Tongatapu Island 0001, Tonga

If you want to make friends and learn about what the locals love to do, check into Backpackers' Townhouse. The host, Yvette, is super friendly and happy to help point guests in the right direction when it comes to activities and restaurants. The location is very central (walking distance to most) and the dorms feel more like a homestay rather than the traditional backpacker hostels you might find elsewhere.

22. Emerald Hotel

Vuna Road, Nuku'alofa, Tongatapu Island 00000, Tonga

This quiet hotel is situated near the harbor, where most whale swims depart from. The rooms are superficially clean, spacious, and the service is decent. It's walking distance from nearly everything in town and it's also one of the places to provide internet to guests. Request a room with a view when you book.

23. Mums Cafe Nukualofa

Nuku'alofa, Tonga

This little cafe is a bit hard to find but comes up on Google maps. Their simple menu has fish and chips, stir fried meat dishes, and root crop sides (think cassava/dalo). It's often crowded with Tongans around lunch time and it's one of the most affordable and consistently good spots in Nuku'alofa.

C.R. Skyscanner

24. Mapu'a 'a Vaea Blowholes

Houma | Corner Of Salote Rd And One Way Rd., Tongatapu Island, Tonga

A lovely natural feature where you can watch water spray into the sky nearly 5 km along the shoreline. Visit during a large swell and when it's really windy for the best spray. There are a handful of souvenir stands where you can buy handicrafts, necklaces, and Tongan knick knacks set up nearby as well.

C.R. Skyscanner

25. Whale Swim, Fish & Dive Tours

Nuku'alofa Fishing Club, Nuku'alofa, Tongatapu Island 945, Tonga

Went on three days of whale swim tours with Whale Swim Tours (the boats are owned by Jeff). The boat captain and our guide were really friendly and I always felt that the whales - not the tourists - were in the guide's best interest. We had an amazing experience seeing mothers and their calves, watching a heat run, and interacting with a very curious juvenile whale. The tour stops at a deserted island for lunch - a perfect break in the day.

Last updated at Oct 01, 2018