A Week in Tonga
I approach the Kingdom of Tonga as two distinct destinations. On the one hand is the flat main island of Tongatapu, with its scruffy capital of Nuku'alofa, several historic sites worth observing out in the countryside, and little islets out in its harbor. On the other is hilly Vava'u, one of the South Pacific's sailing capitals. However you devise your own itinerary, give them equal time.
Day 1: Exploring Nuku'alofa -- Most hotels on Tongatapu are in Nuku'alofa, so use the capital as your base. Spend your first day seeing sights such as the Royal Palace and the Royal Tombs, and visiting the Tongan National Cultural Centre. Don't miss dinner and a dance show at the center, either. Stop for coffee or lunch at Friends Cafe on the main street.
Day 2: Touring Tongatapu -- Spend your second day touring Tongatapu from end to end, with stops at the ancient Ha'amonga Trilithon, the Blow Holes, Captain Cook's Landing Place, and the exotic birds residing at the Tongan Wildlife Centre. End up on the western shore, where you can sun and swim at Ha'atafu.
Days 3-5: Out on the Water at Vava'u -- One of the region's most picturesque destinations, Vava'u merits at least 3 days. If you're an avid sailor, this is the safest place in the South Pacific to charter a yacht and explore the many small islets dotting the lagoon. Even if you aren't into boating, spend 1 day on a lagoon tour to Swallows Cave and Mariner's Cave. Vava'u also is the region's best place to go whale watching from June through October.
Day 6: A Day on Pangaimotu -- Especially if it's a Sunday when nearly everything closes, spend this day at Pangaimotu Island Resort, a few minutes off Nuku'alofa. Hanging over a beach beside the country's best swimming lagoon, this ramshackle but charming establishment is my favorite South Pacific bar. You'll have lots of local company out here on the Christian Sabbath.
Day 7: Shopping for Handicrafts -- Tongans produce the South Pacific's best handicrafts, so spend most of your last day exploring the shops in Nuku'alofa, especially the Langafonua Women's Association Handicraft Centre.