A list of the top 10 things to do in Tonga including swimming with whales, feasting with locals and kayaking uninhabited islands.

Top 10 things to do in Tonga

1. Swimming with whales: Every year, whales migrate from the Antarctic to breed in Tonga’s warm waters, offering a rare chance to swim among these majestic creatures. We were lucky enough to swim with a mother and her calf via Dolphin Pacific in Vava’u – a humbling and awe-inspiring experience. Tonga has strict laws to protect the whales so learn what they are and never pressure your guide.

2. Aerial view of the islands: The domestic flight from Tongatapu to Vava’u offers breathtaking aerial views of luscious green islands ringed by turquoise reef and deep blue water – worth the ticket price alone!

3. Diving and snorkelling in Vava’u: Tonga isn’t yet a renowned diving spot, but that doesn’t mean it can’t compete on a world stage. Sunset Reef offers some of the clearest water we’ve ever seen replete with a stunning range of sea life.

4. Tongan feast: The grand feast at Oholei centers on a huge suckling pig surrounded by sumptuous dishes of meat, fish and vegetarian options. The lavish feast is followed by a traditional show in Hina Cave topped off with the best fire dance we’ve seen yet. Ask your hostel to book you a place. Transfers can be included also.

5. Uninhabited islands of Vava’u: If you really want to get off the beaten path, take a boat from Vava’u to Mafana Island’s eco lodge which has rainwater showers, a compost toilet and complete isolation. If the weather’s good, grab a kayak and explore the tiny uninhabited islands nearby.

6. Tonga’s oldest island: Eu’a can be reached by a two-hour boat ride from the main island of Tongatapu. Dated at 40 million years old, it has a rocky landscape that is both dramatic and beautiful. Visit the rock gardens and look closely to see fossils enclosed in the rock. You don’t need a guide; just make sure you get a map from your hostel or campground (Taina’s has a good one).

7. Tongatapu day tour: Public transport on the main island isn’t really a viable option so book onto Toni’s Tours for a journey around Tongatapu, taking in Ha’amonga ‘a (the Pacific’s answer to Stonehenge), a natural rock bridge, a line of blowholes and Captain Cook’s landing site. The eponymous Toni is a gruff Northerner from England so don’t expect any niceties!

8. Fishing: If you’d like some downtime, charter a boat for a day on the water (try Dolphin Pacific or Tongan Expeditions on Vava’u). Tonga’s islands on the horizon make for an impressive view, so even if you don’t catch anything, you’ll get some value for money!

9. Sunday church service: Tonga is one of the more conservative nations in the South Pacific. It is illegal to work on Sunday (even gardening qualifies!) so almost everything is closed. For a dose of local culture, use your Sunday to attend the church service at Centenary Chapel where, if you’re lucky, you may even spot the King.

10. Sunbathing: Well, it’s only fair! We recommend taking a day trip to Pangaimotu which boasts some of the finest beaches in Tonga (see ‘Transport’ below). We hear the parties go on well into the early hours but we unfortunately had to get the 5pm ferry back!

Lonely Planet Rarotonga, Samoa & Tonga is a comprehensive guide to the Cook Islands, ideal for those who want to explore the top things to do in the Cook Islands as well as take the road less travelled.

Lead image: Dreamstime