Nuku’alofa is the capital of Tonga.The city challenges all preconceptions of a South Pacific idyll. It is the first place most people visit when they arrive in Tonga, and the capital greets them with churches galore, long stretches of dazzling white beaches, charming cafes and some of the world’s best opportunities for snorkeling. The city is tiny enough to walk around completely, and the entire island of Tongatapu can be explored in a day.
Best Time to Visit
May to November, a dry season refreshed by the trade winds is the best season to visit Tonga.
Top Places to Visit in Nuku’alofa
1. Royal Palace
One of the most stunning sights in the city is the Royal Palace, built in 1867 but now crumbling. The wooden palace was the king’s official residence, and a tortoise gifted to the island by Captain Cook lived there until 1966.
2. Maui’s Burden
Staying in Nuku’alofa puts visitors in a prime spot for exploring the rest of the small island. On the northeast corner is a coral and limestone sculpture called Ha’amonga ‘a Maui, or “Maui’s Burden.” Built around 1200 AD, the sculpture is rumored to be an ancient symbol of brotherhood erected by the King to prevent his sons from fighting after his death. The sons are each represented by the stone pillars, and a lintel unites them.
3. Village of Houma
In the southwest is the village of Houma, where one of the most spectacular sights in Tonga occurs at high tide. Just off the coast are many coral reefs, and water passes through the reefs and volcanic rock before erupting into the air. The fascinating sight never gets tiresome for both locals and visitors.
4. National Cultural Center
The center is housed in traditional buildings, and the interesting exhibits outline the kingdom’s history in great detail. Artisans often gather to work on traditional handicrafts there, including weaving, carving and tapa making. Visitors can purchase their works and enjoy a fabulous buffet dinner while watching local dance shows.
Most shops and attractions are closed in the capital on Sundays, but visitors can enjoy the day by taking the short trip to the island of Pangaimotu. It is the closet island to the capital, and the coast around it is great for snorkeling. A half-sunken ship waits to be explored, and it takes only an hour to see the entire island by foot. Snorkeling gear and guides are available in the city center for affordable prices.