Discover Tonga's secrets
By Rachel Pinder
If you want to enjoy a real Island getaway, why not head to Tonga and enjoy a laidback holiday surrounded by the warmth and generosity of the locals, who’ll make you feel right at home.
Tonga's new domestic airline took to the skies for the first time on March 11 2013, with flights from the main island Tongatapu to Vava'u. The new airline, Real Tonga, is operating one 17-seater plane with a second taking to the skies later in March.
Real Tonga has been granted an Air Operators Certificate to service Tongatapu
and the two Niuas - the volcanic islands of Niuatoputapu and Niuafo’ou in Tonga's far north.
The current flight schedule:
Tongatapu to Vava’u: twice daily.
Tongatapu to Ha’apai: once daily.
Tongatapu to 'Eua: twice daily.
Tongatapu to the Niuas’: once a week, starting in April.
The new airline will be operated by Palu Aviation Services, which has been running for 10 years – mainly providing engineering services to airlines flying to and within Tonga. These include Air New Zealand, Air Pacific and Virgin Australia.
The Real Tonga
website is a work in progress but already has schedules, airfares and other basic details ready to access.
So where should you go when exploring Tonga? Well each island is different and has a different feel. So take your pick and visit one or two or all of them...the choice is yours!
is Tonga's main island where all international flights touch down, and is also where you'll find the capital, Nuku'alofa
. Make sure you take the time to explore its natural and historic attractions -- ancient monuments, terraced tombs (langi), natural rock arches, limestone caves and spectacular blowholes.
Get back to nature by heading to neighbouring 'Eua
, just 40km off the coast of Nuku'alofa
. It is a huge contrast from the other islands -- rugged and blanketed in thick forests, and has the best trekking in Tonga. It's also largely undeveloped, with much to explore.
There are spectacular high cliffs at its northern end, and the pristine forest in 'Eua National Park, a tranquil spot to get back to Mother Nature.
Water babies will love Vava'u
, about 260km north of the main Tongan island of Tongatapu.
has 34 islands, only 21 are inhabited. If you love the water, there's heaps to choose from, in, on and under the waves -- snorkelling, scuba diving, sport fishing, sailing and sea kayaking. From June to November, Humpback whales come to breed in the warm waters around Vava'u, providing unique whale watching
For a more relaxing time, head to the Ha'apai islands
, the geographical centre of the Kingdom's four major islands, 100km south of Vava'u.
is the place to go if you're looking for small, palm-fringed beaches untouched by the rest of the world. You will relax the moment you step off the plane, and soon tune in to the sleepy way of life.
To get around, just hire a bike and pedal from the laidback village of Pangai to the nearby island of Foa, connected to the main island of Lifuka by a causeway. The beaches here are stunning and it’s easy to while away an hour or two.
Get some culture
Cultural sights worth a visit around Lifuka include the Fortress of Velata and the monument to Shirley Baker, who arrived in Tonga as a Wesleyan missionary, but ultimately became a political advisor to King Taufa'ahau Tupou I.
You can be as active as you like on Ha'apai
. There are a few tourist operators who will take you out diving, sailing, horse riding, kayaking and whale watching. Or you can kick back and do absolutely nothing.
But whatever you do in Tonga, you’ll find the best thing is the amazing hospitality of the locals and you won't want to leave in a hurry.