In this Article by South Pacific travel expert Ian Osborn
Haapai Holidays Overview — Lifuka & Pangai — Foa Island — Other Islands — Haapai Travel Details
Beach lovers will find beautiful secluded beaches on Lifuka and neighbouring La Foa in the Ha'apai group with excellent snorkelling in the lagoon and the possibility of spotting dolphins. Ha'apai is a sleepy backwater with small traditional fishing villages to explore. And don't forget to take a side trip to Tofua Island to marvel at its sometimes active volcano and crater lake.
Haapai Map & Pictures
Ha'apai Holidays Overview
The wonderful Ha'apai Group is Tonga's best kept secret. There are 60 small islands in all, only 17 of which are inhabited and of these, only three islands offer accommodation. Easily accessible yet with virtually no tourism, these small islands with traditional fishing villages, living culture and fantastic beaches are truly enchanting. Here you can explore at will, interact with the ever so friendly locals and experience life of the old South Seas. Spend a few here and you'll doubtless be invited to a local feast or dance at the town hall.
Lifuka & Pangai Village
The main island of the group is Lifuka, a long a flat island, barely 11 sq. km in size with around 3,000 inhabitants almost all of whom live a traditional subsistence lifestyle. Lifuka has the group's only airstrip in the northern part of the island as well as the administrative centre, Pangai Village, about three kilometres south of the airport. Pangai has a bank, several convenience stores and a telephone exchange along its main road which remains only a simple sand road.
The charming seaside village is set mid way on the protected west coast of Lifuka and it remains a typical Tongan village with pigs wandering about the streets, small plantations at the back of the house, fishing boats in the lagoon and plenty of churches, but there is no beach here to enjoy with only a narrow stretch of sand at the northern end of the village. There are a couple of basic guesthouses in amongst the local houses and you may be able to rent a bike at Mariners Cafe which serves meals for lunch and in the early evening.
From Pangai it's a forty minute walk to the very southern point of the island which has a decent beach and snorkelling lagoon. At low tide its possible to wade across the channel to neighbouring Uoleva Island although an easier way to reach Uolevu or any of the outer islands is to hire a boat from Pangai wharf or to tag along with a local village boat that come into town regularly.
The east coast of Lifuka has a terrific wild beach to explore, broken occasionally by rugged rocks you can scramble over. Head here after a bit of rough weather and you'll find all sorts of items washed up on the beach.
At the northern point of Lifuka Island is a causeway to adjoining Foa Island which several beautiful beaches and has the groups only up-market place to stay, Sandy Beach Resort. Horse riding tours, scuba diving and whale watching can all be arranged at adjacent Happy Ha'apai Divers who also serve guests at Matafonua. You can also snorkel in the lagoon and you may be lucky to spot turtles or dolphins.
Other Islands to Explore
Uoleva Island is an uninhabited coral island off the southern tip of Lifuka and has a sublime beach running the entire way around the island making it great for beach-combing.
If you have an adventurous spirit, good sea-legs and want to visit the almost perfect cone shaped volcano of Kao and adjacent Tofua Island which can be seen from Lifuka looming in the horizon, go down to Pangai wharf where you should be able to organise a boat trip for the day. Tofua is the most accessible of the two islands and has a beautiful caldera and crater lake with a handful of families living on the coast and farming Kava roots on the rich volcanic soils.
It was just off these islands that the real life mutiny of the Bounty took place in 1789. After being cast-off from his ship, Captain William Bligh tried to land on Tofua only to be attacked by Tongans living on the island. One of his crew was stoned to death here and the landing spot was so named Murderers Cove.
Haapai Travel Information
Daily flights to Lifuka, the main island in the group, take just 30-minutes from Tongatapu. The easiest way to get about the two main islands of Lifuka and Foa (these two islands are connected by a 200-metre long bridge) is by push bike - there are no buses and few taxis although you may be able to hire a man and his van if you meet one along the road. If visiting the outer islands, the only way to travel is by local fishing boa - and the wharf at Pangai Village is the place to catch a ride.