Tonga is the best place in the South Pacific to shop for Polynesian handicrafts, such as tapa cloth, mats, carvings, shell jewelry, and other exquisite items. A large laundry basket will take at least 3 months to get home via ship if you don't send it by air freight or check it as baggage on your return flight, but the quality of the craftsmanship will be worth the wait.
Tapa cloth and finely woven pandanus mats are traditional items of clothing and gifts in Tonga, and the women of the kingdom have carried on the ancient skills, not only out of economic necessity but also out of pride in their craft. Collectively they produce thousands of items each day, each made by hand and no two exactly alike. Pick up a copy of the Tonga Visitors Bureau's brochure "Tongan Handicrafts" for an excellent description of how tapa cloth is made from the bark of the paper mulberry tree, and the process by which women weave baskets, mats, and other items.
Watch Out for Fake Tapa & Shoddy Carvings
Be careful when shopping for paintings on tapa cloth, as some unscrupulous artisans have been using paper instead of real bark from the paper mulberry tree. Avoid men who approach you on the street and attempt to sell shoddy carvings and black coral jewelry; they fall into the same category as the "sword sellers" of Fiji. Also be sure you get what you paid for; that is, purchase handicraft items already made and on display rather than ordering for future production and delivery after you have left Tonga. Stick to reputable shops such as those recommended in this section.
Except for tobacco products and liquor, Tonga has little to offer in the way of duty-free shopping.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.