Without a doubt, our favorite part of Tonga was Haapai. We only had a week to spend in this beautiful island group but we enjoyed every minute. Once we found our anchorage, we loved it so much we didn’t move. If you ever visit the Kingdom of Tonga, don’t miss Haapai.
About Haapai Tonga
Ha’apai is pronounced “Ha a pie.” Located south of Vavau, the Haapai island group includes 51 islands plus atolls and coral reefs. We spent our week there in one perfect anchorage, and also walked to the main island a couple of times.
After weeks waiting in Vavau for a starting engine, Haapai was just what we needed! Less populated and quieter, we found it beautiful and relaxing.
We anchored by Foa island, home to two resorts and several beautiful beaches. Just south of Foa and across a bridge is Haapai’s main island of Lifuka and the port town of Pangai.
Tonga is known as the center of the annual humpback whale migration. The whales come to Tonga from the Antarctic to mate and calve. Tonga is one of the only places where it’s possible to swim with whales. As you can guess, this is one of their most popular attractions. It’s only allowed with certified tour operators who followed stringent rules. The whales are a natural treasure so they wisely protect them.
We visited too early for swimming with humpbacks, but saw whales both en route to Haapai and in our beautiful Haapai anchorage. If you visit between July and September, the opportunity to swim with whales is a must. Just seeing them from our boat and dinghy in French Polynesia was incredible, so to be in the water with these gentle giants sounds amazing!
If you’re a fan of relaxing on white sand beaches, you would love Haapai Tonga. We anchored at the north end of Foa, protected by reefs and surrounded by beauty. This gave us access to beautiful beaches with stretches of soft sand perfect for barefoot walks.
We stayed in the same anchorage in Haapai for almost a week, paddling, swimming, and snorkeling in clear refreshing water. Snorkeling at the resort’s house reef was top-notch: the coral was healthy and varied and the fish were plentiful. I saw several eels and a variety of reef fish. If the dive boat at the resort had been working, we would have gone diving. Going on our own was inadvisable due to strong currents in the pass.
As soon as we could, we launched the dinghy and went to shore. There are two resorts in the north end of Foa with the same owner. In our short visit to Haapai, we spent a lot of time at both resorts, mingling with the friendly owners, employees, and guests.
We spent most of our time at Matafonua, on the northern tip of the island, because when we arrived they were preparing to reopen the Sandy Beach resort. Both resorts have restaurants serving the public. We ate lunch at Matafonua a few times, where they serve a range of food from tacos to pizzas and sandwiches. The dinner was an order ahead prix fixe and we didn’t join for it but we probably could have with advance notice.
Sandy Beach, which opened towards the end of our week in Haapai, had a fun nightly happy hour. On our last night, we ate a delicious dinner at the restaurant before our sail to Fiji. It’s a beautiful spot worth a visit if you’re sailing around Tonga.
The Town of Pangai
We ventured into town a couple of times, mostly to clear in and out with officials, but also to see a little more of Haapai, Tonga. The biggest town in Haapai, Pangai is pretty sleepy, but it has an ice cream shop and several grocery stores. If you’re going to Haapai on your own boat, stock up before because the pickings are even slimmer than in Vavau. The ice cream was good, and a must stop in Pangai. It was the busiest place in town!
Our main destination in Pangai was the customs/immigration office, where we went twice. First, we went to alert them of our presence in the new port, and second, to check out of Tonga before sailing to Fiji. Upon arriving on foot, we determined we didn’t want to leave our beautiful anchorage for the less protected waters of Pangai port.
The walk from the north end of Foa to the south end of Lifuka, where Pangai is located, would take a couple of hours. Fortunately, we got picked up by friendly Tongans along the way. Twice we met missionaries or former missionaries, who shared stories with us. Our walks led us past more pigs, friendly waving children, and even across the airport landing strip.
Socializing in Haapai Tonga
While Vavau was packed with cruisers, in Haapai we were often the lone boat in the anchorage. That doesn’t mean we were lonely, because we met fun people at the resorts. Besides snorkeling and scuba diving, Haapai is known for kite surfing and whale watching. It’s a really lovely place, and we’re glad we visited.
The employees and guests were mostly Australians, and very friendly. Every time we stopped by we were drawn into conversations, and kept returning for more of the easygoing camaraderie at the resort. The owner is a drone expert and gave us a lot of tips for using our drone. And what a beautiful place to practice drone photography!
We loved our time in Hapaai Tonga, but were ready for our next destination: the lovely islands of Fiji. A week wasn’t enough, and if we could ever go back to Haapai, I think we would, especially during whale season. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.