Nuku’alofa is where old and new Tonga meet. 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, roaming pigs, 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 if you have a car or motorbike. Both can be rented from many places around the city, but there are few road signs. Part of the adventure of exploring the island is inevitably getting lost!
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.
The island’s main market neighbors the Central Police Station in Nuku’alofa. Local farmers cram the market daily, selling fresh fruits and vegetables. There is a particularly large selection of root vegetables, including manioc, yams, taro and kumara. The second floor is dedicated to all types of jewelry, clothing, carvings, shoes and local handicrafts.
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.
The Tonga line of kings called the town of Mu’a home for centuries. Once the capital of the island, many kings are buried in the lush hills.
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.
Just south of the capital is the Fanga’uta Lagoon and the Tonga 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.
Nuku’alofa Geographical Location
Nuku’alofa is located on the northern coast of Tonga’s largest island, Tongatapu.
The population of Nuku’alofa is approximately 25,000.
Tongan and English are the two official languages of Tonga.
Nuku’alofa Predominant Religion
- 37% Free Wesleyan Church
- 16% Roman Catholic
- 17% Latter Day Saints
- 11% Free Church of Tonga
- 7% Church of Tonga
- 2% Tokaikolo
- 1% Anglican Church
- 2% Seventh-Day Adventist
- 2% Assembly of God
- 1% Constitutional Church of Tonga
- 4% Other
The Constitution of Tonga gives freedom of religion to its people and there have been no reports of discrimination.
The Tonga Pa’anga is the official currency of Tonga.
Nuku’alofa is pleasantly warm throughout the year but it does experience high humidity and rain with March being the wettest month.
Nuku’alofa Main Attractions
- Deep Blue Diving
- Tonga World
- Day Trips to Offshore Island Resorts
Other Attraction in Nuku’alofa
- Heilala Festival
- Royal Palace
- Royal Tombs