Flying is by far the easiest, fastest and most comfortable way to get around Tonga.
Real Tonga operates most of the domestic flights in Tonga. Fiji Airways also flies between Nuku'alofa and Vava'u, often as a code-share flight with Real Tonga. Flights are scheduled to work in with arriving and departing international flights (no flights on Sundays). Typical fares:
Real Tonga Scheduling
No doubt, Real Tonga plays a vital role in flying people between the isles of the Kingdom. But when it comes to concrete departure times, forget about it! Real Tonga's flight schedules are a movable feast, changing even within 24 hours of your next flight. They do try and email and phone your accommodation (if you've told them where you'll be!) to let you know, but otherwise beware. Re-confirm your booking as close as possible to your departure time, then arrive at the airport early – otherwise you may find yourself missing your flight, or with a long, desultory wait in a remote airport with nothing but bitterness to keep you company.
The Nuku'alofa Visitor Information Centre lists ferry schedules, which must be rechecked prior to intended travel. See also www.tongaholiday.com/islands/transport.
Subsequent to the tragic sinking of the Princess Ashika in 2009 with the loss of 74 lives, all Tongan ferries and aircraft have come under intense scrutiny, and safety standards have risen dramatically.
Approximate Economy Fares
The following are adult fares; children aged 4–12 years pay half price.
Pangai (Ha’apai)–Neiafu (Vava’u)
Neiafu (Vava’u)–Niuatoputapu (Niuas)
Neiafu (Vava’u)–Niuafo’ou (Niuas)
Nuku’alofa to ’Eua
On a calm day the 2½-hour ferry trip between Tongatapu and ‘Eua (T$23 one way) is a breeze. The MV 'Onemato leaves Nuku’alofa daily Monday to Saturday, returning from 'Eua the same day (sometimes it stays docked overnight in 'Eua – check when you buy your ticket). The MV 'Alaimoana sails for 'Eua on Tuesday and Thursday, returning from 'Eua the following morning.
The schedule does shift from time to time: check www.tongaholiday.com/islands/transport for the latest. Tickets are sold either at the ferry terminal or on board; get there an hour before sailing.
Tonga's privately owned buses have a handy interprative 'B' at the start of their licence plates. They run on Tongatapu, and in a more limited capacity on Vava’u and its causeway-linked islands. Fares range from T$0.70 to T$2 depending on distances travelled. Don’t expect to get where you’re going in a hurry...but riding a local bus is a cultural experience in itself!
The official line is that to drive in Tonga you need a visitor's driving licence (T$40) from the Ministry of Infrastructure, valid for three months (bring your passport, home drivers licence and international driving permit if you have one). But if it's only a one-day rental, some operators may turn a blind eye and require only your home licence.
People drive veeery slooowly on the left-hand side of the road. The speed limit is 50km/h in villages, 70km/h elsewhere. On the road, watch out for children, dogs, chickens and pigs, and don’t park under coconut trees!
At the time of research petrol cost around T$2.50 per litre.
Tonga's scrappy-looking taxis have a ‘T’ on their licence plates. There are plenty of taxis on Tongatapu and Vava’u, though it may not be an ‘official’ taxi that picks you up: if you ask someone to organise a taxi, it may be their husband, brother or nephew who comes to get you. Just pay the going rate – ask at your accommodation so you have a ballpark figure.